NPS wants to bring the cars back to Beach Drive

On July 11, the National Park Service released its Environmental Assessment for the future management of Upper Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. It calls for keeping Upper Beach Drive closed to cars and open to people during summer months. But starting in September, during fall, winter, and spring, NPS plans to welcome cars and commuting traffic back onto Upper Beach Drive – effectively (and by its own admission) closing Beach Drive and much of the park to people not traveling by car. Park officials call it a compromise.

For two blissful years, Upper Beach Drive has been closed to cars and open to people for safe, quiet, recreation, transportation, and access to natural spaces. It has been transformative for tens of thousands of people and families around the region. WABA and our partners appreciate that NPS has taken a big step forward in committing to permanently expand non-motorized access during the summer.

But we do not accept this outcome. Parks should be for people, for the preservation of and access to the natural environments they thrive in. And by choosing to hand the park back to cars and drivers for nine months of the year, NPS has left most people out of this decision. The People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC), of which WABA is a member, issued this press release on Monday, July 18.

On July 18, park officials hosted a public meeting to present their plan, answer questions on the process, and take feedback. More than 200 people attended the virtual meeting, piling their questions and their disbelief into the text chat box. Park officials defended the plan, pointing to new, yet unreleased, 2045 traffic analysis and recommendations by the District Department of Transportation, and clarified how opening Beach Drive to commuter traffic will protect the natural environment. NPS encouraged anyone with feedback on the proposal to submit comments by August 11. The meeting’s presentation slides, recording, and transcript are available here.

NPS will accept written comments on this decision and document until August 11th here. WABA and our partners are assembling thorough comments challenging this decision. Expect an action alert with guidance in the coming weeks. This decision will not be final until NPS has reviewed all comments, likely in the fall.

Thanks to everyone for the ongoing support for Rock Creek Park Seven Days a Week. For full details on this campaign and to sign the petition in support, go to waba.org/PARC.

In the News

‘It Is Counterintuitive’: NPS Officials Say That More Cars Will Improve Rock Creek Park’s Environment (Jacob Fenston DCist) – Jul 19, 2022

Beach Drive in Northwest DC to Reopen to Traffic Despite Popularity of Closure (Jackie Bensen NBC 4) – Jul 19, 2022

The future of Beach Drive and D.C. traffic (Paige Hopkins Axios) – Jul 19, 2022

People’s Alliance For Rock Creek Press Release – Jul 18, 2022

Opinion | Leave Rock Creek Park’s upper Beach Drive closed to cars (Seth Yeazel Washington Post) – Jul 15, 2022

The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi – July 15, 2022 – Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh reiterated her support for closing upper Beach Drive to cars and opening it to people permanently and year-round.

Who Is a City Park For? (Henry Grarbar Slate) – Jul 14, 2022

NPS to hold hearing on plans to reopen upper portion of Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park (Tom Roussey ABC 7)- July 11, 2022

NPS weighs making Beach Drive car-free every summer (Luz Lazo Washington Post) – Jul 11, 2022

October Beach Drive Update

by Peter Harnik of the People’s Alliance for Rock Creek Park

More than 6,500 park lovers who have signed our petition asking the National Park Service to continue keeping upper Beach Drive car-free after the end of the pandemic. Thank you – you have made a huge impact!

More than 2,400 people who filed an official comment with the Park Service over the summer about the best way to manage the roadway for recreation, conservation and health. If so, thank you!

I want to bring you up to date on the status of the campaign for “Rock Creek Park Seven Days a Week.”

The comment period regarding “Concept 1” (restoring weekday commuter car traffic) or “Concept 2” (continuing the current no-through-traffic protocol) has ended. The Park Service is now evaluating the huge number of comments. We know that there was a huge outpouring of interest, but we don’t know the “score” between the options. The Park Service could also choose to come up with a compromise based on time-of-day, day-of-week, season or something else.

NPS stated that it will release its recommended action “this fall,” and we’ve heard that might mean late October. After the announcement, the People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC) – along with everyone else – will have 30 days to comment on the proposal. Then NPS will finalize its decision.

The Park Service says it will maintain the current traffic program (no commuting cars) on upper Beach Drive until any decision is made.

PARC is awaiting the outcome of the formal process, but in the meantime, we do not want this issue to disappear from public awareness. To that end, we are maintaining a three-pronged program:

Getting more petition signatures to show the Park Service how much we care. Our goal is “7,000 Petitions for Seven Days a Week.” Please help! Direct friends and family to our website: waba.org/PARC.

Getting more photographs of happy non-motorized users along upper Beach Drive – in every season, every time of day, using every form of mobility, accompanied by every kind of pet, and enjoying themselves in every possible way. We’ll use some pictures for our website and for our pressure on the Park Service. Send your photographs and your selfies to peterharnik1@gmail.com

Getting the word out about Beach Drive on weekdays – before and after work, during lunchtime and other breaks, and on days off. Schedule some personal events and invite your friends to come along – it’ll be double the fun!

Once NPS publishes its recommended action, all of us will need to be ready to spring into action with either praise or an outpouring of criticism. Once again, you will be an important part of this effort, so please stay vigilant. If we don’t succeed this time, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever get another chance for a 7-day-a-week park.