Over a month ago, a new vision for 18th Street in Adams Morgan was tested out. The DC roadway was largely shut down to vehicle traffic for a full weekend, becoming a huge neighborhood “streatery” and gathering place where restaurants, bars, and retail businesses could serve customers outdoors. But since the weekend of June 26, the movement to #Open18th has indefinitely stalled—even as the city plans for similar street closures elsewhere. Now, Adams Morgan organizers, businesses, and supporters are calling on Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office for answers and a new way forward.
In an email shared with Washingtonian, Lamont Akins, Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs, says that “due to health and safety issues, 18th St NW in Adams Morgan will no longer have a full street closure during the District’s public health emergency.” Individually approved “parklets” (outdoor commercial spaces that extend into the sidewalk and street) are still permitted. Still, longtime supporters of an Adams Morgan pedestrian zone—a vision for a European-style promenade that predates Covid—say they’re hoping for more specific answers so they can provide solutions.
“Several of the co-founders of the [AMCDC] have heard speculation that there is a lack of faith in Adams Morgan to organize and manage #open18th, or a related lack of commitment by certain members of the community,” says Matt Wexler, co-founder of the Adams Morgan Commercial Development Coalition (AMCDC) and a partner in the Line DC hotel. “As a responsible and responsive community partner, we just want to know what the ‘health and safety’ issues are so that we can address them in order to allow the 18th Street pedestrian zone to return immediately.”
Washingtonian reached out to Lamont and others in the Mayor’s office repeatedly for comment.
The pilot weekend for #open18th wasn’t without problems. Photos of crowding and people visiting without masks were shared on social media. Wexler says AMCDC committed funding to staff the pedestrian zone to help with crowd control and submitted additional distancing plans. Longtime Adams Morgan BID chair Constantine Stavropoulos says they’re also working with WMATA on an alternate bus route.
“We came up with great signage for masks,” says Stavropoulos, referencing a popular neighborhood campaign that encourages people to cover up because Ruth Bader Ginsburg “works less than 5 miles from here.”
“We got sanitation stations, we had tents, we had volunteers. This is a partnership and we stepped up our part. We’re just waiting on them [the mayor’s office],” Stavropoulos says.
Steateries have proven popular in the pandemic as patrons feel more comfortable eating, drinking, shopping, and even getting salon services outdoors. Currently there are two streateries in Dupont Circle and a large one in downtown Bethesda. Georgetown, home to several parklets, is also working on streatery closures, according to the Georgetown BID. Come September, a pedestrian zone is also slated for 7th Street in Downtown DC.
Wexler says AMCDC polled a wide swath of businesses after the pilot weekend. He says on average, owners reported that patronage tripled or quadrupled when the pedestrian zone was in place. Since then, businesses—especially those with minimal outdoor space—are worried about their future in the once-bustling restaurant and nightlife district.
“Overall what I find is the people in the neighborhood are depressed— business owners and customers,” says Arianne Bennett, who’s operated Amsterdam Falafel Shop in Adams Morgan for 16 years. She recently shuttered her newer 14th Street location and has diversified the falafel shop’s offerings—everything from groceries to boozy slushies—in an attempt to stay afloat. “The pedestrian zone gives people a sense of normalcy and a chance to step back and feel comfortable. The last thing anyone wants is any kind of danger so doing it in the right way is important, but doing it is necessary. It’s an immediate need because winter is coming.”