Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Transit everywhere at H Street Festival 2011

September 19, 2011 - 08:40 AM
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The hippie spirit lives on in the bright imagery of this art car. 13 Photos
The hippie spirit lives on in the bright imagery of this art car. (Photo: John Hendel/TBD | Date: Sep. 19, 2011)

Pedestrians took to the street and won this past Saturday from noon to 7 p.m. at the H Street Festival. Thousands gathered to enjoy food trucks, live music, face painting, break dancing, and other fun spectacles in a grand community celebration. D.C. offers similar street festivals like Adams Morgan Day and Columbia Heights Day, but few feature the weird and wonderful flair that's present at H Street. The festival lasted seven hours and stretched six blocks, from the 800 to 1300 blocks of H Street NE.

But what really characterized the street celebration was the omnipresence of transportation — the reality that H Street had undergone recent, dynamic streetscaping; the various art cars that lined the avenue; the streetcar tracks that thousands of feet stepped across; and of course the booths of Capital Bikeshare, D.C. bike shop The Daily Rider, and other transit enthusiasts. DDOT passed out free D.C. Streetcar bags. You couldn't look any direction without seeing pedestrian and transportation implications. See photos of a sampling of the transit gems.

And of course, no good street festival is complete without its share of politicians ready to schmooze and shake a few hands. In my afternoon stroll of H Street Festival 2011, I encountered both D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells.

Walking H Street at the Festival seeing all the families, businesses, restaurants and vendors participating
Sep 17 via Twitter for iPhoneFavoriteRetweetReply

The group I was with encountered Council Chairman Brown when stopping to grab barbecue. Two others with me had only recently moved to D.C., so I leaned in to mention that Brown was wandering by, just as we were receiving our orders of pulled chicken. The council chairman began chatting with us as he also picked up an order. "If it's good enough for Kwame Brown, it's good enough for me," one new Washingtonian said to him about our food, just happy to know enough to say the man's name and unaware of any implications in her words. Brown played the role of the consummate politician in his response: "At least if you're not talking about SUVs!" Brown replied with a grin.

Brown's fellow councilmember Tommy Wells also made himself known at Saturday's festival. He set up on his booth alongside DDOT, Capital Bikeshare, the Daily Rider bike shop, and the D.C. streetcar tents. I stopped in briefly to chat with the smiling councilman, who appeared tired after a long couple days that included his very own Park(ing) Day at the Wilson Building and news that he would introduce a version of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association's suggested cyclist anti-harassment legislation.

The most colorful transit sight, however, was likely the selection of art cars spread throughout the few blocks of H Street. I saw many similar — and likely some of the very same — art cars displayed in Baltimore at Artscape recently, and at this September 17 festival in D.C., was again amazed at the intricacy of the designs and quirk across the cars' surfaces, from the bright psychedelic colors befitting hippies and peace signs to the brown and gray dreariness of an underworld theme. The art car movement has evolved over the last half century, gaining initial acceptance in the '60s. The Merry Pranksters' LSD-filled, decked-out bus Further, which carried Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady from California to New York in 1964, may well be one of the first examples.

All in all, transportation dominated H Street's 2011 Festival. No complaints here. Whether for utilitarian, commuting purposes like Capital Bikeshare or infused with personality as with the art cars, transit was everywhere on H street. Here we were reminded that transportation, at its heart, is often a reflection of broader community — and is just as worthy of celebration. The street is the natural spot for bringing the District's residents together.

Now all the H street neighborhood needs is a few of those streetcars... When can we expect those again?

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