Friday, July 06, 2007

Conspiracy Theory

17th Street here in northwest DC is one of the busiest streets in the city for pedestrians and vehicular traffic alike. Not only is the street known for being the center (albeit a sadly diminishing one) of gay life here in the city, but it’s a bustling business corridor running all the way down to the White House with hundreds, if not thousands, of residents occupying apartments and houses all along the way. Recently there’s been a proposal by some NW residents to turn part of 17th street into a pedestrian only corridor north of Massachusetts Avenue, similar to ones in Boulder and Charlottesville. I guess the thought is that eliminating automobile traffic will lure high-end or “nice” retailers to the area and drive up the prices of real estate above their already inflated levels. (see

I’m not sure exactly who’s proposing this pedestrian corridor idea, but I can tell you it’s probably none of the business owners along the street that depend on auto traffic for a good portion of their sales (they have to come from somewhere). It’s also probably not any of the hundreds of 17th Street residents who purchased property here with parking entrances and exits on 17th St. I’m also pretty sure that people trying to navigate the city’s grid system would be a little frustrated when the run into yet another nonsensical interruption to the lettered east/west streets. So who does that leave? I’m betting we’re dealing with some of the same senior citizens who occupy spots on the local ANC who refuse to allow any further liquor licenses to be sold to new restaurants wanting to come into the area. The Dupont ANC has become an oligarchy of wealthy residents who were lucky enough to get a piece of real estate in the area before it became more expensive than a republican congressman. They also are the only ones who bothered to take the time to get their names on the ballot prior to local elections, so I guess they deserve some credit.

…or it could be some retailer looking for some prime real-estate that might be vacated by business that would have to fold-up if they could no longer get their inventories delivered via 17th St (Safeway, CVS). I heard lots of rumors about Harris Teeter starting up several “grass-roots organizations” to probe DC neighborhoods for new grocery viability.

I see the wisdom in this pedestrian corridor idea, but I think we should all be honest about our motivations here. The ANC wants a quieter street with fewer honking horns, nicer shops, and fewer gay bars. Unnamed retailers want other retailers to clear out so they can take advantage of a market hungry for groceries and other life necessities. Me? I want to keep my convenient parking spot.