Don’t let NPS end car-free Beach Drive.

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.

Background

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.

Take Action

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.

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

The Beach Drive rebuild moves north

(read our last Rock Creek update here.) We’re nearly a year into the reconstruction of Beach Drive and the Rock Creek Park Trail. In total, this will be a 3.7 mile trail rebuild, but it’s broken into four segments. Let’s take a look at the status of the project, and what’s on the horizon for the months ahead.

Segment 1 (Shoreham Drive to Tilden Street/Park Road) was completed on August 28, 2017.

This segment includes a repaved and widened trail alongside Beach Drive and the (slight) widening of the sidewalk within the Zoo tunnel. Rock Creek Conservancy and National Park Service threw a block party on the newly completed segment. It was great to experience the fresh pavement (on both the trail and road) without cars! The event was a great reminder of how important (and fun!) Open Streets events are, and we’re pleased to see National Park Service gave people a chance to enjoy this new space before letting the cars back onto it. Take note—the trail that goes through the Zoo property (that allows trail users to bypass the tunnel) will be reconstructed by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) in a subsequent phase. It’s still in bad shape right now, but there are plans in motion to reconstruct that segment.

Segments 2 and 3 are now closed to all traffic.

Beach Drive is now closed from Park Road/Tilden Street NW to Joyce Road NW (immediately south of Military Road NW). Originally planned to be addressed as two separate phases, both segments 2 and 3 will close at the same time so that work can begin concurrently on both. The bicycle and pedestrian detour for these segments are Ross Drive and Ridge Road, which will be completely closed to cars until Fall 2018. And just like Segment 1, it’s important that people biking and walking stay out of the active construction zone on Beach Drive! These segments of construction will impact the portion of the road that is usually closed to cars on weekends. That means that on the weekend, bicyclists will only be able to ride on Beach Drive from Joyce Road north to the Maryland line, but Ross and Ridge will be alternatives to Beach Drive to connect further south. WABA has been advocating for this project for decades. More than 2500 WABA supporters demanded the rehabilitation get back on track in 2014, and many have fought for years prior to prioritize this project with NPS and other relevant agencies. DDOT will tackle the trail sections through Rose Park, northwest of Rock Creek (the trail on the Zoo property), a new bridge across Rock Creek near the Zoo, and a trail extension on Piney Branch Parkway. DDOT’s anticipated construction start is Summer 2018 and the approximate cost of construction is about 11 million. You can find more information about DDOT’s plans here: https://ddot.dc.gov/page/rock-creek-park-multi-use-trail-rehabilitation-project If you want more info, visit the project website: go.nps.gov/beachdrive