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One of DC’s historic roadways will transform into a temporary pedestrian and bicycle zone this weekend. The stretch of 18th Street, Northwest in Adams Morgan between Columbia Road and Kalorama Road will be closed for vehicle traffic Friday through Sunday. That will allow restaurants, bars, and shops to expand for outdoor service. The pedestrian zone will launch as a pilot program and may become a permanent fixture in the restaurant- and bar-heavy neighborhood.
“This is a blueprint. If we do it right and it’s successful from a social distancing perspective, from a public health and business perspective, it’s a template for the sustainability of the community,” says Matt Wexler, who spearheaded new neighborhood advocacy group the Adams Morgan Commercial Development Coalition (AMCDC) in May.
The coalition, made up of local business owners, developers, and ANC commissioners, is behind the push to “reinvent 18th Street.” The group 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 to help with social distancing, pickup zones for delivery and car services, and other details. A plan for the pedestrian zone was unanimously passed by the Adams Morgan ANC in early June, and the organization has been working with DC’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office since.
Final details are still being worked out, but the potential schedule for the pedestrian zone is 3 PM on Friday through midnight, and then 8 AM until midnight on Saturday and Sunday. A full pedestrian zone will be blocked off from Columbia Road to Belmont, and then only the southbound lane of 18th Street will be open for vehicle traffic between Belmont and Kalorama roads (the pedestrian zone will follow a close version of this map here). Restaurants, bars, and shops aren’t required to apply for any additional permits to operate outside at this point, though they will need to submit a DC certificate of insurance to DDOT. Businesses can set up properly distanced tables directly outside their venues, or get permission to expand into adjacent properties. Alcohol can be served along with food, though in accordance with phase two regulations, patrons must be seated and can’t stand or walk with food or drinks.
Business owners in nightlife-centric Adams Morgan neighborhood say they’ve been particularly affected by the pandemic and the new safety measures that have followed.
“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.
If all goes well, the 18th Street pedestrian zone will operate on weekends, though ANC 1C Chairperson Amir Irani says he hopes it’ll become an everyday fixture. Irani is among those who’ve been advocating for an 18th Street closure for years to promote a safe environment for cyclists and those who flock to the neighborhood nightlife scene.
“18th street is the economic, historical heart of Adams Morgan and it’s important to the vibrancy of the neighborhood,” says Irani. “I think it’s the hope of everyone that this turns out to be permanent.”
“Streeteries” have become a popular pandemic-era solution to provide businesses with outdoor space and accommodate customers who’re wary of dining indoors. The “Bethesda Streetery” opened earlier this month multiple roadways in the downtown area, while Arlington approved the use of sidewalks, parking lanes, and other public spaces for restaurants to serve customers. The 18th Street pedestrian zone is the first such model in DC, though other locations have been floated by neighborhood coalitions and others in Eastern Market, Petworth, and Georgetown.
Here’s a map of the pedestrian zone as it’ll operate this weekend: