On Friday, October 7th, the National Park Service opened the new Zoo Loop Bridge and reopened the rehabilitated Zoo Loop Trail to the public. This key segment of the Rock Creek Park Multi-Use Trail allows users to bypass the dangerously narrow sidewalk through the Beach Drive/Zoo Tunnel and marks the end of NPS’ years-long effort to widen, repave, and generally improve this ever-popular and heavily-used trail. Hooray!
One major catch: the Zoo Loop Trail will be operated by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and only be open during the Zoo’s hours from 7AM to 5PM. This important trail connection will therefore be largely inaccessible for afternoon commutes and evening use. The trail must be kept open later—if not at all times.
On Friday, October 7th, the National Park Service opened the new Zoo Loop Bridge and reopened the rehabilitated Zoo Loop Trail to the public. This key segment of the Rock Creek Park Multi-Use Trail allows users to bypass the dangerously narrow sidewalk through the Beach Drive/Zoo Tunnel and marks the end of NPS’ years-long effort to widen, repave, and generally improve this ever-popular and heavily-used trail.
We are so excited to see this segment reopened for the first time since 2018, and especially heartened by the improved safety the new bike and pedestrian bridge will provide to users by offering an alternative to the current tunnel route. Rock Creek Park and its miles of trails are a critical resource for transportation and recreation, a fact made clear by the huge increase in use during the darkest days of the Covid-19 lockdown. We commend NPS and DDOT for their work making this vital space more accessible and inviting.
Unfortunately, this new segment will have some major restrictions, as it did prior to reconstruction. Being situated on property owned by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo means the trail abides by the Zoo’s hours of operations – 7AM to 5PM. This will severely curtail the trail’s utility for commuters in the early morning and late afternoon, as well as for folks running, walking, and rolling for recreation.
Worse, the closure will route vulnerable road users away from the purpose-built bike/pedestrian bridge and back onto the dangerously narrow side path through the Beach Drive/Zoo Tunnel. And it will do so at exactly the times – dusk/dawn and at night – that people on foot and on bike can be most difficult to see and most at risk of being struck by a person in a vehicle.
A beautiful but barred trail has little benefit for residents or for the District’s goals around active transportation and recreation. We therefore encourage folks to speak out and urge Delegate Holmes Norton and Zoo officials to strike up a fresh negotiation towards a resolution that puts trail users’ needs first. Tell the National Zoo to expand access after hours to ensure trails through largely public spaces remain accessible to all.
Update: the NPS comment period closed on August 12. Read PARC’s full comment letter here (pdf). NPS will issue a record of decision once all comments are reviewed, likely this fall. Upper Beach Drive will be closed to through traffic and open to people biking, walking, and enjoying the park until the final decision is issued.
The National Park Service wants to bring cars back to Upper Beach Drive during weekdays for nine months of the year, offering only a summertime break from speeding cars in our great park. We firmly believe that the compromise they’re proposing is not enough.
On July 11, the National Park Service released the Environmental Assessment for Upper Beach Drive. Under the preferred alternative, NPS chose a compromise that would make Upper Beach Drive open for people from Memorial Day to Labor Day — but an automobile space for the other nine months.
NPS will accept comments on this decision until August 11th. We need you to speak out. Tell the Park Service that you do not agree with this formula – that it is unjustified and unacceptable.
NPS is accepting comments via webform on its PEPC website or by mail. Click here to submit a comment and scroll down to “Comment Now” near the bottom). We strongly encourage you to draft and save your comments, then paste them into the webform. You may review the full Environmental Assessment (EA) here.
For nearly 40 years, Upper Beach Drive has been managed for people on weekends and for cars on weekdays. During that time the People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC) has advocated for “Rock Creek Park Seven Days a Week,” but time and again our proposals were rejected. Then, because of the Covid pandemic, in April, 2020 NPS converted the roadway into a full-time recreational “healthway,” and tens of thousands of residents came out for walking, running, cycling, dog-walking, stroller-pushing, wheelchairing, and more.
Now, with the pandemic subsiding, the Park Service is trying to decide how to move forward in the future – maintaining the Covid-period protocol, or returning to the old way, or splitting the difference.
When NPS asked the public for its views last year, more than 4,000 people responded, with 1,838 supporting full closure for recreation, and 343 asking for returning the roadway to vehicle use – that’s a ratio of 10 to 2. In other words, just on that factor, instead of being given three months, we should get 10.
But in fact we’re asking for all 12 months. (Keep in mind that this is for only four miles of Upper Beach Drive; the other 16 miles of roadway in the park will be left as they are.) We feel that the Park Service did not do an adequate job of analyzing either the detrimental damage to the park of auto traffic or the public benefits of year-round recreation. We also feel that the cited studies of minimal outside-the-park traffic impacts are not given appropriate weight in the decision.
