D.C. Considers Car-Free Zones to Promote Sustainable Transportation

Proposal Seeks to Establish Pedestrian Corridors and Support Open Streets Movement

The District of Columbia is exploring the possibility of implementing car-free zones in certain corridors, taking inspiration from cities like New York and others around the world. The proposal, currently under consideration by the D.C. Council, aims to create three pedestrian corridors starting in 2026, temporarily closing roads to cars for designated hours each week. Alongside this initiative, a $2.5 million fund would be established to support the effort. Advocates argue that car-free zones would inject vitality into communities and incentivize residents and visitors to opt for more sustainable modes of travel.

The Rise of the Open Streets Movement

The D.C. Council’s proposal to establish car-free zones aligns with the global “Open Streets” movement, which has gained traction in recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In D.C., the city has already experimented with car-free zones through annual festival-like events, transforming some of the busiest streets into pedestrian-friendly spaces. The success of these initiatives has prompted the consideration of more permanent car-free zones in certain corridors.

International Examples of Car-Free Zones

Cities worldwide have embraced various Open Streets programs, each tailored to their unique needs. Edinburgh, Scotland, for example, has closed some streets to motorized vehicles one Sunday a month in its city center. Barcelona has reorganized certain streets into superblocks, creating pedestrian-centric neighborhoods with playgrounds at intersections. Permanent non-vehicle spaces have been established in central Stockholm, Paris’s Rue de Rivoli, and New York’s Jackson Heights neighborhood.

Open Streets During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic further popularized Open Streets initiatives. In the United States, some cities temporarily closed streets near schools to create outdoor learning spaces. In busy commercial districts, streets were transformed into dining areas in collaboration with restaurant owners. The D.C. Department of Transportation has allowed “streateries,” where patrons can sit at tables on closed car lanes. Business improvement districts have also installed pedestrian plazas to enhance safety for pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

Proposed Legislation and Community Engagement

The proposed legislation in D.C. would require the Department of Transportation (DDOT) to designate specific corridors, at least one-quarter-of-a-mile-long, to be closed to car traffic for a minimum of 24 daytime hours each week, starting in 2026. Over the next two years, DDOT would collaborate with communities to select three locations and develop an implementation plan. The legislation also emphasizes the importance of considering the impact on traffic, parking, and businesses, working closely with communities like Adams Morgan to determine the viability of permanent pedestrian zones.

Adams Morgan’s Successful Experiment

Adams Morgan, a neighborhood in D.C., has already experimented with temporary closures of a section of 18th Street NW to vehicle traffic one Sunday each month during the late summer and fall. The program, featuring activities such as yoga classes and alfresco dining, has attracted thousands of people and boosted sales for local businesses. While the Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District (BID) has seen sustained demand for such events, they are cautious about supporting a permanent closure without concurrent special events.


The proposal to establish car-free zones in D.C. represents a significant step towards promoting sustainable transportation and creating vibrant, pedestrian-friendly communities. By drawing inspiration from successful initiatives around the world and building on the existing Open Streets events, the city aims to provide regular opportunities for residents and visitors to experience car-free corridors. The careful consideration of community input, traffic management, and business impact will be crucial in ensuring the success and viability of these car-free zones. If implemented, these initiatives have the potential to transform the nation’s capital and serve as a model for other cities striving to create more sustainable and livable urban environments.






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