Officials consider pedestrian-friendly proposals for lower King Street

Officials consider pedestrian-friendly proposals for lower King Street

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

According to city planners, the people have spoken. And they want better access to lower King Street on foot.

At a meeting held by officials in March, residents overwhelmingly espoused the need for better pedestrian access along the 100 block of King St., said Rich Baier, director of transportation and environmental services.

“To summarize it, I would say what we heard was that we need to make the 100 block more pedestrian-oriented,” he said. “Really the largest volume as far of users of any mode [along the block] is the pedestrian mode, but there is the least amount of space within the right of way dedicated to [them].”

The question is how to give walkers more room to reach the Potomac River without a cavalcade of unintended consequences on surrounding streets.

Planners will host another community meeting tonight at City Hall to discuss several ideas, from maintaining the status quo to removing parking from one or both sides of the street or even closing down vehicle traffic altogether. The unit block of King Street is only open to westbound traffic, with a large planter preventing cars from entering on the eastbound side.

Baier said trying to find more room for pedestrians is particularly tricky on King Street, because planners must juggle competing interests and mandates.

“One of the things we’re look at is: How will bicyclists be accommodated in the 100 block?” he said. “With relation to the businesses, how will delivery trucks be accommodated? Via the alleys? And we have to find a way to accommodate the King Street trolley.”

Once officials determine what will be best for King Street, they will have to make sure any change doesn’t cause problems in the surrounding blocks.

“There’s always a whole series of unintended consequences, which we are trying to predict as best as possible,” Baier said. “Where does that traffic go [if we close the street]? Where will people park? We don’t want to send traffic through the residential neighborhoods.

“So as we make one part of King more pedestrian focused and remove car travel, where do those cars go? Do we get people to park more so coming down King Street, or at the top of the grade around the 300 block, or in garages?”

Baier stressed that these various issues are the reason officials are turning to residents again. He will present the various concepts for feedback on which proposal — or combination of proposals — works best for residents and businesses on and off of King Street.

Representatives for Decorium, a furniture and interior design boutique along the 100 block of King St., declined to comment until after Thursday’s meeting.

But resident and local activist Kathryn Papp is concerned that the public was not kept better informed by planners between the first public meeting and now.

“We had one public meeting and then it went underground again, and then who knows what will happen,” Papp said. “It’s sort of a classic city mode of asking people but then not really giving them the final result to give a look at what could happen.”

Papp, who attended the first meeting, said it is difficult to pass judgment on narrowly defined projects like this one. She said unless a proposal takes a holistic look at traffic and parking throughout lower Old Town, she would have trouble seeing it in a favorable light.

“There’s an awful lot happening in that one area, but they have resisted quite strongly any traffic or capacity studies, instead breaking it up into bits and pieces,” she said. “[There’s] just too much in play at this point, and if you add another element into the mix, unless you get to a next step and give us a couple of scenarios on what the outcome will be, then it’s kind of just another study.”