Georgia Avenue is a street that I actively avoid. I live close to it – less than a mile – but I do everything in my power to avoid walking, biking or driving there.
Georgia Avenue is a traffic sewer designed to benefit Maryland car commuters rather than the people who live in the neighborhood. It is six lanes of hell, filled with angry drivers rushing from traffic light to traffic light but getting nowhere fast.
With narrow sidewalks blocked with utility poles, it’s not fun for pedestrians, either. And the few times I’ve biked on the street, it was only due to a navigational error on my part.
Georgia Avenue went car-free on October 5, 2019, for Open Streets DC. For a few hours on Saturday, anyone could use the street and they did! Thousands of people came from around the region to experience this fleeting pedestrian paradise.
In addition to the simple joy of walking, running or biking down the wide avenue, people enjoyed yoga, a climbing wall, bands, DJs and anything else that they could dream up on this open stretch of asphalt.
But it was the kids who enjoyed it most. Everywhere you looked, you saw children on scooters, bikes, trikes and even unicycles. Parents could safely let their children wander the wide lanes without worrying about crazed car commuters.
It opened my eyes – literally. Without the fear of being run over, I could pause and look around, discovering new delights everywhere I turned.
My day was spent saying coasting down Georgia Avenue on my bike with friends and saying, “I didn’t know that was there…” It’s really a majestic avenue, filled with neighborhood shops and a wonderful tree-lined stretch near Howard University, one that is revealed only when cars are absent.
For example, last week, I walked by a new beer garden – Hook Hall. Yet, I barely noticed it for I was trying to get across Georgia Avenue without being hit by a car. Even with a marked crosswalk, drivers didn’t want to stop for me.
With Open Streets DC, I was able to peer into the beer garden, leisurely stroll in, and enjoy a stein of beer. I also had pizza at Sonny’s, another place I had walked by but not seen due to the distracting presence of drivers.
Call Your Mother was another place I had read about but hadn’t seen, because it is on inaccessible Georgia Avenue. There was a block-long line for a bagel! And I discovered a new coffee place, Colony Club, and I am always up for new coffee places.
Open Streets DC opened my eyes – literally. Without the danger of cars, I could lift my head up and look around. The area I thought of as “hellish Georgia Avenue” is actually the lovely neighborhood of Park View.
Alas, after a few short hours, Open Streets DC came to an end. By 4 PM, massive SUVs and double-parking Ubers had replaced pedestrians. Parents took their children home before they were hit by a car.
Georgia Avenue was hellish again. I crossed the street and biked home via 11th St, a much safer route but also one that avoids Hook Hall, Call Your Mother, Sonny’s and all the other retail establishments of Park View.
DC was not designed for cars; it was meant for people. Open Streets DC was more than just a successful urban experiment, it reawakened the idea that the streets belong to everyone.