Montgomery Co. extends program that allows outdoor dining in public spaces; concerns for COVID-19 variants cited

The Montgomery County, Maryland, Shared Streets program, created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be extended to Nov. 28, County Executive Marc Elrich said Tuesday.

The extension of the program — which allows public spaces to be used for outdoor dining, retail activity, biking and walking — is being driven by a surge of COVID-19 variants, specifically the delta variant.

“The Shared Streets program has provided a safe gathering place for residents throughout a challenging time and has helped to support our economy,” Elrich said in a news release. “With the COVID-19 variants going around and students returning to school, we want to reduce the spread of the virus.”

Elrich said the program has served the community well by helping businesses, consumers who prefer to dine outside and generally the public’s health.

“We want to ensure we can maintain safe public spaces as we monitor COVID-19 variants,” said  Montgomery County Department of Transportation Director Chris Conklin. “Throughout the pandemic, Shared Streets has been a creative solution that has greatly impacted the way we gather. It has helped maintain community connectedness and vibrancy.”

While Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show Montgomery County leads the nation with an 85% vaccination rate among eligible people, and 94% of eligible residents have received at least one shot, widespread concern about the delta variant has caused the county to reinstate its indoor mask mandate.

The county reports that the Shared Streets program has not seen extensive issues surrounding outdoor alcohol service, despite early concerns.

“We’ve allowed for businesses to extend their alcohol service outdoors and overall, it’s worked out well,” said Alcohol Beverage Services Director Kathie Durbin. “Businesses have been compliant, and they appreciate being able to offer extended outdoor dining. They want to keep this program in place as long as they can.”

County residents can apply for a block permit to bring a smaller version of Shared Streets to their neighborhood. If approved, MCDOT will temporarily limit vehicles to local traffic for the selected road. Information on applying for the program is online. There is no cost to residents for a permit.

In addition, Grove Street in Silver Spring, which was a temporary Shared Streets pilot program, has been converted into a semi-permanent Neighborhood Greenway for pedestrians and bicyclists, with limited vehicle use for local traffic only.

“Other temporary greenways, established during the pandemic, will remain in place until November, when they will be removed for the winter season and reopened to thru traffic.”

Residents who wish to give feedback on a local Shared Streets program can call 311 and ask to be connected to the Regional Services Center for their area.

Glynis Kazanjian

Glynis Kazanjian has been a freelance writer covering Maryland politics and government on the local, state and federal levels for the last 11 years. Her work is published in Maryland Matters, the Baltimore Post Examiner, Bethesda Beat and Md. Reporter. She has also worked as a true crime researcher.

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