Georgetown BID project seeks to update gateways


The area near the Key Bridge is one of five locations where the Georgetown BID would like to make modest aesthetic upgrades. (Brian Kapur/The Current)

Georgetown may be popular with tourists, but Jamie Scott wants it to be obvious that the neighborhood is in Washington, not Anaheim.

As director of planning and economic development for the Georgetown Business Improvement District, Scott is working to obtain approval for a Georgetown gateway project, with improvements to sidewalks, lighting and pedestrian access at various approaches to the neighborhood. But understatement is meant to be the theme.

“We want to enhance the major entry points into Georgetown,” Scott said at an April 30 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith). “We want to create a sense of arrival — and also a sense of return for those coming home, for the residents who live here. Georgetown is not Disneyland.”

The three entry points the BID hopes to accentuate are

  • on K Street under the Whitehurst Freeway;
  • on Pennsylvania Avenue at M Street; and
  • the north end of Key Bridge, where traffic turns onto M Street.

Scott showed plans for added trees, lighting, fresh paint, a large overhead sign reading “Georgetown,” and a change from asphalt to brick at the intersection looking west on K Street where the road drops down under the Whitehurst.

“It’s not a very welcoming entrance to Georgetown, not very pleasant for pedestrians coming from Foggy Bottom,” Scott said. “The change of material [to brick] sends a message to vehicles that you’re entering a zone for pedestrians.”

He called the Key Bridge entrance to the area a “chaotic and busy intersection,” and suggested the creation of a landscaped traffic island there, with letters spelling out “Georgetown” at pedestrian level along the side of the bridge.

At Pennsylvania Avenue and M, an existing traffic island under National Park Service jurisdiction would become a small plaza with new crosswalks. New landscaping and shade would be added to the island, Scott said, for those who want to sit there. The name of the neighborhood would be etched into a low wall at the location.

Scott said the aim generally is to improve pedestrian access and safety.

The ANC’s Jim Wilcox thinks better lighting and other features of the plan are great, but he’s not so keen on certain elements.

“The signage is way over the top and not necessary,” Wilcox said. “People know when they’re in Georgetown. I particularly don’t like the signs.”

Scott will return to the commission’s next meeting on June 4 for a longer presentation. The matter is pending before the D.C. Public Space Committee.

The ANC heard about another proposed change to the neighborhood’s streetscape, involving the installation of small cell technology boxes on streetlights by Crown Castle, a national company that provides such service.

Carly Didden, a representative of Crown Castle, gave a presentation about the proposal.

“Crown Castle will make your cellphone work where it didn’t work,” she said.

Didden said the company had not yet filed permit applications with the city yet. She said Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans has written a letter of support for their efforts.

Evans’ stance is not shared by Joe Gibbons, who chairs ANC 2E.

“The District of Columbia recently released the small cell master license agreement that Crown Castle will seek to sign,” Gibbons said in prepared remarks. “We see beautiful historic streets, walkways and trees. Crown Castle sees money. The FCC and the wireless industry are rushing to lower the barriers for small cell deployments, [allowing a] needlessly messy design sporting sometimes four radios mounted haphazardly on a utility pole, with a rat’s nest of connecting cables.”

Gibbons noted that similar proposals to install wireless devices have caused anxiety elsewhere. “Residents in Buffalo are worrying about new legislation that would create a uniform small cell review process that could supersede local regulations,” he said, adding that the devices would also be “visual blight” and lower property values.

“Small cell contracts or master licensing agreements allow network operators to return to the sites later to add additional equipment without additional design review, “ Gibbons continued. “Previously approved small cell deployments designed to blend into the streetscapes now look like cell towers because additional radio heads were added to the initial deployment.”

The company says that its master license agreement with the District — available online at — does not allow the installation of additional equipment without further design review.

Monica Roache, another member of the commission, said the company’s proposal has advantages. She cited the present frequency of “dead zones” in cellphone coverage in Georgetown.

“I favor more cell coverage because of the heightened security concerns we live with today,” Roache said.

Also at last week’s meeting, commissioner Rick Murphy warned residents of an upcoming perfect traffic storm on the weekend of May 18, when commencement exercises will be held at Georgetown University. He said Saturday, May 19, will be especially hectic.

Several community events and road construction projects will be ongoing then in what Murphy mockingly called “a masterpiece of good coordination.”

On Saturday that weekend, the Whitehurst Freeway will be closed in the morning owing to a bicycle event. The District’s Transportation Department is working on the Key Bridge until June, a project requiring lane closures. This operation will continue on graduation weekend, Murphy said. The eastbound lane of Canal Road as far as Foxhall Road may still be closed then, depending on weather.

Representatives from the Metropolitan Police Department gave their usual police and public safety report. Officers said that all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) have been spotted on local streets recently, and asked residents to call the police immediately if they see such vehicles in operation.

One resident asked if it is legal to ride motorized scooters on District sidewalks, noting that they can travel at speeds of 15 to 20 mph. Officers said such vehicles, and bicycles in general, may not be ridden on sidewalks in the central business district, but that it is legal to do so in neighborhoods such as Georgetown.

Officials also said that residents may call 311 if they see bicycles locked to trees. The Transportation Department has the authority to cut locks attaching bikes to trees and confiscate the vehicles.

This post has been updated to omit an incorrect statement that Crown Castle installs its small cell technology boxes on trees. It also now includes the company’s statement that its master license agreement with the District does not allow the installation of additional equipment without further design review, contrary to a general concern expressed by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E chair Joe Gibbons.