|Photo by Flickr user dcmandrill.|
Despite the DTSS stretch of Ellsworth Drive (aka "The Promenade") being closed to vehicular traffic on weekends, I often find myself psychologically constrained during these times to walking on the sidewalks. The Ellsworth sidewalks can get a bit congested at times, and there are a couple bottlenecks on the north side of the street where the path is squeezed between restaurants’ outdoor seating areas and tree pits, making it worse. This past Saturday afternoon, as I found myself stuck behind two slow-moving, chatty women, I started to question why I was using the sidewalk in the first place, seeing as I had the entire width of the street at my disposal.
After I reached the other end of DTSS, I turned around to observe the behavior of other pedestrians and found that nearly all of them were restricting themselves to the sidewalks. No one seemed to be taking advantage of the closed-off street, only crossing it quickly to reach the opposite sidewalk.
The problem, I think, is that if the street is only sometimes closed, pedestrians may unconsciously avoid walking in it unless there are some physical signs that it is safely car-free, such as stands at a farmers market or a performance stage. (Of course, at peak times there is such a crowd downtown that people will naturally spill into the street.)
My question is why, exactly, is this block ever open to vehicular traffic, when it could be so much better utilized by those on foot?
I don’t believe the shops and restaurants along it need the road for re-supply by truck, as the structures on each side of the road have rear access. Even if truck access was necessary, the road could be temporarily opened to commercial traffic in the off-hours. Unlike the streets that pass through some other regional ‘town center’ developments, the road doesn’t have street parking and it isn’t necessary to access a parking garage.
Furthermore, the stretch of Ellsworth between Georgia and Fenton doesn’t seem to be a particularly convenient driving route to anywhere. Even when it is open, there doesn’t appear to be too much traffic passing through. Ellsworth is closed to through traffic in one direction at the library a block away from DTSS, and at the Georgia Avenue end you can only turn right. To my knowledge, there are very few destinations you can’t just as easily reach by taking either Wayne or Colesville instead.
With that in mind, here are a few suggestions as to how the county and the developer might better utilize the street space in DTSS:
- During the warmer months, fill the street space with tables and chairs for use by the general public, as they now do to a limited extent in the existing public space. When the weather is pleasant, there's a severe shortage of al fresco dining space in DTSS, and it'd be great to have a lot more tables and chairs outside at which to enjoy lunch, a coffee or and ice cream. A similar strategy has proven to be a huge success in New York, where portions of Broadway have been permanently closed off to traffic.
- In the colder months, large potted trees or something similar could be situated in the street to make the space more welcoming to pedestrians. Even better, sculptures or other forms of public art could be displayed there on a rotating basis.
- Remove some or all of the metered parking at the
Ave. end of Ellsworth and designate this area the pickup/drop-off area for DTSS, allowing only brief stops for the loading and unloading of passengers. This would create a one-way loop where cars would enter at Georgia and exit on Wayne. Georgia
- Install retractable or removable traffic bollards (pictured below) at both ends of the block to prevent any potentials tragedies resulting from a crackhead or confused octogenarian crashing through wooden sawhorses and plowing through a pedestrian-filled Ellsworth Drive. If work or emergency personnel require access, these barriers can be removed/lowered as needed. It’s not as if there aren't plenty of roadblocks around
area already. the Washington
I'm not sure what the original rationale was for keeping this street open on weekdays, but I think that the last seven years have shown us that there’s a lot more demand for public space in downtown Silver Spring than there is for a single block of road.