On October 5th, nearly 3 miles of Georgia Avenue intersecting with New Hampshire Avenue, NW, was closed for the Open Streets DC program. This is a program that celebrates “no cars; just people. Open Streets is a program that temporarily closes street to motor vehicle traffic and opens them to people for healthy activities suitable for all ages and abilities.”
“Open Streets is a time to celebrate all of our city’s transportation options. We challenge you to get to the event by walking, biking or taking public transportation.”
Caroline of District Bridges describes the event in this way:
There were a total of 4 stages; 2 fitness stages including Yoga, Zumba, Cardio Kickboxing and Blast Workouts, a demonstration area including capoeira and jump rope and the main stage which included entertainment; dance and music and where the mayor gave her remarks.
There were 6 activity areas throughout the route that included a bike fair, an inflatable obstacle course, a climbing wall, a children’s traffic garden, a skateboarding area, protected pop-up bike lanes and free bike tune-ups and wheelie clinics, health screenings and HIV and STD testing, scooter lessons and an obstacle course, business activations, tents from different agencies and organizations including ANC 1A ANC 4B, PEPCO, GoDCgo, Circulator Bus Bike Demo, Skatemobile, Howard University Zumba classes, etc.
Mayor Bowser inaugurated this car-free Open Streets DC celebrating walking, bicycling, and other sustainable modes of transportation.
Who are the partners?: Vision Zero-Safe Streets for DC, DDOT (Department of Transportation), DPW (Department of Public Works), DPR (Department of Parks and Recreations), Metropolitan Police of DC and District Bridges. MPD is listed as a partner but had no comment on this project but deferred to DDOT. The ANCs (Advisory Neighborhood Commissions) did participate, but they were not listed as partners nor did they pass any resolutions on this topic.
District Bridges located on 11th Street in Columbia Heights took the lead role. Briane Dornbush, Executive Director of DB was interviewed electronically:
1. How was this event received?
The event was received very positively. The Tweets and the smiles on everyone's faces down Georgia Avenue say it all.
2. When did the planning begin for this? Since 9 bus routes were affected….
District Bridges won a grant to coordinate the programming component of the event. This started in June 2019, however DDOT, the Mayor's Office and other city agencies had been in conversation and planning at least since the beginning of the year.
3. Was there ANC endorsement?
DDOT presented at all ANC meetings in August. All ANCs in the area (1A, 1B, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D) were invited to have a table at the event.
4. Did the merchants or restaurants pay for the use of sidewalk space?
Only businesses in the corridor were invited to activate the space in front of their storefront. They had to register and submit a sketch of their proposed activities, but there was no charge. In addition to the businesses, there were a few local non-profits, city agencies and sponsors who had a presence at the event.
5. Where will be the next event?
DDOT is having conversations with the Mayor about this, but we don't have any additional information regarding the next location.
6. How did this affect the Georgia Avenue businesses?
DDOT is collecting data from businesses through a survey and will know the exact impact once that data is analyzed. The feedback we have received from some of the businesses that participated at the event from Lower Georgia Avenue was very positive. They were extremely busy and reported having lots of new customers that day.
There was also a participant survey at the event and one of the questions asked was if the event had made them aware of a business in Georgia Avenue that they didn't know existed.
About District Bridges, non profit 501 © 3 agency: District Bridges’ mission is enriching neighborhood vitality by bridging community engagement and economic development opportunities so individuals, businesses, and organizations can thrive together.
“District Bridges was born out of a collaborative grassroots effort, known as the Columbia Heights Initiative (CHI). CHI started as a group of neighbors who shared a vision of building inclusive relationships and having fun!”
Carolina Buitrago was the District Bridges lead for this event. She is originally from Bogotá, Colombia and grew up going to Ciclovía on Sundays and enjoying the car-free streets. She has been living in DC for over two years and loves exploring the city and surrounding areas on her bicycle.
“I loved being able to bring a little bit of Ciclovía (Bogotá closes 70 miles every Sunday and Holiday) to DC and was extremely happy with the turnout. I really hope this event happens more often.”
