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.