Activists Close Streets to Cars on Memorial Day

District Refusal to Close Streets 'A Failure of Imagination', Says Activist

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On Memorial Day, climate and street safety activists throughout DC closed multiple streets to cars to give pedestrians and bicyclists room to exercise while remaining physically distant.

Along with several DC grassroots organizations, activists are using orange cones and other obstacles to close roads or lanes of traffic to nonresident vehicle traffic. The direct action builds on the #WidenDCSidewalks demonstrations that began in early April. Both movements aim to convince Mayor Muriel Bowser and DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson to immediately open DC streets to people walking, biking, and scooting.

“I think it’s a failure of imagination and a failure of leadership that closing streets hasn’t already been done in DC,” said Keya Chatterjee, leader of Safe Streets for Hill East and Near Northeast. That group previously led a series of picnic demonstrations to support the implementation of the K Street Road Diet.

By a little after 10:30 a.m. Monday, more than ten streets throughout the District were already closed, including portions of A Streets NE and SE, N Street SW and E Street NW in Ward 6. Activists said that closures are expected to last throughout the day.

Throughout March, April, and now May, Mayor Bowser has repeatedly refused to turn over District-maintained traffic lanes to pedestrians to allow physical distancing, saying at an April 6th press conference that she was ‘not convinced’ by the argument, and that she thought that people would see it as a festival atmosphere.

Bowser did close a small number of NPS-maintained roads and minimal sidewalk widenings without taking space away from traffic lanes. That was in an effort to encourage people to stay home.

Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D) has also repeatedly stated a need to close residential streets. A May 15th letter Allen co-authored with Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1-D) and Mary Cheh (Ward 3-D) requested immediate action to close or narrow streets, attaching an amendment to emergency legislation reviewed May 21 that would require DDOT to establish a program to do so. On May 18, the Bowser Administration informed the DC Council that it opposed an emergency amendment to allocate street space to restaurants, citing the non-binding recommendations of the ReOpen DC Advisory Committee which were at that point not yet public.

Other US cities, including Atlanta, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Tampa and New York City have already shut down or significantly slowed vehicle speeds to allow pedestrians and bicyclists additional space.

Of the closure, former New York City transportation head Janette Sadik-Khan said, “Cities that seize this moment to make it easier for people to walk, bike and take public transport will prosper after this pandemic and not simply recover from it.”

Back here in DC, dozens of businesses, organizations and ANC commissioners have called on the District to close streets. One local resident even organized a petition to the Mayor that amassed nearly 700 signatures.

Follow the closures on social media using the hashtag #DCStreets4People and #ArminArm.