History: The first Open Street event took place in Bogota, Columbia, in 1974 “To visit Bogota, Columbia, on Sunday is to witness an unforgettable spectacle: miles and miles of car-free streets packed with cyclists, runners and walkers.” From 7AM to 2PM, 76 miles every Sunday are closed (partially or fully). Approximately 1.7 million (1/4 of the countrys population) people turn out.
Now more than 400 cities (122 in the U.S.) throughout the world are participating. “It is a sign that urbanites are seeing their streets as spaces that can be lived in.” Paris, Philadelphia (10 miles) , San Antonio, Atlanta, Ft. Collins, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Cape Town, Edinburgh (UK), Ottawa (32 miles), Bangalore (India with their Muevete en Bici or Move Yourself on a Bicycle) and Pittsburgh are some examples. This event reduces air pollution and gets people to exercise.
Jaimes Ortiz Marino of Bogota studied architecture in the United States thought up this idea. He says, “The bicycle symbolizes individuality, civil rights, womens rights, urban mobility, simplicity and the new urbanism and of course, environmental consciousness.” Word got out and a short film in 2007 highlighted this event, watched by thousands in urban planning circles.
It is expensive to close roads. Los Angeles devoted $4 million to fund 17 open streets. It is estimated that one event can cost from $10,000 to $70,000 (which San Francisco spends.) Economists have discovered that this event is “cost beneficial”, possibly costing $1.36 per person in San Francisco.
Bogota Open Streets “is a reminder that a city can thrive without cars on a scale few would have thought possible.”
Reaction of DC Residents and Businesses?
Retired Business Person Travis: This seems to be a poor decision to close down an important street causing delays and inconvenience. Where is the common sense? (F2F interview)
Columbia Heights Resident Kerry: Not sure what the goal was for this first Open Streets on Georgia Ave. It was convenient to walk to the Petworth Farmers Market at Georgia Ave, 9th and Upshur without having to dodge traffic and panhandlers. It appeared to be geared towards children’s activities with a few things for children to do. Yes a busy traffic artery was shut down but I think it was a fair trade off to walk about the neighborhood. For the next one I would like to see more opportunities given to the local businesses on Georgia Ave to be able to promote their businesses so local residents become familiar with those businesses.
(Based on email communication)
Otis Place NW Resident Jay: I was amazed by the number of people who attended, and we discovered several new businesses during out walk of Georgia Avenue. I'd love it if this were a monthly event.
Michael Wray, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, 1A09 Park View: "Open Streets was a fantastic inaugural event and I'm thrilled that Georgia Avenue was chosen, as it is my nearest cross-street after all. I would like to see this as a regular and frequent event, but observed that it required a heavy security presence which may be a cost impediment. The city will need to address this in order to truly open our streets more often."
“We had a great time at the Open Streets event. Our businesses definitely benefited quite a bit. We'd love to make it a regular event.”Max Zuckerman, Colony Club
3118 Georgia Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20010
Former Columbia Heights Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Betty Pair: “ I thought it was great that they had provided for little people interactive things to do (as well as the usual bounce house), they had big people stuff (like the spinning class!) and a bike repair station. I loved all of it, and the mood of everyone was UP! I rode my bike up and down Georgia Avenue even stopping at the Upshur Fresh Market.” (per email and in person)
Conclusion: Council Member At Large Elissa Silverman concludes: “Open Streets illustrates why we shouldn’t be divided by race, age, or income when it comes to making our streets safer. As a cyclist, walker and public transit user, I look forward to future Open Streets events and continue to support implementing policies toward Vision Zero that meet the needs of every resident. We need to make investments in every ward to ensure this happens.”
The Open Streets program seems to be here to stay. “We believe that every municipality, no matter the size, can benefit from open streets.” Open Streets is a global movement and the North American Open Street Project is ready to provide technical assistance.
Larry Ray is former ANC in both Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights. He serves as the liaison for DC Next Door-Columbia Heights.
Links to Ray’s articles on GA Ave and Upshur.
Pixs provided in emails from ANC and District Bridges.