Editors Note: This story was updated to reflect the Newell Street streetery is managed by Montgomery County Department of Transportation.
Residents can continue to enjoy some of the county’s “streeteries” this fall under new operations guidelines, county officials have announced.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the county closed several streets in downtown areas as a “temporary concept to support businesses struggling economically by the coronavirus pandemic and allow residents to gather freely on public streets,” according to a county press release Monday.
Now the operation of the streeteries is being reevaluated with input from their respective communities as the pandemic continues to ease, the release said. The four steeteries are on Newell Street in Silver Spring, Price Avenue in Wheaton and Norfolk and Woodmont avenues in Bethesda.
“The Streeteries have provided a practical solution to a pandemic-related problem,” County Executive Marc Elrich said in the release. “They served as much-needed gathering spaces during the pandemic and provided a creative solution. Now as the situation has changed, we worked with the community in each area to decide how these spaces will continue to operate. The Streeteries showed new possibilities and I would like to see how we might continue some form of these activities as we move beyond just trying to accommodate the activities within the constraints of the pandemic.”
According to the release, the streeteries were part of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation’s Shared Streets program, which included smaller pockets designated for recreation during the pandemic and allowed businesses to use streetside parking spaces and sidewalks. Many of the participating businesses have since returned to normal but other businesses that are still in operation with COVID-19-related accommodations will need to secure county permits after Labor Day to ensure accessibility requirements are met.
According to the county, the Newell Street streetery, which is managed by MCDOT, will reopen to vehicle traffic after Labor Day. However, it will remain an event-related operation, closing for public events throughout the year.
The Woodmont Avenue streetery will be temporarily suspended and partially reopened to traffic after Labor Day during construction of the Woodmont Avenue Cycle Track.
The Price Avenue and Norfolk Avenue streeteries will remain in operation for the foreseeable future, the release said. A community meeting regarding the Price Avenue streetery is planned for late September or early October to gather additional community feedback, according to the release.
MCDOT Director Chris Conklin said in an interview that input from residents near the Newell Street streetery contributed to the decision to open the street for vehicles after Labor Day. Although the press release said MCNCPPC had received “mixed reviews regarding the desirability of use of the street as a public gathering space” during a spring community survey, Conklin noted that the survey had actually occurred in 2020.
“The more recent information we had was a lot of information from people who supported it and appreciated the streetery and then similarly, a lot of information from people who were affected by having the streetery in place right adjacent to where they live, kind of right outside the window,” he said Tuesday.
The press release drew a rebuke from Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson, who tweeted Monday that it contained inaccuracies. “Newell Street is under @MCDOTNow control, I have no idea what “survey” they are talking about (by us or anyone else), and this was NOT a @MontgomeryParks decision – although we do think a shared street approach can work,” Anderson wrote. When asked by email Tuesday to further elaborate, Anderson said he had nothing more to add beyond his tweet.
Bethesda Urban Partnership has managed the Norfolk Avenue streetery in downtown Bethesda in partnership with the county, according to Jeff Burton, the organization’s executive director.
“We actually hired a design firm to design kind of semi-permanent designs for three specific blocks,” he said. “They’re on Norfolk Avenue and we’re working with that design firm to finalize it and get funding to implement those kinds of semi-permanent designs.”
Streetery locations may be suspended if there are significant winter storms throughout the winter season, according to county officials.
“Streeteries have undeniably changed how we look at the public right of way,” Conklin said in the release. Working with the communities, “we have developed a process where the community determines the capacity of their local Streetery long-term. We are optimistic that these streets will continue to serve the public well.”