Adams Morgan hosts third Pedestrian Zone

Event intended to promote economic recovery for local Adams Morgan businesses

Adams Morgan hosts third Pedestrian Zone

The Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District hosted their third Pedestrian Zone of 2022 on Oct. 23. Local businesses, performers and artists gathered on 18th Street Northwest between Kalorama Road NW and Columbia Road NW, which were blocked off for the event by the Metropolitan Police Department.

The Pedestrian Zone was an extension of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 2020 street closure program, which intended to boost economic recovery from the losses suffered during the coronavirus pandemic. The event was made possible by Streets for People, a program that aims to expand public spaces and open the streets to pedestrians and cyclists.

“I think the public loves it, but what we need the public to do is to come and spend money,” Kristen Barden, the executive director of AMPBID, said in an interview with The Eagle.

Barden said each Pedestrian Zone faced unique challenges; two suffered from bad weather and one had to compete with Labor Day weekend. She said that AMPBID added more programming to the third event to boost foot traffic.

The event took place from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. and included a balloon artist, a live-drawn chalk mural and a swing dance class. AMPBID also hosted exclusive events, including a fashion show run by local vendors and a pet costume contest. The third special event was a partnership with D.C. Arts Center, who hosted The Big Draw, a worldwide event aimed at encouraging art.

“We have a storefront here on 18th Street but we’re on the second floor so unless someone’s entering into the space it’s hard,” said DCAC Executive Director Sean Elias. “But being out on the street with everyone and meeting the community face to face is so exciting.”

Roofers Union is an 18th Street bar and restaurant along the Pedestrian Zone. Brian Kavanagh, the bar’s manager, said that there was an uptick in business on the street.

“We opened the patio at Roofers Union on purpose on these Sundays, and we normally would not do that, but we think it’s important to be part of the community and be engaged in these events.”

Kavanagh is also the vice president of the Adams Morgan Day committee and the Adams Morgan Community Alliance, and he regularly attends AMPBID meetings. He said that some businesses have concerns about street closure events. Businesses that are delivery-only or rely partially on delivery services struggle with road closures. Additionally, some expressed a sense of unease about the high MPD presence. 

“We have a Metropolitan Police presence that has been called by restaurants and businesses very obtrusive,” Kavanagh said. “And the way that they have flashing lights and are trying to take over the patio and not letting people in, for them that’s protocol but for us it makes it look kind of like a crime scene.”

Barden felt this year’s Pedestrian Zone was successful. 

“Some businesses did very well and did better than a typical Sunday. Most businesses saw an uptick in foot traffic and sales but there are still some inconsistencies,” she said.

When asked for comment, the D.C. Office of Planning told The Eagle via email, “Streets for People events throughout the city have attracted tens of thousands of visitors and supported dozens of businesses in the District’s downtown.” 

The Office of Planning is currently working with grantees to collect information on event attendance and the impact on businesses.

The Pedestrian Zone was originally intended to last longer. Barden said that AMPBID had proposed hosting a Pedestrian Zone once per month from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. However, AMPBID works with the D.C. Office of Planning and MPD to shut down the street for these events. MPD staffing shortages limited them to certain weekends when there were no overlapping events.

AMPBID was awarded a $525,000 grant from the American Rescue Plan. They said that 75 percent of the money was designated for infrastructure improvements. They plan to install infrastructure with a retractable, crash-rated cable to prevent traffic during street closure events without having to rely entirely on the MPD.

Barden also said that AMPBID is in the process of negotiating the installation with the D.C. Department of Transportation. If they can get the permits by Dec. 31, their funds will roll over and they can install the infrastructure in the spring of 2023. The Office of Planning also said that they will be offering a new round of grants for Streets for People programs.

Barden is optimistic that AMPBID will receive the permits to build the cables on time and host more Pedestrian Zone events in the spring of 2023.

“We are working to make sure it works well for most of the businesses,” she said. “This was a pilot program so we can tweak it and make it better for the Spring 2023.”

Despite concerns, Kavanagh is also strongly in favor of more street closure events. He said that if the Pedestrian Zone can become a regularized, well-advertised event, then it will be easier for businesses to plan for and profit from it. 

“I think it’s an unalloyed good that we do this and we do reclaim the streets,” Kavanaugh said. “I think that the businesses also have to be reactive to it in terms of product, in terms of staffing, in terms of engagement with the community. Neighbors are always going to complain about something, but they also like walking to a restaurant or a wine bar or a pharmacy that’s right next to them. And that’s what a neighborhood looks like, especially one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in D.C.”

news@theeagleonline.com

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