On Saturday, October 5th, DC held its first ever Open Streets event on Georgia Avenue NW.  Open Streets is an international program that temporarily closes streets to auto traffic so that people may use them for just about any activity except driving.  The goal is to support health, wellness, physical activity, increase transportation choices.  70 cities across North America hold similar events.

My son and I took in the festivities by walking from Kennedy Street NW to Kenyon Street NW and back with our dog.  Here is a brief description of our journey.

Open Streets DC Xexe

Kennedy Street NW

The team at Crown Bakery are veterans at this.  This Trinidadian restaurant and bakery was a pillar of DC’s former Caribbean Day Parade.  They were well prepared for today’s events, and took the disruption in stride.  In addition to having their own steel pan band performance, they offered tables to various vendors in front of their storefront.  On the way back uptown, we even saw that Crown had assembled a masquerade band. Sadly, my son took off running up the Avenue before I could get a good picture of the ladies’ lovely attire.

Open Streets DC Texas Cantina

Walking at a leisurely pace, I noticed several businesses that I had never seen before.  I’ll have to stop by in the future and check out a few of them.

Buchanan Street NW

Open Streets DC Hopscotch

Draped in beautiful street art, DJ Unowndc spun some old schools hits for the crowd.

Open Streets DC Bike Lane

Checking out the make-believe protected bike lane.  Maybe someone is trying to tell us something…

Webster Street NW

Washington Sports Clubs shared a set of their Spin Bikes for the crowd to enjoy.

Open Streets DC

Open Streets DC Buna

Lined up out the door at Büna Coffeehouse.

A drum circle set up in front of Safari DC Restaurant and invited passersby to join in.

Kansas Avenue NW

DC Retro Jumpers were teaching visitors how to do the old school double dutch!

Open Streets DC Skateboarding

Skateboarding over books. Makes sense.

New Hampshire Avenue NW

Open Streets DC Cider Bar

TOB (Takeova Band) highlighted the Main Stage near the end of the event and attracted the largest crowd that we saw.

Newton Street NW

Open Streets DC Zipcar

The only thing that a car was good for today.  Alternative modes of transportation had a big presence.

Smitty’s Bar had some early 2000s jams flowing and a long line of guests waiting to do children’s activities.

Open Streets DC Bagels

Lining up in the Open Streets for bagels.

Fun…and Frustration

Just about everyone we saw on the avenue seemed like they were having a good time at the Open Street DC experience.  Being able to slowly, and safely, enjoy the planned activities and the surrounding community amenities was a worthy endeavor.  I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t note a few areas for improvement.  While established businesses like Homestead and Capitol Cider House were packed with patrons, I observed some other small businesses that likely didn’t fare as well.  We saw a stylist at a Dominican salon sitting in the window of her empty shop, whiling away the time on her phone.  A tire repair store on another block had several employees milling about, but no cars to work on.

Traffic on the alternatives routes like 13th, 14th and 16th Streets was beastly. I can only imagine that the eastern alternative route (North Capitol Street!) was just as bad.  As we were walking in after parking on Kennedy Street, a nearby resident cussed a blue streak at a DDOT worker who was directing traffic because he couldn’t let her drive directly to her home, which was a half block off Georgia Avenue.  We saw another older woman debating with a police officer.  She asked with exasperation, “How is it fair? How can they block the whole street off?  How can they block the whole street?!”

Bottom Line

DDOT billed this year’s event as an experiment.  We saw every manner of transportation, from unicycles to Barbie Powered Ride-On toys. Uptown is kinda weird in that, although we have a bunch of green space, we don’t really have that many gathering places.  Open Streets was a three mile long gathering space that allowed the community to mix like it never had before.  At the same time, the organizers and the gushing fans have to admit that the frolicing playland didn’t come without a cost.  Having the audacity to close a major thoroughfare in the middle of a Saturday requires a certain amount of privilege. It’s okay to accept that and consider strategies that might lessen the pain for our car-dependent neighbors.

There will be lessons learned, and I hope that the city gives Open Street another try in the future.