Brick sidewalks installed in the 1700s handle up to 40,000 pedestrians daily on spring and summer weekends. Public works temporarily widens them during events and weekends.
Credit: Sam Kittner Brick sidewalks installed in the 1700s handle up to 40,000 pedestrians daily on spring and summer weekends. Public works temporarily widens them during events and weekends.

Businesses and homeowners in Washington, D.C.’s touristy Georgetown neighborhood have formally collaborated since at least 1878. The Citizens Association of Georgetown formed that year and became the Old Georgetown Board in 1950, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in 1974, and the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID) in 1999.

“We fill this middle space between government and the private sector, saying ‘here are good ideas for the community that government can help us with,’” says CEO Joe Sternlieb. “We can do the creative stuff where the district will do the regulatory stuff.”

More than 40,000 people visit Georgetown on weekends and during events. However, streetlight poles, tree boxes, and other obstructions in the 9-foot, red brick sidewalks make walking to shops and restaurants difficult.

Widening them would eat up space in the area’s heavily congested streets, so BID asked the District of Columbia DOT to help them test a compromise: temporarily widening them.

On four weekends this spring, including the Cherry Blossom festival in April and Georgetown University’s commencement, barriers and signs were installed to add 8 feet of sidewalk to both sides of key corridors. The DOT’s Public Space Regulations Administration shepherded BID through the process of securing public space permits and inspections to meet DOT requirements. The experiments were so successful that wider sidewalks are a regular occurrence this summer.

“The DOT staff was very willing to sit down, roll up their sleeves, and figure out solutions as issues came up,” says Sternlieb. Examples include ensuring accessibility and incorporating bus stops.

Released in 2013, the nonprofit organization’s 15-year master plan for a pedestrian-friendly streetscape includes:

  • Developing streetscape guidelines that include standards for tree boxes, sidewalk furniture, street lamps, and other elements.
  • Creating pedestrian links through alleys, parking lots, and side streets.
  • Improving safety and convenience of pedestrian crossings.
  • Installing temporary parklets on commercial side streets. A parklet is a parking space or other curbside road segment that’s converted to a pedestrian space to provide seating or other typical sidewalk function. They differ from curb extensions, such as bump outs, as they’re situated on a removable platform or on the road surface, usually with planters or other barriers providing a buffer from adjacent traffic.

“Georgetown is a wonderful place to shop, dine, and explore D.C. history,” says Sternlieb. “Sidewalk widening is part of our ongoing effort to improve the experience of being in our commercial district.”