The service lane runs parallel to Connecticut Avenue from Macomb to Ordway Streets in Cleveland Park.
More sidewalk space in Cleveland Park could mean fewer parking spaces.
Residents and businesses in Cleveland Park are divided over the fate of a service lane that separates a block of restaurants and stores from Connecticut Avenue –some argue that it provides much-needed parking spots and others say it shortchanges pedestrians by forcing them onto a narrow sidewalk.
The lane, located on the east side of Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Ordway streets NW, was built in 1960, carving an 18-foot roadway out of what had been a 30-foot-wide sidewalk. The service lane, which is separated from Connecticut Avenue by a narrow median, added between 25 and 27 parking spaces in the highly trafficked neighborhood.
But now the D.C. Department of Transportation is pondering doing away with the lane altogether and instead rebuilding a wider sidewalk that could better accommodate foot traffic. Next week DDOT will unveil its recommendations for the service lane as part of a broader $1.5 million streetscape and pedestrian safety project.
Herb Caudill, who has lived in Cleveland Park for seven years, is pushing for the service lane to be turned into a wide sidewalk, saying the lane currently prioritizes cars over pedestrians in an era when fewer people are relying on cars.
“The service lane has always struck me as an extraordinarily hostile place for pedestrians. You have this very narrow sidewalk, people are always jostling with each other and people are getting pushed off into the roadway. It's a very nerve-wracking experience just being a pedestrian on that strip, you don't feel like you belong,” he says.
According to DDOT, 16 percent of the available space along Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Ordway Streets is set aside for pedestrians, and 63 percent for cars. North of Ordway, though, the service lane disappears, and the amount of space for pedestrians jumps to 33 percent.
Not everyone is in favor of the proposed change of the service lane, though. Many businesses along Connecticut Avenue have posted “Save the Service Lane” signs in their windows. Owners argue that many of their customers rely on those parking spots while they shop, especially during rush hour, when parking along Connecticut Avenue is prohibited.
“People on a rainy day, on a cold day, on a hot day, they’re not going to ride a bicycle. Plus, who’s going to ride a bicycle to buy a chandelier or to buy their groceries? That idea that they can do everything with a bicycle is wrong, especially people that come at night for dinner, dressed up, they’re not going to ride their bicycle,” says Cyrus Manaf, who has owned Artisan Lamp Company for over two decades.
“The service lane is the only parking at rush hour,” says Suprabha Beckjord, who owns Transcendence-Perfection-Bliss Of The Beyond, which has sold gifts, cards and toys in the neighborhood for 30 years. “If we lose our service lane, it’s going to be so difficult for many people who, say they’re dropping off their vacuum cleaner or buying gallons of this or that at the store, and it’s rush hour, that’s a problem.”
Caudill isn’t so convinced, saying that businesses seem to overstating the importance of the parking spots offered in the service lane. "People are making a lot of assumptions about where their customers are coming from,” he says.
A DDOT survey of 110 people shopping in the area on a weekday found that 68 percent walked when they needed to go shopping, with only 12 percent relying on their cars. The survey also found that 46 percent of visitors to the neighborhood drive and 33 percent take Metro, though the majority of those patronizing the businesses along Connecticut Avenue on a weekly basis were from the neighborhood.
“Just imagine the effect that it would have on these businesses if that strip was actually a place where people wanted to linger, where people wanted to hang out,” says Caudill.
That same DDOT study also found that parking is at a premium in Cleveland Park, though: available parking spots in the service lane and on surrounding streets were between 85 and 100 percent capacity regardless of day or time.
The debate has also focused on safety. Proponents of the service lane say that it allows them to park and exit their cars away from the hustle and bustle of Connecticut Avenue, while opponents say that the confusing intersection where Ordway, Connecticut Avenue and the service lane come together is ripe for accidents.
Two petitions on the issue—one pushing for the change, one against it—show just how divided the neighborhood is over the issue.
In deciding how to proceed, DDOT officials may try to split the difference. They’ve presented four possible courses of action: leaving the service lane as is, replacing it entirely with a wide sidewalk like on the western side of Connecticut Avenue, or compromise by altering its configuration in two different ways that would widen sidewalks but keep some of the parking intact.
Caudill would like to see the service lane disappear altogether, though he admits being open to a compromise where a wider sidewalk is built and parking spots are cut into it on the Connecticut Avenue side.
Beckjord still isn’t convinced that anything needs to be changed, though, and says that pedestrian concerns are overblown. “There’s no evidence that we’ve ever heard of… we don’t know of anyone getting hurt in the service lane,” she says. “It is a bit of a narrow sidewalk, but you can manage it.”
The next public meeting will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 5 at the Cleveland Park Library.