Park Space for People

With COVID-19 cases still rising and experts telling us that the end of the crisis is still months away, most of us are looking at a lot more time at home.  But we also know that “stay indoors until July” is not a viable plan. Public health experts agree that people need access to outdoor space, fresh air, and exercise to maintain mental and physical health. It’s clear that our region’s narrow trails and sidewalks are just not wide enough to give everyone that access.

That’s why we are thrilled that the National Park Service and Montgomery Parks are leading with park roads. NPS is extending weekend closures on Beach Drive to weekdays, closing off roads in Anacostia Park and Fort Dupont Park, and widening sidewalks around West Potomac Park, so that more people across DC have space for essential exercise. Montgomery Parks is closing portions of Sligo Creek Pkwy, Little Falls Pkwy, and Beach Drive Fridays through Sundays to ease crowding on busy trails. This is a huge first step!

Thank NPS for stepping up

Right now, all across the region, people are awkwardly navigating narrow trails and sidewalks, trying to maintain a safe distance. As the weather improves and the weeks stuck at home wear on, this is not tenable. The solution is simple: trails are narrow, roads are wide. We need emergency action to make space for people on roads.

Park roads are an easy first step here—they are already in places where people seek out recreation, and especially now, can be closed to cars with minimal disruption for people driving to essential tasks.

We thank the the National Park Service, US Park Police, and Montgomery Parks for their leadership in this public health crisis. Opening park roads to people to create safe spaces for essential exercise is critical for long term mental and physical health.

But people need access to outdoor spaces across the region, so these steps must be just the beginning of a larger effort. We call on each National Park Service unit and parks department in the Washington area to close park roads to cars and open them for safe, distant, essential exercise. Closures can be accomplished using existing gates, mobile barriers, limited signage and minimal staff effort. At a time when traffic volume is so low, road space, especially in parks, is needed more for people.

We call on the National Park Service and US Park Police to take the following actions:

  • Rock Creek Park
    • Explore using temporary barriers to close Beach Drive to Shoreham Drive to relieve crowding on the Rock Creek Park Trail
    • Explore lane closures or complete closure of the Rock Creek Parkway to relieve crowding on the Rock Creek Park Trail
  • National Mall & Memorial Parks
    • Use existing barriers to close Ohio Drive around East Potomac Park
    • Use temporary barriers to close Jefferson & Madison Drives
  • George Washington Memorial Parkway
    • Explore lane closures on the George Washington Memorial Parkway to  relieve crowding on the Mount Vernon Trail in Arlington, Alexandria, Belle View and Fort Hunt
    • Use temporary barriers to close the Fort Hunt Park Loop for further crowding relief on the Mount Vernon Trail

Other regional park and trail adjacent roads are too numerous to list, and we encourage people to contact state and local transportation and park agencies directly with specific suggestions, but here are some examples:

  • Watkins Regional Park (in Prince George’s County) features a wide, redundant road next to a fairly narrow trail. 
  • Eisenhower Ave (Alexandria) has excess lane capacity that could be repurposed to add space to the Holmes Run Trail.
  • Suitland Parkway parallels the Suitland Parkway Trail and with a full or partial closure could be an excellent space for excercise
  • Plans already exist for expansion of the Trolley Trail along Route 1 in Hyattsville.
  • Lanes on Crystal Drive and Eads Street in Crystal City can be repurposed as temporary trails to relieve congestion on the Mount Vernon Trail.

Urgent: Fairness for Crash Victims in Virginia

People injured walking and biking in Virginia face an uphill battle to get fairly compensated for damages from a crash resulting from a negligent driver. An antiquated legal doctrine called contributory negligence stacks the deck in favor of insurance companies and against people who are hurt. Crashes can cause damage to a person’s bike and other property, run up expensive medical bills and impact one’s ability to work. Injured people deserve a fighting chance to be fairly compensated for damages.

The Virginia General Assembly is considering legislation that will level the playing field when bicyclists and pedestrians are hurt in crashes by negligent drivers. Yesterday, the Civil Law Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in support of Senate Bill 659 and tomorrow the full committee will vote on the bill. The legislation is modeled on a similar bill passed in the District of Columbia in 2016 which has shown to be effective, targeted and fair.

People walking and biking in Virginia involved in a crash with the driver of a motor vehicle can be completed barred from receiving any compensation for injuries if they are even slightly at fault. Depending on the severity of a crash, a victim can rack up huge medical bills, lost wages because of missed work, face lasting injuries and other damages to personal property such as a bicycle.

Under the antiquated legal doctrine contributory negligence, powerful insurance companies can deny all claims from a crash victim in unfair and unjust ways. 46 states in the United States have adopted the more fair comparative standard that weighs each parties negligence and adjusts compensation accordingly

Senate Bill 659 is modeled on a similar bill passed in the District of Columbia in 2016 which gives crash victims access to full compensation if they are the less negligent party. The DC law has shown to be effective, targeted and fair. Scare tactics from the insurance industry have not borne out. Virginia’s crash victims deserve better.

Yesterday, the Civil Law Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee favorable voted in support of Senate Bill 659 and tomorrow the full committee will vote on the bill. The next step in the process would be a vote by the full State Senate if the bill is reported out of the Judiciary Committee.

Editor’s note: please pardon our typos. The Virginia legislative session is extremely short.

Tell the DC Council to pass (and fund) its Vision Zero Bills.

Last October, we spent an emotional day in the Wilson Building with many of you, sharing personal testimony and urging the DC Council to pass a suite of bills aimed at making our streets safer.

Our work is not done—several months later, none of this legislation has moved through mark-up or been funded in the Council’s budget. 

We need to demand that these bills are both passed and funded this year, or we’ll end up waiting until 2022 to see any of these important changes implemented.

Please take a moment to send a message to the Environment and Transportation Committee – and tell them they need to pass and fully fund these bills this budget year!