District's Move for Sidewalks Divides NW Neighborhood of Hawthorne

D.C. residents of the Hawthorne neighborhood in Northwest are at odds over a proposal to build sidewalks in the community. Video by Yamiche Alcindor/The Washington Post
By Yamiche Alcindor
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's plan to install 200 miles of paved walkways throughout the District has provoked what residents of one neighborhood are calling a "sidewalk war."

Red signs opposing the sidewalks plan and blue signs supporting it line Chestnut and Greenvale streets NW in the Hawthorne community.

"I moved into this neighborhood because it was suburbia inside the city, and I like the neighborhood the way it is," said Joan Thomas, a retired teacher and 30-year resident of Hawthorne, who opposes adding sidewalks. "Fenty wants every neighborhood to look like every other neighborhood."

At issue are Fenty's District Sidewalk Stimulus Program, various city repaving projects and D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh's proposed bill requiring that sidewalks accompany any repairs made on the majority of the city's streets.

John Lisle, spokesman for the District Department of Transportation, said the city's plans to install sidewalks do not include Greenvale or Chestnut street, where the issue has become most controversial.

The city plans to install sidewalks along Western Avenue NW between Chestnut Street and Oregon Avenue NW. Plans also call for sidewalks on Beech Street NW between Western Avenue and 32nd Street, Lisle said. Those projects could start in October. The city is also looking into putting sidewalks along Oregon Avenue between Western Avenue and Military Road, Lisle said. The department installed sidewalks in the spring along the north side of Beech Street between 32nd Street and Oregon Street.

Some residents said they fear that the installation of sidewalks along Western Avenue will set a precedent that could lead to block-by-block implementation of sidewalks throughout Hawthorne.

Members of Concerned Citizens of Hawthorne, an opposition group, say the sidewalks would change the character of the neighborhood by making it look more urban. They say they worry that the neighborhood's trees will be replaced by concrete. Others say sidewalks would require residents to shovel snow in a community where many might be unable to do so.

Some Hawthorne residents, such as Thomas, say the money spent on sidewalks should be put toward installing sewer drains along the streets or placing the neighborhood's electricity and phone lines underground.

"Put sidewalks in neighborhoods that want it and need it," she said.

James Peters III, a retired firefighter, is among those who want the sidewalks. Peters pointed to the cracked asphalt outside his door and a hole in the ground across the street as evidence that Greenvale Street needs sidewalks. He said he hopes sidewalks will bring newly paved roads and a safe space for residents to enjoy the neighborhood.

"I think we need sidewalks because it's a public safety issue," he said. "This neighborhood has people who walk, people who push their kids around in strollers, and it has kids on bikes. To be in the street is not safe."

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