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- Signs like these were supposed to be a thing of a past after a rule put in place in 2007 prohibited construction sites from blocking pedestrian access, with a few exceptions. (Photo: Sommer Mathis/TBD | Date: Feb. 01, 2011)
Construction of the massive, city-funded Convention Center Marriott Marquis hotel is now well under way. But you don't need to tell commuters and residents in and around the Mt. Vernon Triangle and Shaw neighborhoods that. A full lane of traffic on southbound 9th Street NW has lately been commandeered by the project, not to mention the sidewalks surrounding virtually the entire site. Traversing the intersection of 9th and Massachusetts Avenue NW on foot right now can be, as one D.C. government official put it to me, "like a game of frogger."
Back in 2007, the District Department of Transportation put in place a set of rules that were supposed to make total sidewalk closures like this largely a thing of the past. Builders in the District are generally required to construct covered pedestrian walkways, in almost all cases. So why has the takeover of pedestrian access to an entire downtown corner been permitted at the Convention Center hotel? We've posed the question to DDOT, and they've promised to investigate and get back to us.
Part of the answer may have to do with the type of work currently underway at the site. DDOT spokesman John Lisle sent over the chart below, which explains that during razes or facade demolitions, the city actually prefers sidewalk closures for safety reasons. That makes sense, except, according to the city's own permitting database, the Marriott Marquis has so far only been granted permits for digging and other below-grade work on the structure (thanks to D.C.'s famous height restrictions, almost half of the 1,175-room hotel will be below ground). No raze or facade demo permit has been issued to date for the project.
Granting exemptions to the pedestrian walkway rules is entirely up to DDOT and made on a case-by-case basis, and we're still waiting on a final answer as to the reasoning behind the sidewalk closures in this case. Given the length and scope of this construction project (the hotel isn't slated to open until 2014), we've also asked the hotel's developers if they can at least tell us when they think they'll be able to provide walkway access again. We'll be sure to update when we hear from them.