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Popular Northwest DC street may become 'pedestrian only,' at times, this summer

The effort to make part of 18th Street NW 'pedestrian only' has gone on for years. Now, with financial backing and political support, the plan only needs permitting.

WASHINGTON — It’s been talked about for years, but could DC finally be getting closer to making a popular Northwest street into a pedestrian-only zone?

On Wednesday, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C, which includes DC’s Adams Morgan, Kalorama, and Lanier Heights neighborhoods, voted to support an effort by the Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District to convert 18th Street Northwest, between Kalorama and Columbia Roads, into a pedestrian-only zone on a recurring, temporary basis.

The idea has been thrown around multiple times over the last decade to open the busy street — which is home to numerous bars and restaurants — to pedestrians.

In 2017, members of the local advisory neighborhood commission pushed to close the street to cars after a truck rammed into three people in the neighborhood and two police officers.

Then, in June 2020, the idea was revisited when District officials decided to close part of the street down for a day to provide locals more space to socially distance and enjoy outdoor dining at area restaurants.

The street also closes between Columbia Road and Florida Avenue Northwest, on an annual basis, for Adams Morgan Day. The family-friendly festival typically attracts 250,000 people a year, according to the ANC 1C.

The effort to temporarily close parts of 18th Street on a recurring basis did get a major push in January 2022 when the Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District received a $525,000 grant from DC’s Office of Planning to move forward with the proposal as a part of its “Streets for People” grant program.

The Streets for People grant program is specifically meant to retrofit public right-of-ways to allow for streets to be used for pedestrian-based activities in the heart of DC.

“Based on the success of the Mayor's pilot pedestrian zone in Adams Morgan in June 2020, the businesses will see a large influx of foot traffic and customers,” said Kristen Barden, president of the Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District. “As the summer heats up, these kinds of public space activations ensure that business activity doesn't drop off with vacations/end of school.”

Barden told WUSA9 she is hopeful the pedestrian zone can become a reality by July 2022. Both the ANC, the business improvement district, and Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau envision closing the street one weekend a month.

At first, the street would be blocked off with the help of the District of Public Works dump trucks and water barriers in alleyways.

However, later in the future, stakeholders say they would like to see bollards be constructed at Kalorama and Columbia Roads that can be lifted to block the street whenever needed.

While the proposal has financial backing and support from both the local ANC and DC’s Office of Planning, Barden admits it still faces one big obstacle: permitting.

“We have hit an impasse with the permitting of these monthly street closures,” she said. “This isn't a special one-time event but a recurring weekend street closure, so DC government agencies are still determining the permitting process. It is new for them, but we are confident that we should soon have a path forward.”

WUSA9 reached out to both the District Department of Transportation and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development to see how far the project had come in the District’s permitting process. It has yet to receive a response from either office.

DC’s Office of Planning said permitting does not fall under its purview.

Nadeau said she’s been frustrated by the delays and that the project needs to move forward now.

“My office, in particular, the ANC, the business improvement district, we've expended a great deal of energy to produce this, to put together a well thought out plan,” she said. “The BID even received a grant to put it together from the Streets for People program, but we get hemmed up by red tape every step of the way.”

Nadeau added the idea of making temporary, recurring closures start on 18th Street NW in July would not be farfetched if DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration decided to act on the project now.

“Honestly, I think if the mayor wants that to happen, it could be you know, this month,” she said. “We have all of the plans in place. We have the funding now. We know what the technology is that's needed. We have the safety plan. We've worked with [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority], we know what to do. We just need that red tape to be snipped so we can get it going.”

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