- Same as it ever was. (Photo: flickr/intangiblearts)
In the last month, the Great Streets project has lost nearly $1.44 million in funding, which means no fancy bike lanes, sidewalks, and trees for Georgia Avenue in the blocks between Otis Place and Florida Avenue — a development that the District's government has planned since 2006. This stretch begins just south of the Georgia Ave-Petworth Metro station and goes right past the Howard University campus for more than a mile. The Great Streets project hoped to revive Georgia Avenue with many pedestrian, biking, and driving amenities for half a decade now, and this news comes as a blow to the lower blocks of Georgia, where many storefronts still remain vacant. The neighborhood hasn't attracted the same development and retail as areas like Columbia Heights.
Mayor Vince Gray is shifting the millions of dollars away from Great Streets, as the Business Journal first reported on August 10 — he needed $3.5 million for a police overhaul in Northeast D.C., and the money had to come from somewhere. Council members Jim Graham and Muriel Bowser, for what it's worth, have opposed taking money from Georgia Avenue streetscaping.
But some D.C. residents are fighting back in a petition started a week ago to save the Great Streets money. The Georgia Avenue Community Development Task Force has collected close to 300 signatures in support of the lower Georgia Avenue streetscaping. "The resolution issues a strong and formal protest of the Mayor’s actions," writes the task force's Sylvia Robinson, "and requests a meeting with the Mayor’s office and the DC Department of Transportation to discuss projects that will benefit the residents and small businesses of Lower Georgia Avenue."
What are residents and businesses saying? The petition shows a lot of rising frustration.
Business owner Kristina Bilonick just doesn't get why:
I am a business owner on lower Georgia Avenue and I think that the street-scape and sidewalks need a lot of work. The community (businesses and residents) deserve the same upgrades that other parts of GA Ave have received. The funds were allocated for this, so why are they being taken away?
Jay Scheerer sees the streetscaping as a political obligation:
Economic development projects such as the Great Streets program are promises from our elected politicians to the citizens. Canceling unfinished portions of this important project is equivalent to a broken promise -- one that the Gray administration should be working hard to uphold and fulfill.
A city needs to stylistically unite its different neighborhoods, and Great Streets could help accomplish that, writes John Salatti:
The promised improvements would assist the economic revitalization of this important segment of Georgia Avenue/7th Street. The improvements would also stylistically connect lower Georgia Avenue with Petworth, upper 7th Street, and U Street.
John Costa is concerned about the arts at stake:
I have a stake to the lower Georgia Avenue area because I am involved with the Emergence Community Arts Collective and the International Capoeira Angola Foundation. Both organization are based our of 733 Euclid Street, NW. I think this part of town needs more support financially for the local community groups trying to improve their neighborhoods.
The final straw? Nathaniel Jutras thinks it might be:
Another broken promise to the people of Georgia Ave. Never mind that this money would be easily recouped in a year or two through increased tax revenues. This is just bad public policy from an administration that has its priorities completely out of whack. This is the final straw.
What unifies these responses is disappointment, and the emotion is understandable. The different elements of local government had come together with a promise, and that's fallen apart here. What's even more frustrating, perhaps, is the underlying reality that parts of the Great Streets project will, of course, go on. Middle Georgia, above Otis Place, will still get the streetscaping treatment pledged, as far as we now know. I see those signs advertising the initiative every time I walk along Georgia Avenue to the Metro station in the morning. How can a city enhance its blocks in such a piecemeal, haphazard way? Is it fair to the neighborhoods to have styles differ so dramatically every few blocks? I think of bike commuters who would be riding down the streetscaped middle Georgia, with its bike lanes and developed decoration, into lower Georgia, which would lack any of that infrastructure. A collected city requires a coherent, consistent transportation system, and unified, focused streetscaping projects — that pull together all these blocks — is an important step toward that, with critical implications especially for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Here's DDOT's initial study of how the different city agencies could have transformed the blocks of lower Georgia through the Great Streets project: