People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC)


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Rock Creek Park—Seven Days a Week!

In April 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the National Park Service closed three sections of upper Beach Drive to cars and opened them to people to make a new safe corridor to maintain physical and mental health in Rock Creek Park. This 4-mile stretch had previously been closed to cars on weekends but not during the week. For more than a year, upper Beach Drive has been managed not as an auto thruway but as the center of D.C.’s largest park – seven days a week.

Now the National Park Service is determining if the restrictions should be made permanent or rolled back.

Upper Beach Drive’s car-free recreation zones have been enormously popular, and the People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC) welcomes your help in making them permanent. Here’s what you can do:


Sign the People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC) Petition

We, the below-signed residents of Washington, D.C. and surrounding jurisdictions, hereby acclaim the recreation, wildlife conservation and environmental benefits of upper Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. We endorse making the current uses there permanent.

This action would continue the overwhelmingly popular traffic management scheme—in place since the pandemic began in Spring, 2020—that provides for full-time car-free recreation zones on three sections of upper Beach Drive between Broad Branch Road and the Maryland line. This is the traffic practice that has been in place on weekends since the 1980s.

Making these upper Beach Drive car-free zones permanent would maintain a safe, quiet and low-pollution greenway in the city’s largest park for hundreds of thousands of families, walkers, runners, bicyclists, wheelchair users and other outdoor enthusiasts—seven days a week. It would also promote regional goals for climate mitigation, air quality improvement and wildlife conservation.

Restricting automobile traffic between the Maryland line and Broad Branch Rd. would not preclude automobile access to the Horse Center, Nature Center, Golf Course, Peirce Mill, National Zoo, Zoo Tunnel, Rock Creek Parkway, Georgetown, Downtown, the Kennedy Center or the Mall. Moreover, it would retain automobile access to all but five of approximately 130 picnic tables in the park, including all the reservable group sites along Rock Creek. Inconvenience to motorists has been slight since alternative routes and access points exist inside and around the Park.

Because Rock Creek Park is a national park in the heart of a city, we urge close cooperation between the National Park Service and the District of Columbia government in implementing this permanent scheme to prudently manage transportation, recreation and conservation of natural resources.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Which park road are you talking about closing to motor vehicles? 

A: We are talking about upper Beach Drive, the portion between Broad Branch Road and the Maryland line. This is the same section of upper Beach Drive where three portions of the roadway have been set aside for recreation on weekends and holidays for the past 40 years. 

Q: What about other roads?

A: There would be no changes to the management of Rock Creek Parkway, Military Road, Piney Branch Parkway, Park Road, Tilden Street, Wise Road, West Beach Drive, Blagden Avenue, Broad Branch Road or any other road in the park. Motorists from both east and west could still go through the zoo tunnel and drive to the zoo, Georgetown, the Kennedy Center and the Mall exactly as they do today. 

Q: What about upper Beach Drive north of the Broad Branch/Blagden intersection?

A: Along upper Beach Drive, three sections of road would be closed to motor vehicles – as they have been on weekends and holidays for many years. This would greatly increase weekday recreational opportunities for walkers, runners and cyclists.

Q: What about the picnic areas along Rock Creek?

A: All of the park’s group picnic areas would still be accessible by car, as they are now on weekends.

Q: Why not let walkers, bikes and cars all share upper Beach Drive?

A: The road is narrow, with no shoulders, and has numerous blind curves. There is no separate bike trail most of the way, nor is there room for one much of the way without destroying the character of the park.  When open to motor vehicles prior to the covid pandemic, there were essentially no pedestrians and only a handful of cyclists using upper Beach Drive on weekdays. Even at the posted 25 mph speed limit, it was dangerous for non-motorized users. And NPS studies found that virtually all vehicles exceeded the posted limit, a majority by at least 10 mph.

Q: Has anyone counted the number of users since NPS limited vehicle traffic?

A: Yes. In August and September 2020, PARC, with the permission of the National Park Service, recruited volunteers to physically count the number of pedestrian and cyclist users. The study found 28,741 recreational users over a 56-hour period, an average of 529 users per hour. Extrapolating these numbers, we estimate that 60,000 or more people visited the three sections for recreation on weekdays during the 28-day period.

Q: Were the park users broken out by activity?

A: Yes: 62% cyclists, 18% runners, and 20% other pedestrians (including with strollers and dogs).

Q: How does the number of recreational users compare to motorists before the pandemic?

A: Traffic counts from 2017 showed 4,000 to 5,000 cars per day on upper Beach Drive, about the same number of users that we estimate were using the space for recreation based on our August-September user counts.

Q: How would PARC’s proposal affect traffic outside the park?

A: The effect is extremely small. In fact, when upper Beach Drive was closed for reconstruction from 2017-2019, traffic volumes on the main alternative streets actually declined from their pre-closure level. On 16th Street, the average daily traffic count went from 34,600 in 2015 to 29,300 in 2018; on Broad Branch Road, it went from 4,400 to 3,000; traffic on Georgia Avenue and on Connecticut Avenue declined by about 1,000 cars each.

Q: Won’t traffic conditions be different when the pandemic is over?

A: When the economy reopens, the general consensus is that a significant number of former commuters will have greater flexibility, including working from home. If so, traffic volumes on commuting routes might be expected to remain below their pre-pandemic peaks. On the other hand, with more flexible working conditions, demand for weekday recreational space might well increase. The pandemic has afforded us the opportunity to reimagine our future in many ways. Managing upper Beach Drive to provide safe recreation should be one of them.

Q: What is the People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC)?

A: PARC began in 1980 as a spin-off from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA). Ever since, PARC has led the effort that has already resulted in weekend and holiday car-free recreation zones in Rock Creek Park.


Maps

Beach Drive Car-Free Zones

Green = open to through auto traffic. Red = close to through auto traffic. Lower Beach drive, park crossings, and picnic areas will remain accessible by car (Source Google Maps)

Pre-Pandemic Automobile Volumes

map showing traffic volume of Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway and Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. Upper beach drive carries less than 25% of the traffic volume.
Upper Beach Drive pre-pandemic traffic volume map (download)

Endorsements

The following organizations and groups have endorsed Rock Creek Park Seven Days a Week. Are you a member of an organization that supports this campaign? Email peterharnik1@gmail.com to join the list!

  • Adventure Cycling Association
  • Anacostia Watershed Society
  • Audubon Naturalist Society
  • Bethesda BIKE Now
  • Capital Trails Coalition
  • Chesapeake Climate Action Network
  • Cleveland Park Smart Growth
  • Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail
  • Coalition for Smarter Growth
  • Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
  • DC Environmental Network
  • DC Statehood-Green Party
  • DC Sustainable Transportation Coalition
  • District Velocity Racing
  • E-Bike Lovers
  • Greater Greater Washington
  • Interfaith Power & Light DMV
  • Open Streets Montgomery
  • Potomac Pedalers
  • Rails to Trails Conservancy
  • Sierra Club – DC Chapter
  • Sierra Club – Montgomery County Chapter
  • Virginia Bicycling Federation
  • Ward 3 Bicycle Advocates
  • Ward3Vision
  • Washington Parks & People
  • Washington Area Bicyclist Association

The Story So Far

  • In April, 2020 the National Park Service announced that upper Beach Drive would be closed to cars for the duration of the COVID pandemic so that people could exercise at a safe social distance.
  • In August, the People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC) began counting weekday walkers, runners and cyclists along upper Beach Drive and found that for a month on average between 176 and 528 persons used the road every daytime hour.
  • On April 29, 2021, PARC launched a petition drive to keep upper Beach Drive commuting-free on a permanent basis. The goal was 3,650 signatures. 
  • On May 26, PARC achieved its petition goal of 3,650 and raised the goal to 5,200. On that same day, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) asked the National Park Service to make permanent the current traffic management pattern on upper Beach Drive.
  • On June 1, the DC Council passed a Resolution, 9-4, in favor of making permanent the current traffic management pattern on upper Beach Drive.
  • On June 11, the National Park Service announced an environmental assessment of the future management of upper Beach Drive.
  • On June 15, the Montgomery County Council passed a resolution, 9-0, in favor of making permanent the current traffic management pattern on upper Beach Drive.
  • On June 22, PARC achieved its second petition goal of 5,200 and raised the goal to 7,000.
  • On July 8, the National Park Service kicked off an environmental assessment of future management of upper Beach Drive, proposed two general concepts and opened a public comment period. Concept #2 would maintain the current upper Beach Drive car-free zones for seven days a week. Concept #1 would bring weekday automobile commuter traffic back to upper Beach Drive as it was before the pandemic. More than 250 people attended the virtual public meeting. See the NPS presentation here.
  • On July 27, the People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC) submitted comments enthusiastically supporting Concept #2. Read PARC’s comment letter here.
  • On August 22, NPS closed the comment period. More than 2,400 people submitted comments for the Environmental Assessment.
  • In November 2021, NPS is expected to release the Environmental Assessment that details the recommended alternative and the analysis that informed the decision. The public will have an additional opportunity to comment on the document before it is finalized in December 2021.

Contact Us

Rock Creek Park Seven Days a Week is a campaign by the People’s Alliance for Rock Creek with the support of WABA.

People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC)
waba.org/PARC
(202) 750-0611
peterharnik1@gmail.com


Last updated by Garrett Hennigan on November 30, 2021.