The People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC) and other organizations will shortly be submitting formal and detailed comments on the NPS plan. (The letter is being written right now and will be posted on the web page: waba.org/PARC.)
At the same time, it is vital that the National Park Service hear from individual park users like yourself. Click Here to submit your comments (scroll down to “Comment Now” near the bottom).
Among other things, here are some topics that you can talk about:
- How you personally use—and want to use—the park on weekdays
- The impact that allowing cars onto upper Beach Drive will have for your comfort, safety, and access to Beach Drive and other parts of Rock Creek Park during spring, winter, and fall
- Your opinion about summertime-only recreation versus spring, fall and winter use of Beach Drive
- How you use Beach Drive with friends and family
- Your thoughts on park noise, air pollution, water pollution and other impacts from automobiles in the park that are not explored in the Environmental Assessment
- Your perspective on how the impact of current or future automobile traffic in adjacent neighborhoods and streets should play into the NPS decision
- Your thoughts on speed limits, speed bumps and other traffic management on Beach Drive
- Your thoughts on the accessibility of the group picnic sites on Beach Drive (which are not affected by the road closure).
- Other ideas you have for improving Beach Drive and Rock Creek Park
Thank you for everything you have already done. Together, we have demonstrated to the city and to the Park Service that Rock Creek Park is a beloved space for tens of thousands of people and that we will do anything to make it even better. Make sure you submit a written comment by August 11th.
For more information about PARC’s position, see this recent press release.
And this additional background information:
The link to submit a comment is HERE.
In its Environmental Assessment, NPS attached a 50-page study of the effect of a road restriction on automobile traffic outside the park, but it devoted no study to its effect on people’s health and recreation inside the park. This is why they need to hear your comments loud and clear.
The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) shared plans for the Long Bridge Project during a public meeting on June 22nd. Those plans included a design flaw that will impact people who wish to walk or roll across the bridge: it’s not wide enough. We have two new opportunities to call for improvements to widen the design of the Long Bridge bike and pedestrian span (comments due by July 10th).
Improve the Long Bridge Bike/Ped Bridge Design for the Long-Term by:
- Responding to a VPRA design feedback survey.
- Emailing comments to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC).
Suggested comments are at the bottom of this post.
New bridges are rare; this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to significantly improve transportation across the Potomac River, doubling rail capacity and creating new connections for people walking and biking from Long Bridge Park in Arlington, VA to East Potomac Park in DC.
The current design is 14’ wide with vertical safety barriers on either side. Though 14’ is a good design for a trail through a park, the barriers on either side narrow the effective usable width of the trail. Trail users, especially those on bikes and scooters, are often uncomfortable riding close to vertical barriers. VDOT’s trail guidelines recognize this and require a 3’ buffer between a trail and any vertical barrier. When 3’ of usable space on both sides of the trail is removed, the remaining 8’ of remaining trail space would be insufficient for the expected number of trail users, not to mention the potential growth in pedestrian traffic over time. Building a wide-enough trail from the start will avoid later difficulties and expenses associated with expanding later, such as limitations due to the width of a truss bridge.
There are currently two ways for you to weigh in: provide feedback through a survey to the project lead and share comments with the National Capital Planning Committee who will provide input on the plan. See below for suggested comments you can personalize in your response.
Call for improved design of the Long Bridge Bike/Pedestrian Bridge:
- Comment on the VPRA survey asking them to correct design flaws.
- Email the NCPC before they review the Long Bridge Project Plan.
Suggested comments are at the bottom of this post.
WABA has been invested in the effort to build a better Long Bridge for over a decade, standing alongside the more than 1,400 community members who submitted comments on the project (read more here). Let’s seize this opportunity to ensure the Long Bridge Project meets our communities’ needs, now and into the future!
Include some variation of the following comments for Question #5 of the VPRA Feedback Form, as well as in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “Comments on Long Bridge Project”
The proposed 14′ wide bike/ped bridge is too narrow. Due to the vertical barriers on each side of the trail, the usable width will be only 8-10′, too narrow for the expected volumes of bike/ped users when it opens, not to mention the increased numbers of trail users that will use the bridge in the future,
It is difficult and expensive to widen a bridge once it’s built. Instead, VPRA should build the Long Bridge for the future. For example, even though the rest of the W&OD trail is significantly narrower, the recently-built W&OD Trail Bridge over Langston Blvd features a 20′ clear width.
Given the length of the bridge, it would be difficult and slow to get emergency services to the site of a bike/ped crash on the bridge. The bridge width should recognize this hazard and strive to minimize potential conflicts by ensuring sufficient width for the expected future traffic growth.
Page 22-12 of the Draft Long Bridge EIS indicated that “The materials and dimensions of the bridge would be confirmed in a final design phase following completion of the EIS”. We must take the opportunity to call for a wider bike/ped bridge now to ensure our comments are included in the review process.
