Plans to construct sidewalks on Chestnut Street NW — once the subject of significant debate in the Hawthorne section of Chevy Chase — won unanimous support from the local advisory neighborhood commission last week.
Members of ANC 3/4G said the latest sidewalk plans address the primary objection to earlier designs. The D.C. Department of Transportation now intends to make room for new sidewalks by narrowing the street, rather than removing prized green space.
“The street will get narrower, traffic will go slower, there will be no loss of yard, new trees will be planted,” commissioner Chris Fromboluti said at the Nov. 27 meeting, calling the plan a “win-win.”
Under D.C. law, residents of a block that lacks sidewalks can petition the Transportation Department to install them. Residents of Chestnut — a residential street running between Western and Oregon avenues NW just west of Rock Creek Park — made such a petition in 2015, citing pedestrian safety needs.
But outrage followed when the city’s designs called for paving up to 10 feet of some lawns and removing nearly 30 trees over a two-block stretch.
ANC 3/4G member Abraham Clayman joined the commission in February, while debate was still raging on the sidewalk proposal. He said he didn’t enter office with preconceived notions.
“I knocked on every door on Chestnut Street and listened to about two dozen residents share their opinions about sidewalks,” he said at the meeting. “I took the position that I would listen to what residents thought and do my best to ascertain what people wanted.”
Clayman said that a May 10 meeting organized by the Transportation Department was a valuable opportunity for gauging community opinion, and “the overwhelming majority” of residents who spoke at the meeting supported sidewalk installation on at least one side of the street. Clayman added that he also came to see a need for sidewalks.
“Chestnut Street is a heavily trafficked Metrobus route and a detour route during ongoing Beach Drive and Oregon Avenue construction,” he said.
Clayman acknowledged that dissent remains. “Not all Chestnut Street or Hawthorne residents support sidewalks, but all residents have had multiple opportunities through petitions and community meetings to provide input, ask questions and make their opinions known,” said Clayman.
In an interview, he said that aside from concerns about effects on lawns, which Transportation Department officials say their plans now avoid, opponents also lament the inconvenience of construction and wasted money on sidewalks they say are unnecessary on Chestnut Street.
The Transportation Department’s current plans call for sidewalks to be built only after nearby reconstruction projects on Oregon Avenue and Beach Drive are complete, which would be in two to three years, Clayman told The Current. However, Transportation Department director Jeff Marootian has told ANC 3/4G that he will see if the sidewalk project can begin sooner, and said that early next year he will provide an update on efforts to speed up the work, according to Clayman.
The design the agency has settled on, known as Alternative 1 during the community discussion phase, calls for a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the north side of Chestnut, created by narrowing the street by 2 feet on the north side and 3 feet on the south side; creating a place for commuters to wait for the E6 bus while the bus loads and unloads; planting 37 new street trees; and preserving all existing trees.
The Transportation Department’s Paul Hoffman said the sidewalks will be a boon for riders waiting for a bus. “You won’t be standing on a manhole cover like they are now,” he told The Current.
Chestnut Street currently has three bus stops, all on the north side of the street. Hoffman said his agency will provide slabs that meet the required ADA space of 8 feet at the front and back doors of the bus, so that at those points the sidewalk will extend an extra 3 feet back from the street.
This post has been updated to correct an erroneous reference to the timing of the project. Construction is not currently scheduled to begin early next year.