Montgomery County announces changes to popular streeteries in Bethesda, Silver Spring

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) announced changes to two of its four streeteries, and backlash has already sparked online.

The changes impact one of the county’s most popular spaces, the Woodmont Ave. Streetery in Bethesda. It also impacts a small streetery in Silver Spring, called the Newell St. Streetery.

In Bethesda, the Woodmont Ave. Streetery won’t completely close. MCDOT does say among changes after Labor Day, that location will partially reopen to traffic. MCDOT also plans to start construction, finishing work on the Bethesda Cycle Track approved before the pandemic.

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Construction will impact the east side of the Woodmont Ave. Streetery the most, according to MCDOT.

Brandon Draghici, manager of Joe & the Juice, told FOX 5 he's not happy. 

"I’m not going to be the biggest fan of it just because we literally have our outside furniture set up where they’re going to be doing construction so that just destroys that," he says. "I just don’t like that they’re reopening the street. I love -- if you look around us, there’s a lot of people out right now, and they’re just enjoying it."

Bill Michaels explained to FOX 5 that while he understands supporting restaurants, he favors the temporary changes to improve transportation.  

"I think the city needs to do a better job with creating bicycle lanes because there’s a lot of people that will use bicycles instead of cars and that’s good all around – climate change, even the economies," said Michaels.

The streeteries were opened under the Shared Streets program, giving people more space and struggling businesses support when indoor dining was either closed or limited in the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

The more contentious streetery battle involves a much smaller space over in Silver Spring, called the Newell St. Streetery. That space was created to help give patrons of a now closed-up coffee shop around the corner more outdoor space.

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The closed portion of Newell St. has become a gathering space for kids and families, but a small group of residents has been petitioning county leadership for months, arguing the streetery was bringing unwanted activity right up against their home windows as some were trying to now work from home or sleep.

One of those residents told FOX 5 in part of an email sent on Tuesday: "Relieved and happy that Newell St will be reopened. The closure has presented a hardship in the form of noise at all hours, trash, porta potties by resident windows, blocked doors, fire pits for those living at The Argent and other buildings along Newell Street. The closure was poorly implemented with no input from The Argent Apartments."

On the opposite side, Paul Meyer has been an outspoken proponent online of keeping that area closed to traffic.

"I was appalled, and the reason is it flies in the face of the county’s supposed commitment to vision zero and to equity," said Meyer who questions what information MCDOT used to make their decision. "It’s been incredible it was the first gathering space for this neighborhood in South Silver Spring. We are entirely apartment buildings. Many of them high-rises, and there was nowhere for us to congregate, especially with kids in the neighborhood."

Montgomery County Department of Transportation Director Chris Conklin directly answered some of these concerns telling FOX 5, "This is not the sort of street that we typically see our serious and fatal collisions on, so we don’t – I don’t think this has any direct relationship to our Vision Zero program in that regard."

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"In terms of the voice of a few outweighing the voice of the many, you know it’s very clear people did appreciate the space and liked using it, but there are people who are more significantly impacted in a negative way by that. In our view, it made sense to kind of heed what they’re saying," said Director Conklin.

The director also noted it was really the use of the Newell St. Streetery after hours that negatively impacted those closest to the closed-off space and not those using it during the day.

Councilmember Evan Glass tweeted: "I’m disappointed in the decision to reopen Acorn Park. This community of dense apartment buildings deserves outdoor space to congregate, recreate and relax. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can rethink our streets so that more people can safely enjoy them."

FOX 5 is told Newell St. can still be closed for special events. The event organizer would need to apply.

It’s not clear what the final determination is for the Woodmont Ave. Streetery. Director Conklin tells FOX 5 that the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Service Center is surveying residents and business owners to determine long-term plans.

For the full MCDOT press release, click here