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Tomorrow, we take to the streets.
Well, one street in particular: Georgia Avenue NW. This superhighway with crosswalks will be closed to cars from Barry Street NW near Howard all the way to Missouri Avenue NW. That’s three miles of space handed to pedestrians from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
This isn’t the first time Georgia Avenue NW has been closed as part of an Open Streets initiative. The 2019 edition was a huge success. There were spin classes, unicycles, festivals, and more. Normally filled with cars barrelling through, children (and children at heart) went hog wild marking up the street with chalk art, hopscotch boxes, and homemade bike lanes. People were encouraged to support local businesses. Many offered deals for those who no longer had to find a parking space to grab a drink, a bagel, or whatever tickled their fancy. The program was so successful that plans for doing events like this have been proposed in all eight wards.
If this festival feels illegal, that’s because technically it is. Open Streets DC visitors will be engaging in city-sponsored jaywalking (a racist term and a crime invented by car companies). In the District it’s mostly illegal for pedestrians to occupy streets outside of crosswalks. If they do, they must give the right of way to cars.
There’s a sort of vigilante justice this takeover provides D.C. residents. Georgia Avenue NW is one of the most unpleasant streets in the entire District. Drivers treat it like a Mario Kart course, and pedestrians are the banana peels. Drivers are partially at fault for this but so is the street’s design. Georgia Avenue NW is a stroad— a term coined by Strong Towns, a nonprofit that advocates for infrastructure that works for people over cars. They define it as “when a street (a place where people interact with businesses and residences, and where wealth is produced) gets combined with a road (a high-speed route between productive places).” It’s a road that’s useful to cars and cars only. For any non-car travel, it’s dangerous.
There’s nothing built into Georgia Avenue NW that encourages drivers to slow down. That may soon change. The fiscal year 2022 budget has $1.7 million allocated for making the stroad safer. But Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George says even that isn’t enough to fix Georgia’s safety issues.
“We already have traffic safety studies showing us what traffic safety measures are needed for Georgia Avenue, but most of these recommendations were never implemented. And we pay the price in car crashes and lives lost,” Lewis George said, according to WUSA9.
I live right off Georgia Avenue NW and a driver flipped me off this week because I had the nerve and the gumption to cross the street in a crosswalk. Luckily the driver’s Tesla stopped in time.
Other District residents haven’t been so lucky. Saddest of all, the recent trend of children getting hit by drivers. Four-year-old Nathan Ballard-Means was hit by a car Sept. 24th in Dupont Circle and survived, 5-year-old Allison Hart was killed two weeks earlier in Brookland when she was hit by a government vehicle in a crosswalk, and earlier this year, 4-year-old Zy’aire Joshua was killed while along Georgia Avenue NW. Hell, just yesterday, a mother and son were hit while crossing (they are in good condition, according to Lewis George.)
The pandemic has led the U.S. to question whether cars should share the road with pedestrians. The answer is clearly yes. So spend your Saturday on Georgia Avenue NW. Go out there and commit the crime of walking down a thoroughfare reserved for machines. Viva La Resistance De Auto. Your patronage will help make D.C. streets safer for us all.
—Bailey Vogt (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
This post has been updated to clarify when Georgia Avenue NW has previously closed to car traffic.
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