Where’s the Vision for K/Water Street?

A postcard from the 1920s depicts the old Aqueduct Bridge alongside the new Key Bridge.

Let’s start with the old Aqueduct Bridge remnant. Where K (or Water) Street ends, this abutment at the west end of Georgetown is popular with sightseers and thrill-seekers. Its archway leads west to the Washington Canoe Club, and the abutment, on the banks of the Potomac River, is itself against the Potomac Boat Club.

Before Key Bridge opened in 1923, this was the bridge that connected Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Virginia. It’s an unexpected piece of history.

Pulled down by the 1930s, the bridge survives as a riverside ruin. While the view from the top is great, the area has unfortunately become a magnet for bad behavior: drinking, drug use, muggings and drag racing. It was recently the jumping off point for two men who perished.

How to get things under control? Overseen by the National Park Service — and therefore patrolled by the Park Police — the properties around it are patrolled by the Metropolitan Police Department. This difference in jurisdiction has caused confusion near the boathouses and directly under Key Bridge and the Whitehurst Freeway. Coordinating better after the spike in incidents on Water Street, the departments have stepped up their patrols. Lighting has been reconfigured and more is on the way. Cameras would be welcome.

Add to this problem, the mess that K Street-Water Street continues to be. Forty-eight parking spaces will be lost to a bike lane for commuters, who like to race down from the Capital Crescent Trail and head east, right in the middle of K Street (speed bump or better enforcement, anyone?). Tour buses have been known to jam up the works, not to mention the possibility — read, improbability — of a DC Streetcar line.

Meanwhile, sections of these blocks are being dug up and repaved, putting businesses under stress from lack of packing, construction noise and random disruptions, including after-hours criminal behavior.

It has been a struggle for businesses “down there,” to say the least. Barre 3, Gypsy Sally’s, Malmaison and Water Street Gym, which committed to the west side of K before its newfound notoriety — and could be part of a brighter retail future — deserve our support.

Now being addressed by Georgetown’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the Georgetown Business Association and other community groups, the proposal by the District Department of Transportation and the Georgetown Business Improvement District — a fait accompli, really — for bike lines and crosswalk enhancement will assuredly help.

But yet to be grasped is how special this street was and is for Georgetown. It’s not just another street. It’s at the waterfront. It’s where Georgetown began.

An ambitious vision is taking shape for the renewed C&O Canal. Where is the vision for K/Water Street? Imagine a pedestrian-friendly parkway that attracts residents, workers and visitors with Potomac views and sidewalk cafés and shops. We think Georgetown deserves no less.

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