Should 18th Street Become a Pedestrian Zone as DC Reopens? A New Neighborhood Group Says Yes.

The Adams Morgan Commercial Development Coalition revives plans to transform the historic roadway.

18th Street in Adams Morgan. Photograph by Tim Brown/iStock.

The creation and expansion of outdoor commercial space has been central to Covid-19 reopening plans in the DC-area. Certain Virginia restaurants and bars welcomed back dine-in customers on their patios and decks last week at 50 percent capacity, while DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is considering new legislation that would allow businesses to expand outdoor dining and drinking to sidewalks and roadways. A new neighborhood advocacy group, the Adams Morgan Commercial Development Coalition (AMCDC), wants to join that conversation. The alliance, which includes Adams Morgan residents, business owners, chefs, developers, and ANC commissioners, released early plans today to “reinvent 18th Street.” The goal: transform one of Washington’s historic roadways into a partial pedestrian and bike zone where restaurants, bars, and commercial businesses could serve customers safely.

“Adams Morgan is getting crushed right now because it’s so reliant on hospitality and food and beverage,” says Foxhall Partners’ Matt Wexler, a partner in the Line DC hotel and AMCDC co-founder. “This is something we believe in, not just for today but to create something that’s different and can help businesses grow and prosper for the future.”

Wexler is joined by a wide cast of co-founders, including ANC Commissioner Japer Bowles, chef Erik Bruner-Yang, Madams Organ owner Bill Duggan, urban transportation expert Lee Farmer, and many others. The initiative is in the nascent stage and Wexler says AMCDC plans to engage in a “community charrette process” to map out the vision moving forward. The coalition brought on Perkins Eastman, a major international architecture firm that’s behind the District Wharf development and New York’s Battery Park City, as a planning consultant. Matthew Bell, Perkins Eastman principal, will assist in mapping out an urban plan that incorporates social distancing and safety measures as well as functional arrangements like deliveries and drop-off/pick-up points.

Though the AMCDC was created in direct response to Covid-19 and its impact on Adams Morgan, the idea of turning 18th Street into a pedestrian and bike zone isn’t new. Plans to make the popular nightlife strip safer and more accommodating to the public have been floated over the years, most recently in 2017 when a motorist struck three people. The ANC proposed a program to create pedestrian zones the next year, though none came to fruition. Detractors voices concerns over clogged roadways and parking. Though the pandemic world brings a whole new host of concerns.

“Many of our businesses are in historic buildings that are tight and small. It’s sort of a no-brainer to expand to outdoor areas to recapture business,” says Joe Lapan, SongByrd Cafe owner and AMCDC co-founder. “Adams Morgan is a very special place to me. I’ve always loved it and looked for ways to push it forward.”

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.