Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Fireworks explode onto the urban streets of D.C. (photos)

July 5, 2011 - 09:46 AM
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Amateur display at Shepherd St NW and Kansas Avenue (Photo: John Hendel)

Pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists traveling through Washington D.C. may have encountered a particularly freedom-infused obstacle last night: Fourth of July fireworks.

Block after block, District residents lit up fireworks on the sidewalks and street intersections of our city's roads, at least from my vantage point in Petworth. As many people gathered around downtown D.C. to watch official fireworks displays on the National Mall and across the Potomac, I watched dozens of people in the blocks surrounding Georgia Avenue take to the streets quite literally, setting up urban and amateur fireworks displays for hours with no visible police interference.

Several DIY displays were visible not only on sidewalks in the middle of the city but also in the middle of street intersections, such as where Kansas Avenue meets Shepherd Street NW in Petworth, where many of these photos were taken. Sparklers and other fiery, colorful purchases painted the Petworth sky with lights and from all directions — by 9 and 10 o'clock last night, you could hear and see the bright colors everywhere you looked. Smoke filled the air, as did the acrid, strong, and distinct smell that accompanies the celebrations.

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: John Hendel)

These photos don't even come close to illustrating the ambient and utterly free celebrations that emerged onto the Petworth streets last night.

What struck me as I watched these events unfold spontaneously throughout Petworth was how much transportation intersected — often literally — with these public explosives. Men would run out and repeatedly set their purchases on fire in the middle of a big residential intersection of streets, such as at Kansas and Shepherd. Cars, motorcycles, and taxis would occasionally drive through Shepherd, and each time, the men would leap out again to clear the sparklers, bottle rockets, and any other items from the drivers' paths. We already saw how drivers enjoy decorating their cars with kitschy, patriotic reds, whites, and blues on Independence and considered the gridlock difficulties for many commuters, but I never realized how many might have faced fireworks themselves flaring in front of their tires. The drive through these northwest D.C. streets must have been gorgeous as well as potentially scary at times, as green flares would fly haphazardly across the landscape at times. Bicyclists in particular must have had to exercise caution as they passed by dozens of different displays, which tended to crop up every half block or so in the part of Petworth I observed.

Still, the sidewalk sights, crackling for hours, were a pedestrian's dream.

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: John Hendel)
Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: John Hendel)
Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: John Hendel)

This final firework soared up amid power lines on the sidewalk of Petworth's Shepherd Street. Again, the show was far more riveting than any of these photos suggest, with large showers of light bursting every couple of minutes and often with many visible at the same time. I can see how people and vehicles might be injured in so many moments of celebratory independence (in 2010, around 8,000 injuries resulted from fireworks across America), but what I saw struck me as relatively safe and collected.

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: John Hendel)
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