Pedestrian Promenade Proposed For 17th Street

My friend John pointed me towards a grassroots campaign advocating 17th Street NW between Massachusetts and New Hampshire Avenue be converted into a pedestrian-only street. While I am not generally an advocate of such streets and think there’s a whole host of measures that can be taken short of completely closing streets to traffic (medians, wider sidewalks, bulb-outs, etc), they seem to work in some intensely pedestrian places. Successful pedestrian streets I’ve seen in the U.S. have a high density of businesses and contain cross streets open to autos for easy access, two things certainly present at 17th Street. Whether or not the proposal is politically feasible, it is certainly worth discussing. Unsurprisingly, the promenade has been covered by the newly launched DC sidewalk blog.

The proposal reminds me of some ideas put together for a magazine called DCenter, edited by architect Julian Hunt. Sadly, we must rely on Marc Fisher’s summary since Julian has chosen not to publish the contents online. According to Fisher, the articles include a proposal by Hunt to cover over the ramps to the Dupont Circle underpass to create public space for the famer’s market and other uses, and another by Catholic University professor Iris Miller, who advocates re-using the Whitehurst Freeway as pedestrian promenade, perhaps not unlike plans for New York City’s High Line. DCenter is available through Amazon, at the National Building Museum Book Shop, and the Franz Bader Bookstore at 1911 I Street NW.

> 17th Street Campaign
> Marc Fisher: “The Whale Has No Famous Author

The photo of the Carrol Creek Promenade in Frederick, MD was taken by Flickr user TopTechWriter

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. Rob, Thanks for the ink on the 17th Street Campaign. I’ve been surprised to see how many people have picked up this issue so quickly, and there is alot of energy and volunteerism around it. You’ve correctly pointed to two things that differentiate this proposal from some of the failed small-town downtown attempts at pedestrian malls in the cross-streets and thriving (and dining/entertainment-oriented) existing businesses. Additionally, the already high pedestrian traffic, and potential to draw from both residential and office populations make it very exciting. We’re certainly open to various options for designing the space, which might be limiting traffic rather than closing the streets entirely. In any case, given your background in urban planning and community issues, we’d love to have you and your readers invloved in the analysis and advocacy if you’re interested.

  2. covering the open space north of dupont circle to create more usable space is a brilliant idea. there’s another space they could do that to….north capitol between rhode island and t street. it could create a nice little park for an area of town that’s short on green space.

  3. That’s a pretty neat idea about turning elevated freeways into elevated parks. What an interesting proposal. I’ve never considered that before.

  4. While I’m all for pedestrian zones, most business owners oppose them because it means cars won’t be able to drop customers out front and it reduces the amount of onstreet parking. When they were redoing the streetscape in Georgetown a couple of years ago, business owners were vehemently opposed to widening the sidewalks there because it would sacrifice onstreet parking.

  5. Chris, thanks for your interesting comment. It might be interesting to survey patrons at some of the businesses to see how they got there — my impression is the only businesses where a meaningful percentage come by car are specialty restaurants that draw from a wide area, whereas many businesses are frequented by people walking or using transit. It will certainly be an issue the supporters of a pedestrian street will have to deal with.

  6. I’m definitely pro-pedestrian, anti-auto-dependency/auto-oriented cities, but I don’t know–it seems that 17th is a pretty handy commuter corridor in the mornings. Also, a lot of the side streets seem to get jammed up easily and would be even more nighmare-ish if 17th were closed. If 17th could be opened and closed (maybe with those things that come out of the ground?) at certain times of the day and weekends, then it might be a more viable plan. I think the L’enfant grid already easily succumbs to the “perfect [traffic] storm,” so am wary of closing off certain chunks of it permanently.

  7. While biking home up 17th Street last night, I noticed that there is not a single business for the last block or two before reaching New Hampshire. It’s all residential buildings. Personally, if I live in one of those buildings, I want to live on a street with all kinds of activity: walkers, shoppers, transiters, bikers, AND cars poking through at various times of day. I don’t really see the point of making it an all-pedestrian promenade. There’s so much more that can be done there to make it full of vitality and life without having to resort to closing down the whole street. Turning it into an outdoor mall/promenade to attract tourists might only hasten its demise as a center of independent dining and retail.

  8. I’m not too sure that a 17th pedestrian promenade is a recipe for success. One only has to look at two failed pedestrian promenades downtown on F Street NW in front of the Nat. Portrait Gallery and G Street NWin front of the MLK Library. These two promenades were removed some time ago because they became hangouts for homeless people and drug dealers. These promenades actually HURT the surrounding area and became barren wastelands of INactivity. Pedestrian malls in many other cities have been abandoned because they generally do not work! What 17th Street DOES need is better and wider sidewalks and new street lighting – much like 8th Street SE on Capitol Hill but a pedestrian mall I think would be detrimental to the businesses and the neighborhood safety.

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