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Chill out, downtowners: The District Department of Transportation had contemplated trying to block off 10th Street between E and F Streets to vehicular traffic, but howls of protest put the proposal back on ice.
The city didn’t even want to do it because of the urbanist value of creating a pedestrian space where people could spread out on tables and chairs on a narrow, tourist-clogged street anchored by Ford’s Theater. Rather, they wanted to do it as a way of keeping tour buses in control—-right now, police issue scads of tickets for illegal parking every day, and the problem continues. The idea, says DDOT’s Eulois Cleckley, would be to create an orderly system where buses would line up and drop off before going right back down 9th Street to their parking lot on Buzzard Point.
Cleckley says the idea came from the Downtown Business Improvement District, but not all businesses on the block were in favor of it. And one big business in the area, Douglas Development, is adamantly opposed: The developer’s head of construction Paul Millstein showed up to last nights Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting to protest that it would totally screw up traffic for their tenants, like Forever 21 and Anthropologie.
“We think the plan is ridiculous. We think it’s ill-conceived,” he said. “It’s a train wreck.”
Downtown Neighborhood Association president Nanette Paris and the ANC agreed, fretting that there would be no way for someone to drop off their frail grandmother right in front of the one restaurant on that block. In addition, ANC Chairman Alex Padro recalled the prior precedent of blocks being closed to traffic, which hadn’t been a success (the experiment in front of the MLK Library ended in 1999).
“All of those ‘streets for people’ projects ended up killing all of the retail activity, all of the arts activity, all around that area,” Padro said. “So from past experience, we have to believe that closing a street that has so many things going on around it right now is a recipe for disaster.”
Instead, Padro and Millstein recommended that the city step up enforcement on the tour buses, putting someone on the block from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. With the exception of Old Town Trolley, which has a contract to use one particular space, the rest of them pay nothing for the privilege of dropping off there—-but they could generate some revenue by paying tickets for their infractions.
So that’s what DDOT’s doing, for now. Cleckley still thinks the idea could’ve worked, but understands that in a still-improving downtown, people cling to vehicle traffic as if more people walking and biking couldn’t more than make up for it. “I think that people, when they hear ‘closure,’ they get a little skittish,” Cleckley told me after his presentation. “The general thought is if you close a street, you could potentially threaten any economic development on the block.”
Come on: Downtown has vastly changed since the failed pedestrian plazas of the late 1990s. There are lots more people living there, eating there, shopping there—-and most of them don’t arrive in cars. Many would be more attracted to Ford’s Theater and other businesses by a plaza with seating out front than by a road going past it. Sure, you might not be able to drop grandma off curbside at Bistro D’Oc, but if she can’t walk a couple blocks, she should probably be in a wheelchair anyways.