The Georgetown Business Improvement District has begun experimenting with temporarily widening sidewalks along Wisconsin Avenue during some of Georgetown’s busiest shopping periods to alleviate congestion and promote a safer environment for pedestrians.
The Georgetown BID first piloted widened sidewalks during a French Market event held last April. During the market, parallel parking spaces along the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue were blocked off and barriers were erected to create a safer space for pedestrians to pass.
“We will be doing sidewalk widening for the second day of the Georgetown French Market on April 26 and possibly for a longer period that weekend, but are exploring options and physical barriers that would allow the BID to do more regular sidewalk widening, such as every weekend during the late spring-early autumn seasons when we have significant foot traffic every weekend,” Sherie Winston, the communications manager for Georgetown BID, said.
The BID hopes that widening the sidewalks will promote more pedestrian traffic and thus more business for stores near Wisconsin Avenue and M Street.
“The BID expects that more people on the sidewalks will translate into an increase in business for merchants. For example, in Times Square in NYC, they widened the sidewalks, sales went up, and commercial rents went up,” Winston said.
Despite the success at last year’s French Market, concerns regarding reduced parking spaces during times when the sidewalks are widened still persist. The BID has concentrated their efforts on providing large parking lots for some of the planned events, like the Georgetown French Market, as well as easily available and accessible information about parking options.
“It would be significantly more efficient if drivers just anticipated going into a parking lot or garage to begin with. It would save a lot of driver frustration and time. Much of the weekend gridlock is exacerbated by people slowly cruising for parking spaces. We still have to do more to make the experience of using a parking garage better, but we’d like a situation where the parking economics don’t encourage drivers to cause congestion, waste time and burn extra gasoline,” Winston said, noting that the widened sidewalks only remove 10 to 12 parking spaces in total.
The BID has also considered working with the university to rent out Georgetown’s parking lot over the weekend, a time when the shopping areas see heavier traffic than the university, according to Winston.
“The times when the University needs parking most are the times when the shopping district needs it least, and vice-versa. You can take a look on any weekend … and the parking lot at 37th and Prospect will be almost empty, while drivers are circling the very same blocks looking for a parking spot in the neighborhood. We continue to work with the university on this and many other transportation issues,” Winston said.
Retail stores on M Street and Wisconsin Avenue expressed their support for the implementation of sidewalk widening to reduce the overcrowding over the weekend.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Chantia Johnson, who works at Baked and Wired, said. “It’s so crowded, and it’s very busy on the weekends. We have this small patio set outside, and although it does narrow down the sidewalk, customers enjoy the space, and it’s a perfect scene to relax with coffee and cupcake on a nice day outdoors. If the sidewalks widen, we’d be able to continue setting up the outdoor patio, and pedestrians wouldn’t have any problem walking past it.”
Steve Madden employee Nikyia Johnson also voiced her support for the new campaign.
“Widening the sidewalks would lead to a smaller street with less parking, but I don’t think it would change the value of the customers here because people come to shop regardless. Georgetown is a tourist town; it’ll be a plus,” she said.
Gayoung Jeong (SFS ’16), however, said that she did not think the wider sidewalks would make a difference.
“I’ve never really felt that the sidewalks are narrow … it definitely gets crowded on the weekends. But then again, I don’t think widening the sidewalks would un-crowd the streets. It’s more likely that even more tourists would come enjoy the wider sidewalk,” Jeong said.