By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
Where does Georgetown want to be in 15 years?
As the community faces increased competition from new, transit-friendly hotspots around the city, the Georgetown Business Improvement District is seeking ideas to boost the neighborhood’s appeal to visitors and make it easier for them to get there.
The “Georgetown 2028” planning process, which drew about 70 people to its first public meeting on Thursday, is relying on crowd-sourced suggestions as well as pitches from the business group itself. A community task force, managed by the BID, will study the ideas and feedback in order to issue draft recommendations in September, followed by a final report in November, according to Joe Sternlieb, the business group’s CEO.
The process has already generated a wide variety of ideas, including improving transit connections, widening sidewalks, lifting the moratorium on liquor licenses and adding amenities to the C&O Canal. But in an interview, Sternlieb said the BID is not prepared to endorse any of the ideas yet, and that the task force will likely weed out many based on practical objections or community opposition.
“We’re not trying to sell people on ideas,” said Sternlieb. “We’re trying to float lots of things and see what rises to the top.”
Transportation issues have been the most widely discussed so far, he said, because without a Metro station or obvious bounty of parking, Georgetown is too often seen as an inconvenient destination. Popular ideas have included pushing for a Metro station and streetcar service — with the latter ideally reaching to Georgetown University. Also under discussion are a gondola connecting to Rosslyn — modeled after a similar service in Portland, Ore. — and a pedestrian bridge or water taxi to Roosevelt Island.
To improve the pedestrian experience and safety, some participants in Georgetown 2028 have called for reducing parking on M Street to accommodate wider sidewalks, and for instituting “Barnes Dance” traffic signaling at M Street and Wisconsin Avenue that would stop all car traffic at times to give pedestrians free reign at the intersection.
Other transportation proposals have included higher-priced on-street parking and construction of a new parking garage.
But it’s not enough to make it easy to get to and around Georgetown — the neighborhood also needs amenities to encourage visitors to come in the first place, according to participants in the planning process. Sternlieb said he was particularly enthusiastic about suggestions to boost the appeal of the C&O Canal as a destination by improving signage and adding walking tours. Other suggestions have also included replacing the historic canal boat — presently out of commission — and allowing canoeing and kayaking within the canal.
Besides soliciting feedback on the ideas, the business group must also weigh practical measures, said Sternlieb. “People might come up with stuff that they really love and want us to work on — and it costs $3 billion,” he said.
Many initiatives will involve the BID lobbying for a particular change or new program, or facilitating another group’s efforts to implement it, he said. Smaller steps, such as efforts to make it easier for visitors to find parking, and real-time bus arrival displays, can be handled by the BID on its own in the near future, Sternlieb said.
Ron Lewis, who chairs the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission and attended the Thursday meeting, said he hopes the process will lead to long-term improvements for Georgetown.
“It has that potential, but it’s too early to say,” said Lewis. “Certainly some of the low-hanging fruit can be dealt with in the short term — good ideas that are just waiting to be articulated and set forward. Others will take more careful study. I think overall some good things can come of it.”
The BID will accept new proposals as well as feedback on existing ideas at the project website, plan.georgetown2028.com.
Current staff contributed to this report.
This article appears in the June 19 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer
Complaints about noise from the roof deck on the newly upgraded Graham Georgetown Hotel have led the community’s advisory neighborhood commission to protest its liquor license renewal.
The license is up for its two-year renewal, a review process that neighbors regularly use as leverage to address grievances.
In the case of the Graham — the new boutique hotel that’s replaced the former Hotel Monticello at 1075 Thomas Jefferson St. — the neighborhood commission asked hotel representatives last week to remove the sound system from its roof deck.
Commissioners say the music is audible from homes more than a block away, on N Street, and that the loud music also encourages people to talk louder to be heard. The views from the roof deck are so appealing that the spot would be popular even without music, commissioners said.
“Right now you have the hottest ticket in Georgetown,” commissioner Tom Birch told hotel operators. “It’s not like we have a lot of rooftop bars operating in Georgetown.”
Freddie Wyatt, the hotel’s business development director, responded that the hotel installed a new, more sophisticated sound system soon after opening. The “localized” speakers prevent sound from carrying, he said.
“We’ve operated for the last week without a problem. We have the brand-new systems in, and we don’t think we should have to pull them back out,” said Wyatt.
Birch noted that the commission recently negotiated with the new Noodles & Co. restaurant that’s opening at 1825 Wisconsin Ave. to have no amplified sound on its rooftop seating area, because it’s so difficult to prevent sound from affecting nearby residents. He added that problems with the Graham persisted despite the hotel’s efforts to improve the sound system.
“I appreciate the fact, gentlemen … that you came up with a plan to ameliorate the situation,” said Birch. “I’m afraid it’s not perfect, and my suggestion to you is to make it extra-perfect. I would guarantee that your customers are not going to come up and say, ‘What’s going on?’” if there are no speakers on the roof, he said.
Wyatt said the hotel would like to work with an N Street neighbor who complained to Birch, but commissioners said the issue is too widespread for a localized fix. They voted unanimously to protest the license pending an agreement to remove the speakers.
Hotel representatives did not directly answer commissioners’ questions about why the speaker system was valuable to their operations, and they declined to comment after the meeting.
Commissioner Bill Starrels, whose district includes the Graham, said yesterday that he hopes to meet with hotel representatives “in the near future” about the issue.
