Activists block off DC streets to create socially distant outdoor space

Activists looking to increase space for pedestrians and bicyclists took matters into their own hands to block some D.C. streets to car traffic on Memorial Day.

Two groups, Arm in Arm DC and DC Department of Transformation, placed traffic cones and tape across streets in several D.C. areas, including Adams Morgan in Northwest and around the H Street corridor in Northeast.

The idea is to give people more space to exercise by walking and bicycling, and just to get out of the house but stay socially distant, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kaya Chatterjee, a climate activist with Arm in Arm DC, said the protest will force D.C. lawmakers to “re-imagine the city that we need.”

“We have opened up 30 streets around D.C. to allow neighbors to come out and say hello to each other at a distance, to allow kids to ride bikes and, just, to open up some space for people to keep safe and distance — but also be able to interact,” Chatterjee said.

One of the groups shared the results of their protest on its Twitter feed.

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The protest drew attention from D.C. police who responded to several of the closed-off streets to unblock them, Chatterjee said. The groups do not have permits to close streets.

“The cops have come and busted up a few of our rowdy scenes of toddlers learning how to ride bicycles and elderly neighbors chatting with each other, sadly … Unfortunately right now, the city isn’t giving us what we need and is instead spending their resources doing that,” Chatterjee said.

Her group also set up a petition asking D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council to permanently change more lanes to serve pedestrians, buses, bikes and outdoor restaurant seating. The petition also asks for the expansion of widened sidewalks in residential neighborhoods, turning the city into a more pedestrian-friendly area.

“It’s really hard to imagine going back to the way that we were before, for a lot of reasons … We have to imagine a way forward,” Chatterjee said. “And we know that one way forward could provide clean air, have fewer asthma cases in the city. And another way forward would end up in Carmageddon and gridlock.”

The D.C. Department of Transportation began extending several sidewalks last month to help people follow social distancing guidelines.

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report. 

 

Jose Umana

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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