We, the undersigned organizations, ask that candidates running for the local MD, DC, VA elections in 2022 make a commitment to prioritize budgetary and legislative measures that will develop an equitable transportation system that leads to the elimination of traffic deaths and serious crashes, while giving residents connected multimodal options to travel.
We also ask all candidates to commit to developing traffic enforcement policies that limit biases, with the understanding that long-term, sustainable traffic safety comes from investing in the built environment.
In an equitable transportation system, a person’s identity and experience—one’s race, gender, and ability; how much money someone has, and where a family lives—don’t affect whether they can use safe, comfortable multimodal transportation options. Therefore, we ask all candidates to pursue the legislative policies and budgetary items to move us towards an equitable transportation system with the utmost urgency.
With these goals in mind, we are asking candidates who are running for office to take the Transportation Equity Pledge:
As a candidate running for office, if elected or re-elected, I fully commit to:
- Fully fund the completion of bus and bike networks
- Fund the completion and maintenance of the National Capital Trail Network (as identified by MWCOG/TPB).
- Oppose highway expansion and prioritize complete streets
- Invest in building and preserving affordable housing (ex: with rent stabilization measures) units to meet the needs of a growing region, with an emphasis on policies that will allow for more transit-oriented development.
- Remove Police from civil traffic enforcement while transferring the responsibility to local Departments of Transportation
- Ensure all residents have equitable access to affordable and reliable public transportation
- Expand MARC and VRE commuter rail service to make it frequent, reliable, and available outside of rush hour and while opposing the Maglev train construction
- Reduce and eliminate the deaths, especially vulnerable road users, in traffic crashes – fully funding and implementing county and/or city vision zero plans and legislation
- Follow through on the Americans with Disabilities Act and address the persistent barriers and gaps that prevent our communities and public transportation systems from being truly ADA-accessible.
- Ensure all residents have access to continuous even sidewalks placed along both sides of all local streets with the purpose of developing sidewalk connectivity.
Candidates who have taken this pledge:
Not running for office yourself? Send this page to candidates running for your local and state offices and ask them to sign it!
The signatories of this letter ask that candidates pledge to demonstrate their full commitment to supporting policies and budget measures that center transportation justice for their constituents.
Too many lives are lost due to traffic violence and the status quo is not working anymore. We ask that all candidates reject the current status quo transportation policies, and decades of underinvestment that have caused transportation inequities.
Going forward, we need to transform our transportation system to make it more equitable, and we need leaders who are bold enough to step forward and make it happen.
Arm in Arm DC
Action Committee for Transit
Black Women Bike
Cameroon American Council
Citizens’ Climate Lobby – DC
Coalition for Smarter Growth
DC Environmental Network
DC Families for Safe Streets
DC Transportation Equity Network
Friends of Oxon Run Park
Greater Greater Washington
Maryland Legislative Coalition
Montgomery County Families for Safe Streets
Open Streets Montgomery
Safe Routes Partnership
Sunrise Movement – DC
Takoma Park Mobilization
Universal Childcare Now DC Coalition
Ward 3 Bike Advocates
Ward 5 for All
Washington Area Bicyclist Association
Young People for Progress
Note: WABA and most of the other organizations on this list are 501(c)3 nonprofits, and we do not endorse candidates.
The American Legion Bridge (the Beltway between Maryland and Virginia), is slated to expand in the next few years. Part of that project includes a trail connection across the Potomac. This is a big deal, as the options for crossing between MD and VA outside of a car are pretty limited.
However, as currently planned, the trail will only connect to MacArthur Blvd, and pass over the C&O towpath without a connection. This is a huge missed opportunity to connect more people in Maryland and Virginia to this beloved park, and to open up new active transportation options for folks on both sides of the river. The Maryland Department of Transportation and the National Park Service need to hear that you support this connection. Use this page to send a note to both agencies.
Comments are due before 5pm next Monday.
But don’t forget to submit your comments today!
We know that trails are good for our health, the environment, and the economy. But how good?
The Capital Trails Coalition quantified these benefits in its recent Impact Report. Completing the 881 mile Capital Trails Network will:
- reduce vehicles miles traveled by 49 million miles each year;
- generate more than $1.02 billion in economic investment each year; and
- save residents $517M on public health costs annually.
We’ve got about 400 miles to go to complete the Capital Trails Network! Write to your elected officials and ask them to fund and complete the remaining top 40 priority projects identified by the Capital Trails Coalition by 2025. These priority trail projects (91 miles of trail!) will give another 231,00 residents access to trails and open space.
* Note: We know the “Title” field is all kinds of problematic! Unfortunately, the contact forms of many legislators require it, so if we don’t include it, your messages won’t go through.