This article appears in the June 12 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Elizabeth Wiener
Current Staff Writer
Undoing a controversial piece of the Wisconsin Avenue streetscape project, the D.C. Department of Transportation last week began removing a painted median between Calvert and Garfield streets to restore a lane for cars.
The agency was responding to complaints — voiced loudly at a May 1 D.C. Council hearing — that the narrowed roadway was causing bottlenecks and sending frustrated motorists onto residential streets. The change will not affect the Glover Park commercial district, which runs from Calvert south; that area is not slated to lose its new median or dedicated left-turn lanes.
But the reversal upset some Glover Park residents who say the overall project is both calming traffic and improving pedestrian safety. And some say the Transportation Department acted without proper consultation or consideration of the spillover effects. The change was announced just days before the yellow-striped median between Garfield and Fulton streets was partially scrubbed away.
“It’s abundantly clear DDOT didn’t do any evaluation,” said Brian Cohen, chair of Glover Park’s advisory neighborhood commission. Cohen said the lane restrictions resulted from several years of study, which, he said, “found the pedestrian environment dangerous.”
“I understand there are issues that need to be resolved, but let’s resolve them in a thoughtful, comprehensive way — and this action is the opposite,” Cohen said. He said two pedestrians were hit by cars each year from 2008 through 2010 along that stretch of Wisconsin.
But the latest change pleased residents in Massachusetts Avenue Heights, which flanks Wisconsin’s east side north of Glover Park. They had argued, just as vociferously, that the striped yellow median with its marked turn lanes was not only clogging traffic, but also encouraging pedestrians to jaywalk mid-block and drivers to turn into their neighborhood to avoid the congestion.
“I’m surprised, but pleased,” said Massachusetts Avenue Heights neighborhood commissioner Catherine May. “People really want this striping gone.”
She said her constituents had uniformly protested the loss of a traffic lane, as well as new evening parking restrictions introduced on that stretch of Wisconsin without proper notice. “It doesn’t improve pedestrian safety. It makes it worse,” she said of the initial changes.
Both Cohen and May said the “un-striping” began with minimal and late notice. May said the neighborhood commissions got an email notice about a day before the work began, and Cohen said the Transportation Department sent his to the wrong e-mail address. The agency sent the council a notice May 28 saying it was responding to “a request from [Ward 3] Council member Mary Cheh, [Ward 2] Council member Jack Evans, and community residents.”
“In the interest of pedestrian and vehicle safety, an independent determination has been made” to remove the striping north of Calvert and reopen the middle lane to traffic, wrote chief traffic engineer James Cheeks.
Monica Hernandez, a Transportation Department spokesperson, said only that the removal of the median strip north of Calvert Street is a “permanent change.”
Evans said Monday that after the May 1 hearing he and Cheh had instructed agency director Terry Bellamy to “make those changes in 30 days.” Bellamy had initially said his department needed at least 90 days to evaluate the proposal.
Cheh said she, too, was surprised by the Transportation Department’s quick action and short notice. She said she had only asked Bellamy to study the issue and report back in 30 days.
But the Ward 3 member said that there seemed to be consensus that restoring a traffic lane along that stretch of Wisconsin would improve traffic flow. “We’re restoring something that existed before,” she said. “If from a pedestrian and safety perspective it makes sense, why not respond to a major problem?”
The Wisconsin Avenue project has been under discussion for years, following a 2006 study on ways to improve the business climate and pedestrian safety in Glover Park. The entire project, stretching up Wisconsin from Whitehaven Parkway to Massachusetts Avenue, also produced wider sidewalks, better street lighting and new parking restrictions. But the transformation of a through-traffic lane into a yellow painted median strip, complete with multiple turn arrows, has spurred the loudest reaction.
“This idea of restricting [northbound] traffic to one lane … is unacceptable,” Evans said in an interview, arguing that backups extend down past the Safeway several blocks south, with one illegally parked truck able to bring the entire stretch to a halt. Evans called the return of a traffic lane north of Calvert Street “a half measure,” and said he will continue to push for removing the entire yellow striped median in Glover Park’s commercial area as well.
The first news of the change came last Wednesday, when the Transportation Department posted a news release announcing “temporary lane closures on northbound Wisconsin Avenue” starting the next day “to facilitate the removal of pavement markings in this corridor.” By Sunday, the bright yellow stripes had been roughly scrubbed away between Garfield and Fulton streets, with work farther south to come.
The change sparked criticism on the Glover Park neighborhood listserv and from neighborhood commissioners. Several targeted Evans himself.
“I’ll be honest,” said Cohen. “Jack Evans is concerned about getting his kids back and forth to school, and he doesn’t give a damn about people who live, work and play in Glover Park. All he cares about is driving through Glover Park as fast as he can. That’s the problem with politicians making traffic decisions, instead of traffic engineers.” Evans lives in Georgetown, and his triplets attend school at the National Cathedral and at Maret.
Evans said Monday that his push to remove the median “has nothing to do with me driving my children to school.” He said he spoke repeatedly at the hearing of his “firsthand experience” with traffic on Wisconsin Avenue because that would be more effective than simply repeating complaints of his constituents. “It has nothing to do with me, but understanding the frustration experienced by everyone” who drives the corridor, he said.
Cheh, in a separate interview, said she would not support removing the median strip in the commercial area of Glover Park, as Evans is advocating. “We’re not going to do that,” said Cheh, who chairs the council’s transportation committee. “I don’t think we’re at the stage yet of throwing out all that work in Glover Park.”
This article appears in the June 5 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.