Eastern Market in Washington D.C. – The Art of Walkability

Exactly what do we mean when we say crazy stuff like “center of gravity,” “critical mass” and “transit village” when describing whether a neighborhood or transit station area is successful? Good question. I said those things last week in Eric Roper’s insightful Star Tribune piece about the progress of development around the Lake Street station in Minneapolis. Most urbanists know our little code words; we nod and wink about good urbanity, but what do we mean? Well, I guess it boils down to “would you want to take a walk there?” and “would you want to live there?” Setting aside the complicated issues surrounding development at Lake Street that Roper describes, let me take you on a little travelogue to demonstrate. Today’s destination: Eastern Market in Washington D.C.

IMG_20130330_145557_815

Eastern Market is a neighborhood centered around a Metro station and marketplace of the same name less than one mile southeast of the capitol. It is a place I enjoy walking and would consider living. My family visited there last spring, and we chose a vacation rental in a lovely stretch of rowhomes on South Carolina Avenue, a stone’s throw from the Metro station with a walk score of a bazillion. And with a six- and two-year old, walk we did.

IMG_20130330_145527_780

The sidewalks are plenty wide for mothers pushing a double-wide stroller to pass commuters on their way to the Metro station in the morning.

IMG_20130330_155101_720

Boulevards are tree-lined and the relatively calm streets have plenty of on-street parking; as the first provides shade and both of these things provide protection for pedestrians. Homes on our South Carolina Avenue are set back with larger front yards, but other streets in the neighborhood are set back less but still have pleasant private front yard space.

IMG_20130330_152123_583

The owners of our vacation rental have three kids, and they pointed us in the direction of the playground in Marion Park, one block to the west.

IMG_20130330_151325_963

As you can see, both kids had a splendid time, and the playground clearly is a huge magnet for neighborhood kids.

IMG_20130330_163642_900

On market days, Eastern Market is buzzing with people, indoors and outdoors, as 7th Street is closed to vehicles. It is a wonderful place for people of all ages. The history of Eastern Market is rich, and it took considerable work for it to be the bustling marketplace we know today.

IMG_20130401_163634_726

The pleasure of a vacation rental when traveling with children is having a kitchen, which allows for meals without the hassle of going out. For that a grocery store is a prerequisite, and a Harris Teeter was located less than one mile southeast along Pennsylvania Avenue.

IMG_20130330_183838_650

Of course, we ate at a few restaurants as well. Just around the corner, 8th Street is full of shopping and restaurants, plenty of which are family-friendly. The street itself is family-friendly, well-scaled with a lot of stuff in the way that is effective at slowing traffic, including back-in diagonal curb parking! Both street and sidewalks are pleasantly congested.

IMG_20130401_161357_610

Pennsylvania Avenue is the largest street in the area, with multiple lanes and a large center median. Yet while it moves cars, crossing is very pedestrian-friendly, even with kids. Crosswalks are large and very clearly defined, and crossing signals have sufficient countdowns, clearly calibrated for people.

IMG_20130331_173841_272

Whereas there are plenty of cars in the area, there isn’t a single spot in the entire Eastern Market neighborhood where walking is actually unpleasant. We didn’t walk across streets with our eyes closed like Hans Monderman, but walking was a distinct pleasure. My kids’ favorite place to walk was past the fire station.

IMG_20130403_173654_239

Being literally across the street from the Metro station makes Eastern Market an excellent jumping-off point for touring the city. The kids loved the subway, and we were able to easily visit the National Gallery, Spy Museum, Chinatown, and even Foggy Bottom (Shaw’s favorite word) and the hike over to Georgetown.

IMG_20130331_113925_672

By the way, because of the required distance one must cover, perhaps the best way to see the sights of the National Mall is by bicycle.

Eastern Market is a great urban neighborhood for a lot of reasons, some related to excellent planning, others luck, and still others simply an attitude that puts pedestrians first. It wasn’t always the wonderful place it is today as it has followed the arc of many city neighborhoods since the 1950s. But strip away all of that and you will find the fundamental building blocks of good urbanism – walkability. Yes, there is an art to walkability, but it boils down to something pretty straightforward. Sidewalks are wide enough, traffic is tamed, there is transit service, housing is attractive, retail lines the sidewalk, and front doors abound. Bottom line is Eastern Market is a great place to walk. And I could see myself living there.


Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

5 Responses to Eastern Market in Washington D.C. – The Art of Walkability

  1. Adam Miller
    Adam February 26, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    There’s even more reason to like it: it wasn’t anything like this 15-20 years ago. If they can bring this neighborhood back, even accepting that it has the advantage of being originally developed in an age of walking and transit, we can do it too.

    I don’t think that Harris Teeter was even there 5 years ago (pretty sure the one on Kalomara was the first in the city, and it’s not all that old either).

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele February 26, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

      Exactly. Now the hot spots that are accessible to the non-rich are places like Potomac Ave SE, H Street NE, U Street NW, etc.

  2. Morgan February 26, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    I used to be on the Board of Barracks Row Main Street. Barracks Row is the branded name of the 8th Street SE commercial strip. But not 7th Street and Eastern Market itself.

    Here is a link to that Metro Plaza redesign that you might find interesting.

    http://easternmarketmetropark.org/2013-12-11_Community_Presentation.pdf

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg February 26, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

      Morgan, excellent link. Notice in slide 35 the #desirepaths. I hope the designers take that in to account, since desire paths will only be replicated.

  3. John Bailey February 26, 2014 at 9:10 pm #

    Eastern Market is a lovely neighborhood. As you probably know the actual market burned down around in the peak of the Great Recession but the city immediately built it back up. (Mary Kay lived really close to there in a great apartment when I first met her.)

    It’s funny though how we view neighborhoods differently at different stages in our lives. Now I totally appreciate that area. But when i moved to DC, sans kids, I thought the whole Capitol Hill neighborhood was the The Most Boring neighborhood in the world! All those damn strollers…