Column: City must improve H Street safety

Your front-page article Oct. 2 (“Vehicle hits student”), reporting the accident in which a student was hit by a car on H Street struck a raw nerve in me and the staff of Gelman Library. For several years I have attempted to get someone to do something about the chaos and dangerous conditions that exist on H Street between 21st and 22nd streets. As dangerous as the section in front of the Marvin Center is, the half block directly in front of the entrance to Gelman Library is even worse. I have witnessed or received reports in recent years of two individuals hit by cars crossing the street at this location. Students and faculty cross H Street between Gelman and the Academic Center constantly on their way to and from classes. People have to cross between parked cars while their vision is blocked by cars and the vendor carts next to the sidewalks.

I have talked to University officials on several occasions about this problem. In 1999, I wrote a senior University administrator and appealed for someone to get the D.C. city government to correct the situation. I proposed that the curb area in front of Gelman be designated a building entrance and that a cross walk be laid out on the street, similar to the one in front of the Marvin Center. This would require the removal of only two or three parking meters on each side of the street. It would also necessitate moving the vendor carts about 40 feet east to the area already designated by the city for vendors. This would allow handicapped persons and others to be dropped off at Gelman safely and easily. Now, handicapped individuals have to squeeze between parked cars and dodge the vendor carts, a struggle that is dangerous and unnecessary. The city officials who eventually investigated were not sympathetic to the plight of people, even handicapped persons, and refused to do anything.

The location of my office overlooking this section of H Street has given me the opportunity to not only observe the danger to humans but also the enormous congestion. This condition is made even more dangerous by the flow of people trying to cross to go to classes or to the library. Over the years, I have taken numerous photographs of this menace as evidence of the problem. But rather than close the entire block, I think ideally it would be better to close only the half-block between Gelman and the Academic Center, with access controlled in a way to allow emergency vehicles to respond to calls from the two buildings. Closing half the block would stop the flow of traffic between 21st and 22nd streets, which poses the threat described in your article. It would, however, allow delivery trucks to gain access to the Marvin Center, Gelman, the loading dock behind Lisner, the required access behind the G Street fire house and other deliver points on the eastern half of the block. I know this idea can work because I have seen such an arrangement at another urban setting: Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

I have no illusions that any changes will happen. Given the dysfunction of D.C. city government officials and their disdain for GW, I think it unlikely that significant improvements will be made. But it seems to me that the safety and well being of the GW citizenry would warrant our at least trying.

-The writer is the University librarian.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.