This weekend, the District Department of Transportation will close part of 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan to vehicular traffic to create more space for social distancing for pedestrians and business patrons as a test run for future street closures.
Beginning 3 p.m. Friday, 18th Street will be a pedestrian-only zone between Columbia and Kalorama roads until midnight Sunday.
“I can’t think of a single issue in recent memory that has such unanimous support,” said Amir Irani, chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in Adams Morgan.
Neighborhood groups such as the Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District, the Adams Morgan Commercial Development Coalition, the Reede Cook Neighborhood Association and the ANC offered support behind the decision to close the street.
The only neighborhood organization that opposed the decision was the Kalorama Civic Association, even though many of its members emailed Mr. Irani separately and told him they supported the plan, he said.
Though the public input process was shorter than usual because of the urgency to create more space for social distancing, Mr. Irani said community leaders got feedback from about 500 residents via a survey and hundreds of people expressed support via email, social media and virtual forums.
Bill Duggan, owner of the blues restaurant Madam’s Organ, said he most likely won’t put tables on the street this weekend because it would cost him about $30,000 in additional insurance coverage.
“It’s an exciting prospect, but the nuts and bolts of it are going to be crippling,” Mr. Duggan said.
He said it is a good idea, but with all the other restrictions he has to follow, it doesn’t make sense for him to participate.
Adams Morgan resident Frank Hauer, 39, said he is glad the neighborhood is trying to revive itself, as many of the storefronts were empty before the coronavirus pandemic.
“If it’s because of the coronavirus or not, whatever, I am just really happy they are trying something different and I hope it is not isolated to this weekend, but instead, it’s something they are going to do every weekend, because it is something they should have done in the first place,” Mr. Hauer said.
He said he prefers that 18th Street is closed only on the weekends when the weather is nice, because he worries that vehicular traffic will be pushed into residential streets.
Before the pandemic, Mr. Irani had advocated for closing 18th Street to cars for almost three years; he said he hopes city officials will close it permanently, not just on weekends.
“Eighteenth Street, pre-pandemic, had some of the most dangerous intersections in the District,” Mr. Irani said, pointing out the intersection at Belmont Street as a hotspot for conflicts with pedestrians, cyclists and cars.
DDOT previously proposed two plans that community groups rejected because neither completely closed the thoroughfare to vehicles. On Monday, officials came back with this weekend’s plan, which diverts all traffic and Metrobus routes 90 and 96.
Earlier this month, Mr. Irani wrote a letter to Metro requesting that it permanently change the bus routes. The transit agency denied his request, saying the it would create hardship for more than 1,000 daily riders.
Japer Bowles, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Adams Morgan, said he is excited about this weekend’s closure. Many of the residents he represents feel like “it’s about time,” especially as other localities such as Bethesda and Tysons Corner already have closed streets, he added.
However, he said there is still some fear of the coronavirus.
“They are nervous about this weekend, I am nervous about this weekend,” Mr. Bowles said. “I don’t know how I will feel if I see no room [between people on the street], and it will be completely packed this weekend.”