You’d think Adams Morgan would be one of the best neighborhoods to host carless events in D.C. The 18th Street strip is a one-lane road with few entrances and exits and ample detours. There’s also tons of events like Adams Morgan Day and Porch Fest to give the street to pedestrians for shopping, dining and general car(e)free leisure.
However, Brian Barrie, the deputy director of Adams Morgan’s local Business Improvement District (BID), says closing the street has been anything but simple — or pretty.
“It involves getting DPW dump trucks parked on either end,” Barrie says, adding the trucks have to idle for any emergency vehicles that need to pass. “It’s environmentally icky, it looks bad, it sounds bad, it’s just bad.”
That may soon be changing. Barrie and Kristen Barden the BID’s Executive Director tells us they’ve submitted a plan to install mechanical bollards along 18th Street to simplify hosting street events — free of cars.
”Put the key in and it pops up, locks and then pops back down,” says Barden, describing how the temporary barriers would work.
These posts will raise up from the ground via a hydraulic system to block off the street and would block off cars from driving/crashing into a carless event. This would transform 18th Street into a pedestrian-only space in a matter of minutes, requiring much less coordination — and less cost — for a plaza moment.
Barden says the bollards plan is currently under review by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). If approved, she says the temporary barriers would be installed on 18th at the ends of Columbia Northwest to the north and Kalorama Road to the south. Barrie adds they would also block off Belmont Road and a few alley entrances.
The bollards would be funded by a D.C. Office of Planning grant program called Streets for the People. The Adams Morgan Partnership BID was one of five districts that were awarded over $2.8 million in federal funds in January to fund “creative and innovative public space activations.”
The Office of Planning said in a statement the program will help “leverage public space to facilitate economic recovery.”
They add, “We know that the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have significantly impacted the numbers of office workers, residents and visitors in Central Washington; and Streets for People is our opportunity to transform how people experience streets and sidewalks in the District.”
Barden says the BID received $525,000 in funds. Of that money, 75% needs to go to actual infrastructure. The other 25% would go toward permit fees, extra police, and setting up activities for its new litany of pedestrian-focused events. They’ve told the Office of Planning they’re looking to close 18th Street to cars for seven weekends, one each month, from May to November.
“The goal of this is so that we can close the street with a lot less cost to us and to D.C. government,” Barden says.
She and Barrie have been pushing for more pedestrian-only events since June 2020. After Bowser relaxed some pandemic measures after the first pandemic wave, DDOT shut down 18th Street from Friday to Sunday.
This was the first implementation of the streetery pilot program to help support local restaurants. Barden said the shutdown was “popular” and most area businesses “by far, really loved it.”
“It drove a lot of pedestrian traffic here. Bicyclists […] and mopeds could use the space very freely,” says Barden. “Because of the popularity from that pilot weekend, we’ve been trying to recreate it ever since.”
However, the BID says the Department of Health kept blocking a second street closure for over a year. Barrie says the Department of Health would come up with a “laundry list” of insurmountable tasks that forced them to an “impasse.” D.C. Department of Health did not respond to comment.
“They basically wanted us to treat that whole 18th Street area as if it were an establishment that we could eject somebody [from] if they weren’t wearing a mask, or if they weren’t doing something,” he says, “which was not in our power to do because it’s public space.”
They also attempted to work with Bowser’s Special Events task group but that didn’t come to fruition either.
This new direction matches a national conversation about how much of our communities are devoted to cars. Barrie says this new perspective has provided more appetite for business owners to do carless events — which were wanted even before the pandemic.
“There was a lot of resistance in the business community because people worried about losing the parking,” he says. “Since the pilot program — since they put those jersey barriers out there — and that parking has gone away anyway, people are kind of waking up that, that that’s not really a showstopper anymore.”
The timeline for the bollards installation is still unknown. DDOT did not respond to a request for comment but Barrie says they’ve been “helpful and encouraging” as they pursue this bold new step.
“This is something that’s never been done before, which is usually a conversation stopper,” Barden says. “They’ve been they’ve been working with us to try to make this happen.”
Barden and Barrie say that they’re aiming for their first 18th Street pedestrian zone would take place in May without bollards. Barden says DDOT has asked them to do a traffic study so they’re aiming for a bollard-protected pedestrian event in June.
They both agree this new direction will improve the neighborhood.
Barrie says, “I think people have kind of gotten an appetite for that during the pandemic, eating outside. Eating outside is nice. It’s a little less nice when there’s a truck idling right next to your seat. If that’s something you can remove from the equation? All the better.”