Well, that’s the idea, anyway.
Sunday marks the start of the Adams Morgan Pedestrian Area, a pilot program that will close 18th Street to vehicular traffic between Columbia and Kalorama Roads one Sunday per month, from noon to 10 p.m., through October. The goal, according to the Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District, is to attract more people to the neighborhood and then make it easier for them to walk around and socialize or participate in sidewalk activities.
For years, if not decades, Adams Morgan business owners and bar-goers have floated the idea of closing 18th Street to cars on weekends, turning the strip of restaurants, music venues and of taverns in a sort of combination of Les Halles and Bourbon Street. outside of the year Adams Morgan Day festival, however, it remained a pipe dream.
Then, in June 2020, the district transportation department announced that it was closure on the 18th between Columbia and Kalorama roads for long periods over a weekend – eight hours each on Friday and Saturday and 12 hours on Sunday. The aim was to “reinvent outdoor space in the district” as bars and restaurants began to reopen, creating more space for drinking and eating outdoors. When the weekend finally arrived, it might have been more successful than expected: there were long queues and full terraces in the street. “It was a big success for us,” says Jo-Jo Valenzuela, the owner of the game sports bar and Tiki on the 18th, although he adds that “it was the craziest shift I’ve ever worked in my life” due to the crowds ordering cocktails as the restaurants were short-staffed. Dave Delaplaine, General Manager and Beer Manager at roofers unionis more concise: “That kicked us at–.”
Despite the interest in repeating the experience, neighbors complained about the lack of social distancing and masking, and it didn’t happen again. But closing the street became a possibility again this year thanks to the Streets for People Grant Program, which supports concerts, films and outdoor events in public spaces around the city. A majority of the funding will buy a system with metal cables that can be pulled across the street to close it off to traffic, rather than using dump trucks to block vehicle access. (An earlier project to install hydraulic bollards in the middle of the roadway has been cancelled.)
In addition to hanging out at rooftop bars and streeateries, free scheduled activities include yoga and Zumba classes, fitness instructors Words, rhythms and life running a dance academy, face painting and balloon artists for children, and the creation of a chalk mural in the middle of the street.
At a hearing with the local Neighborhood advisory committee in May, Kristen Barden, executive director of the BID, pointed out that the pedestrian zone would not become a monthly Adams Morgan Day-style block party with stages or booths for vendors set up on the road. “Because a 20-foot escape route needs to be cleared in the middle of the street, any entertainment will be more pop-up in nature,” she explained — activities that can quickly deviate if necessary.
Note for those planning to attend via public transit: Buses 90 and 96, which typically run on 18th Street, are rerouted to Florida and Connecticut Avenues on Sunday.
Bars and restaurants are cautiously enthusiastic about the project. “I don’t know what to expect,” said Delaplaine of Roofers Union. “I don’t want to plan too much and stretch the staff.” Instead he thinks they will operate as a normal Sunday but maybe open the rooftop bar at 2pm instead of 3.30pm. “Because there are three, we are going to base what we do in the future on this Sunday,” he says, potentially adding live music on September 4.
Still, Delaplaine says he’s looking forward to the series. “Part of Adams Morgan has failed to come out of covid,” compared to other neighborhoods. “We’ve lost a few restaurants and people are looking for more outdoor options.”
The Adams Morgan Pedestrian Zone will be held on Sundays, September 4 and October 23. More information is available at admodc.org.