Vincent Gray in Adams Morgan: Comfortable Being Mayor

Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham with Mayor Vincent Gray at Adams Morgan Streetscape ribbon-cutting July 27. | Photo courtesy of Jim Graham (Kells Hetherington)

Well into his second year of being Mayor of the District of Columbia, things remain troubled for Vincent Gray. According to polls, a majority of the city’s residents want him to resign, not to mention a few members of the District Council. Aides from his 2010 election campaign have confessed to election improprieties to U.S. District Attorney Ronald Machen. The investigation remains ongoing. Everywhere he goes, Gray is plagued with questions about his role in a so-called “shadow campaign,” involving developer Jeffrey Thompson. Everywhere he goes, Gray says little or nothing, on the advice of his counsel.

Yet, he soldiers on. July 27 was almost what you could call an upbeat day for the mayor as he led a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Adams Morgan, celebrating the high-style completion of the neighborhood’s 18th Street Streetscape project, which has transformed the long stretch of the area’s commercial and nightlife district.

“This is the sort of the thing we should be paying attention to. It’s something positive, a project that going to help transform the Adams Morgan neighborhood, bring business to the areas and make a dramatic difference,” Mayor Gray said, trailed by reporters, local business and community leaders and officials from D.C.’s Department of Transportation.

Gray looked and sounded upbeat, as he moved up and down 18th Street, dropping into shops and restaurants along the way. Still, faced with reporters with notebooks, he often looked a little wary. This is part of his daily routine now, even when it’s not the central piece of a particular event, as it really wasn’t here. Locals helped him celebrate, including Ward One Councilman Jim Graham, members of the Adams Morgan Business Improvement District and harried business owners, many of whom applied for interest-free loans from the city to alleviate costs caused by construction noise and disruption.

“If you have not been to Adams Morgan recently, you might not recognize it,” Mayor Gray said. “18th Street has undergone an extreme makeover and the results are remarkable. The new roadway, the wider sidewalks, the safer crosswalks—all of the upgrades support the local businesses in this great community and will help attract new customers.”

The project began February 2011, going up and down the sides of 18th Street from Columbia Road to Florida Avenue, a half-mile stretch. There were days and nights when the street looked like a war zone, with gaping wounds and craters along streets and sidewalks, not to mention the constant noise of drilling. The street, famous for its bar and night and entertainment and restaurant life, was in the past often congested, colorful and sometimes dangerous.

The result of the streetscape, similar to other projects in the city (there’s one about to begin on U Street and in Columbia Heights ) have made a remarkable difference at first sight. The $6.8-million project includes 32 Washington Globe street lights, 16 pendant pole lights at intersections, 47 ADA-compliant sidewalk wheelchair ramps, wider bump-outs and pedestrian gathering islands, a reconfigured intersection at 28th Street and Florida Avenue, 4,868 feet of granite curbs and brick gutters, new garbage cans and recycling cans and solar-powered compactors and larger storm-drain inlets. There are also 71 new bike racks, signs for bikers, and 59 new trees. The streets and sidewalks are wider, giving the area a new, urban, cosmopolitan look it didn’t have before. Shop owners on the whole appeared pleased with the new digs, and already there’s been an influx of new restaurants that appear an upgrade from the double-decker bars prevalent in the area.

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