M St. Sidewalk Expansion on Hold

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Last year's sidewalk expansion along the 3200 block of M Street in Georgetown. Georgetowner photo.

“Welcome Pedestrians! Please enjoy this extra sidewalk space,” read signs up and down M Street between Potomac Street and Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown last year, every weekend from last June through the December holidays. They were part of the Georgetown Business Improvement District’s sidewalk-widening project, which added six feet of sidewalk out from the curb on each side of the street, in front of some of Georgetown’s busiest shops and restaurants. The idea was to ease pedestrian traffic.

The added space for shoppers with packages, pedestrians with strollers and window-lookers was popular with most of those surveyed by the BID, according to CEO Joe Sternlieb in a May 23 phone interview. But this year, the project has been put on hold.

“While most people we talked to loved the extra walking space, almost everyone criticized it for looking like a construction zone with the temporary metal barriers,” said Sternlieb.

“We haven’t been able to beautify it with planters and furniture to make it more attractive as we had hoped,” admitted Jamie Scott, the BID’s planning and economic development director, last fall.

Part of the problem last year were the long days of heat. “We had planned to put up planters and street furniture for lounging, but no one wants to be outside in the heat we’ve been having,” said Will Handsfield, the BID’s transportation director, last July. “Probably our main usage issue right now is shade. We’re exploring how to bring shade trees temporarily to the extended pedestrian walkway. Something on casters.”

Reactions to the expansion were mixed last fall when The Georgetowner conducted an informal survey on Sept. 23. Some shop managers and shoppers said they liked the feeling of not been packed in as in New York City. Some said it had increased walk-in business, especially from people with strollers.

Others resented the loss of parking in front of their stores and restaurants, especially for regular customers, and the increased pressure for parking in the nearby residential streets.

“There are also some security issues involving the barriers and the project that have to be dealt with,” according to Sternlieb. The BID is responsible for installing and taking down the barriers each weekend.

“The other big challenge for BID was logistics,” said Scott in an interview in October. “Where to store all the barriers and future enhancements in a flat area easily accessible to M Street is our quest.”

“All the ideas we’ve gotten to improve the sidewalk expansion’s look and feel have been very positive,” Sternlieb said. The BID is now in the process of talking with D.C. agencies such as the Department of Transportation and filing for permits to deal with them all.

“We want to make the whole project prettier, And we want to get it right,” Sternlieb emphasized.

Getting it right may take until late summer or even early fall.

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