County Council Supports Open Streets

County Council Supports Open Streets

ROCKVILLE, Md., May 26, 2021—Tomorrow the Council will introduce a resolution in support of continuing Open Streets programs implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for safe and socially distanced outdoor dining, walking, biking and recreation. District 1 Councilmember Andrew Friedson drafted the resolution, which points to the Bethesda Streetery, Montgomery Parks Open Parkways, Newell Street Temporary Neighborhood Park Expansion in Silver Spring and the National Park Service’s closure of Beach Drive to vehicle traffic as successful examples of how the County, and outside agencies and organizations have repurposed streets for public use.

“Open Streets have proven wildly popular and the creative thinking prompted by the pandemic has demonstrated we can rethink the way public assets are utilized to best serve residents and promote community,” Councilmember Andrew Friedson said. “Thousands have taken advantage of vehicle-free streets to dine outside, support local businesses and walk and bike while enjoying our tremendous parks and natural resources. As COVID transmission declines and we begin to return to some semblance of normality, we should build on the success of these Open Streets programs and make them part of our new normal.”

“The pandemic has pushed more people to recreate and socialize outdoors,” Council President Tom Hucker said. “And we have responded to residents’ demands for safer streets in their neighborhoods with the popular Shared Streets and Open Streets programs. My hope is that these great public spaces become permanent fixtures in our communities beyond the pandemic.”

“The pandemic has further demonstrated that our roadways are not only for driving cars and parking,” Councilmember Evan Glass said. “Repurposing streets has created new opportunities for our residents to exercise and socialize, whether it is jogging on Sligo Creek Parkway or enjoying an outdoor meal on Newell Street in Silver Spring, Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda or Elkin Street in Wheaton. The pandemic gave us an opportunity to rethink how we utilize public space, and I look forward to continuing these community-supported initiatives as we return to a new normal.”

The resolution is supported by all nine Council members and will be introduced by the entire Council. The resolution references how the pandemic has provided jurisdictions around the world a chance to rethink how public spaces are best used and how they may be repurposed to better promote community health and vibrancy.

At the start of the pandemic, Montgomery Parks launched Open Parkways, closing portions of Sligo Creek Parkway, Little Falls Parkway, and Beach Drive to vehicle traffic on weekends to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to use the facilities in a safe and socially distanced manner. In April, Montgomery Parks reported 624,000 pedestrian and bicyclist trips during Open Parkways periods.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) implemented Shared Streets to close select neighborhood streets to vehicle traffic to allow residents and businesses to engage in safe and socially distanced in-street activities.

This included partnerships with the Bethesda Urban Partnership and adjacent property owners on the Bethesda Streetery, an outdoor dining area to support local restaurants with seating located on Norfolk, Cordell and Woodmont Avenues. Other outdoor dining areas have included the Wheaton Streetery, Silver Spring Streetdine and Newell Street Temporary Neighborhood Park Expansion in Silver Spring, the Germantown Streetery at BlackRock, as well as areas supported by municipalities in Rockville and Takoma Park.

MCDOT also created Temporary Neighborhood Greenways that limited roadways to local vehicle traffic only to create safer environments for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The National Park Service closed a portion of Beach Drive in Washington, D.C., near the Montgomery County border, to vehicle traffic to allow residents from the County, the District and elsewhere the ability to walk or ride on the road.

The Council has strongly supported many of the Open Streets throughout the pandemic, including a $1.25 million special appropriation to assist with the purchase of tents, heaters and other equipment to winterize Streeteries and outdoor dining areas.

The Council staff report and resolution will be available here by May 27.