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What Could Have Been

January 5, 2012

Yesterday, the Huffington Post ran an article about Amsterdam’s Bike Culture as a model for other cities.  Naturally, I skimmed over the words and went right to the images and video (as I’m sure you’re doing right now and I’m ok with that, I guess).  The video below entitled “How the Dutch Got Their Cycle Paths” was interesting for two reasons.

First, I always believed the bicycle infrastructure in that country was just there.  I was with the understanding that after WWII, planners rebuilt their cities with all the features that makes Europhiles drool today.  However, this was not the case.  Beginning in the 1950s and continuing into the 70s, the Netherlands became very car-centric. Pedestrian infrastructure was demolished to make way for highways and car parking.

Eventually, a grassroots movement started demanding safer streets for pedestrians and children (oh wow, fighting for change by actually getting to the core of a problem and offering solid, tangible solutions, hm).  Their calls would lead to car-free Sundays, car-free city centers and the rest is history.

Secondly, the video showed what was possible.  Our infrastructure didn’t have to be built a certain from the beginning for a culture shift to be possible.  But where to start?  My slice of DC, the Mount Pleasant neighborhood, would be prime for development into a pedestrian corridor.  It’s four blocks of main street, dubbed “A Village in the City,” is not located on a major thoroughfare and as a result has a significantly different and quieter feel than the rest of the city.   About 40% of Mt Pleasant households do not own a car and most visit Mt Pleasant Street on foot.  It’s hard to imagine why businesses would not appreciate more foot traffic (unless these businesses have the word’s “dollar” or “-mat” in their title).

A view down Mt P Street

Shops along Mt P Street

Not surprisingly, I am not the first person with this idea.  In December 2009, the Mt P Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) passed a resolution asking the District DOT to investigate the conversion of Mount Pleasant Street to a “pedestrian encounter zone” and bicycle boulevard.  The encounter zone would not have been a full-fledged car-free pedestrian-only center, but rather a place were pedestrians were given priority and allowed to cross streets anywhere.  Vehicles would be required to yield to them.  The result would be slow-moving traffic and a relaxed atmosphere creating more “human activity.”  Surely, outdoor cafes, vendors, al fresco haircuts, etc would all come in due time.  It sounded great and was even applauded by then-Director of DDOT Gabe Klein.  Unfortunately, the money was not there and the plan faded away.  But rather than get my knickers in a twist (just kidding, my knickers are neatly folded in a bin underneath my bed) waiting for the money to start flowing again, I’m left hoping we can still accomplish the baby steps to a culture change like these people in Dallas did.

(and it only cost them $1K)

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