Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mr. Leggett, Close Down This Road

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 Georgia 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.

- 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 the Washington area already.

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.


Bethany said...

I'd be in favor of the street being blocked off 90% of the time, but I believe the restaurants on the north side (McGinty's, Chipotle, etc)do need truck access because they back up to the mall so likely the barriers that could be raised and lowered would be best. I know my shelter also does adoption events on Ellsworth where they let us slowly drive our RV up to the fountain so people can visit cats in the mobile adoption center while dogs frolic outside.

Easily lowerable barriers seem the best option to me.AllanJarrod

Anonymous said...

Great suggestions. I, too, think it's INSANE that the street is ever open to vehicles. During the summers when I'm drinking outside at McGinty's around midnight there's sometimes a truck that offloads in the middle of the street. However, even if those offloads are necessary on Ellsworth (I don't know whether or not it's necessary to do it on Ellsworth or just ideal), we can still brick up the road so it's even with the sidewalks and just allow the odd truck to drive on it.

I think the only reason why there's a street in the first place is because no one ever expected DTSS to be this successful. I really really wish the'd do away with it and make it an even better place to eat and hang out. Nandos only has room for like 3 tables, McGinty's has a half dozen - expanding these spaces and making the street even more vibrant would be so amazing.

Your idea of artwork is great - what better way to counter the artificial feel of Ellsworth than a number of unique, local art pieces. We're one of the most culturally diverse urban areas in the world. Let's show it!

Anonymous said...

On another note, can someone please get Galaxy shut down already? If that place didn't exist, downtown Silver Spring would be much more pleasant. I'm certain that about 75% of the criminals who come to DTSS do so to go to that place:

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to think what else could go into the Galaxy space...miniature laser tag arena? Now that'd be sweet - and a much needed amenity for the teenage crowd. Maybe just a retail option, a la filene's basement.

Sligo said...

Obviously, an indoor skate park.

Anonymous said...

but I can't use an indoor skate park! Indoor laser tag though...that definitely sounds like fun after a few rounds at McGinty's.

From this point forward, I shall be called L8zer(notyeta)Dad

Mike said...

Not a bad idea at all, especially devoting more of the area to art space. I will do what I can to promote this thought to the appropriate people in the county and in DTSS management.

Anonymous said...

I really hope Peterson Co. is forward thinking enough to see the value of installing retractable or removable traffic bollards, closing down/bricking over the street permanently (only allowing trucks needs for events and offloads), and adding some unique art pieces.

In some ways Ellsworth is our strongest street, but in a lot of other ways it's our weakest. A lot of the those weaknesses could be eliminated through those simple steps.

Jill said...

I've often said the same thing myself. If you have trouble remembering when the street is open and when it isn't, try explaining it to a three-year-old. Sometimes she can run free, other times we're constrained to the sidewalk. I've harped on the dangers of playing in the street on Ellsworth so many times on the weekdays, now she has trouble letting go of my hand and stepping off the curb on weekends.

The main users of the street seem to me to be people running into Starbucks for coffee on weekday mornings, or people dropping off. A dropoff loop like the one you suggest would satisfy the latter need, and maybe some extra 20-minute parking spots close by could address the former. (Although some people will always double-park for coffee!)

And more tables, definitely. In the summer, they all get taken up by parents watching their kids at the fountain. I'm not complaining--it's a perfectly reasonable use--but more places to sit and eat = more takeout business for restaurants.

Lynn said...

Just read that you're getting your wish for the central CVS. It will be displacing the drycleaner by Whole Foods and expects to open next fall.

Anonymous said...

Great news about the CVS, sad news for the dry cleaners, maybe they can be re-located in one of a hundred empty store fronts in DTSS.
As for the bollards, great idea with some reservations...
Totally eliminating cars from streets has a really bad track record with all the "malled" streets of the 70's, DC having had several which have been reversed in the last 10 years. Issue being, when there's little traffic of any kind, the street feels completely dead. Maybe not an issue here, but with great "public" spaces at each end, might not be necessary. Also, sidewalks are pretty substantial, McGinty's not with standing. I do the same as you, but when those pesky Emo kids swarm the street, I inevitably join them as they are the future, and who would harm them?

Anonymous said...

Hundred empty store fronts in DTSS? Do we mean the same thing by DTSS? Where are these storefronts? Vacancy rate in DTSS is minuscule, unless there's some hidden streets I've been missing all these years.

Springvale Roader said...

Agree 100 percent about closing Ellsworth permanently to traffic.

Also agree 100 percent about closing Galaxy and sending its hoodlums back to the forbidden zone. If I had a holiday wish, Galaxy would be replaced with a jazz bar, which DTSS sorely needs.

Gary said...

I am one of the people who uses Ellsworth all the time: it's easy drop my kids off right in front of Maryland Youth Ballet. But I don't think policy should be made to suit us (though it would be nice to see the other MYB parents not double-park!)

It's also a lot easier to get into the Wayne Ave. garage from Ellsworth & the alley if I need to park - a nice little sneaky back route that few take advantage of. D'oh - now you all know!

lonebear said...

Good thing I wasn't drinking when I read one of the Anon posts. Specifically the one about "really hope Peterson Co. is forward thinking enough". Ha!

The bollards would be a wonderful idea. The street is short enough that I wouldn't worry about creating a "malled" street.

Anonymous said...

Couldnt agree more. I also agree galaxy needs to be canned. That place is a disturbance.

Anonymous said...


Close Ellsworth to vehicles. I walk in the middle of the street by accident on weekday nights and the next thing you know, I have an SUV right up my butt.

btw...Galaxy Billiards is THUG CENTRAL! But I want Galaxy to stay in business because Babe's is opening on East-West soon. I don't want the thugs to hang out at Babe's if the Galaxy site is closed. Keep the gangstas drinking the pitchers and shootin' the pool in Galaxy.

btw2...Montgomery County has the Galaxy Billiard MFers on a short leash. One more more police incident and the liquor license gets pulled, which is a death sentence for a bar establishment. Behave yourself wannabee gangstas!