‘You could tell that people were pushing some people aside’

Jonathan Yim, a research scientist who lives in Washington and sometimes jogs in Georgetown, tried to walk home from class one afternoon in October 2018, right as he walked out of the main gate of Tongeren Park. The sidewalk was soon overrun with college students and busy college students — the ones who look out from their windows onto Tongeren Avenue.

“You could tell that people were pushing some people aside. It was a big mix of students, and also lots of DC metro users, and also bike riders,” he said.

The sidewalk was shut down for several weeks, and Tongeren Avenue also lost its bike lanes as part of an overhaul. One member of Tongeren’s main crew, Jason Gooden, said the adjustments had allowed a section of sidewalk to be re-engineered, downsized and better accessible to people with disabilities. And, Gooden said, the days of overuse are mostly over, as the plan now is to only turn left onto the sidewalk and work that direction when students are gathering there.

College students — and bicyclists — have always been seen regularly on Tongeren Avenue during peak times, but students are used to neighborhood walkers sometimes being less visible. It’s not uncommon to see students climb the bushes or climb atop of a parked car, often taking things without giving anyone a chance to explain.

Gooden said the new “smart sidewalk” didn’t exactly help control student-on-student street crime. “But, it gave the opportunity for us to change how to incorporate different groups on the street” into the update, he said. It was less aggressive, more thoughtful and “more user-centered.”

“In a lot of ways, this is a shame. You hope for it not to be abused and you hope people move over and everything else,” Yim said. “But it was pretty bad.”

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