Learning from D.C.'s Slow Streets Programs

"Slow streets" is a popular concept, but residents and community advocates say officials have to do more to make implementation effective and equitable.

June 15, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

With restricted access to most indoor spaces, the humble street got a lot of attention over the last year as cities reallocated right-of-way to pedestrians and public seating. Liz Farmer of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy writes about Washington, D.C.'s experiment with "slow streets," a program which included 26 miles of road in the district. "While the concept of slow streets was generally well received," Farmer says, "its implementation in Washington and other cities was sometimes rocky—and sparked much-needed discussions about equity, access, and planning."

At a public hearing, residents expressed support for the concept, but disappointment at the execution. "Concerns included a lack of connectivity—among the slow streets themselves and between the streets and other destinations—as well as logistical aspects like traffic enforcement and signage." Residents also expressed concern that communities of color are being left out of the programs, partly due to local mistrust of programs seen as harbingers of displacement.

"The lessons surfacing in DC, which cover issues ranging from transportation inequities to signage logistics, could also be valuable to other cities that are initiating or expanding slow streets projects this year, from Nashville, Tennessee, to Omaha, Nebraska." One important lesson, according to Jessie Grogan, associate director of Reduced Poverty and Spatial Inequality at the Lincoln Institute, "is that cities need to be more intentional about the purpose of the streets in the first place—then design accordingly. 'If you want to get people from point A to B without getting in cars, then how do you do that safely for people walking or biking?'"

Thursday, June 3, 2021 in Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

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