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On a warm afternoon earlier this month, Florence Maier was strolling with friends along the Southwest waterfront promenade when she saw a car coming toward her. Fast. Irate at the intrusion, Maier stood her ground and held out a hand, commanding the driver to stop. Why, she asked, was he driving in a pedestrian zone?
It wasn’t a pedestrian zone, he replied. It was a street. With that, he sped off.
When Maier went to the nearby Harbor Police station to complain, police told her she and the driver were both correct: In the eyes of the law, the cobbled walkway is not only a pedestrian zone, it’s P Street SW.
The promenade doesn’t look much like, say, P Street NW, which carries traffic through Logan and Dupont Circles, emptying out in Georgetown. The stretch in question begins at 4th Street, just outside Fort McNair’s gates, and heads straight down toward the Titanic memorial. At the memorial, the path takes a 90-degree turn to the north and eventually exits to Water Street. The concrete benches, 15-foot bubble street lanterns, and tall trees that outline the single-lane road make the park aesthetic complete. And a “Do Not Enter” sign greets motorists where the promenade meets Water Street, announcing that the roadway is reserved for emergency and maintenance vehicles.
Officially, the promenade is an access road, providing a shortcut for Harbor Patrol vehicles to reach the 4th Street exit from their facilities at the promenade’s Water Street entrance. The rules for that stretch are similar to those for the roadways that cut through the median strips on Interstate 95except that joggers and sightseers are prohibited from using the I-95 roads. The job of watching for unauthorized traffic belongs to the Park Police.
Besides Harbor Patrol traffic, a weekday afternoon finds the occasional pickup truck or maintenance van pulling up on the pavement to tend the upkeep of the park or one of the apartment buildings that border the roadway. Now and then, a late-model sedan uses the path as a shortcut to or from one of the apartment parking facilities.
Reed Slack, a jogger on the waterfront, says he doesn’t mind detouring around the odd service truck. Harbor Patrol officers say no pedestrians have been struck on the roadway in memory, and that they don’t usually hear any complaints about traffic.
But Maier is unconvinced. “It’s not safe with little kids running around and playing on their bikes,” she says. “It’s going to have to take someone to get hurt for them to do something.” CP