- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 30, 2000

A curvy and crumbling piece of Klingle Road NW, less than a mile long in Rock Creek Park, has residents in three wards in an uproar about traffic, the environment, green space and public safety.

At issue is whether the section of Klingle Road should remain closed or be reopened to traffic.

Klingle Road closed after flooding and erosion problems made it too expensive to maintain during the District of Columbia's financial crisis of the 1990s lies at the juncture of Ward 3 to the west, Ward 4 to the east, and Ward 1 to the southeast.

Leaders on both sides of the debate insist it is not about "the Green Divide," referring to Rock Creek Park's placement between mostly affluent white residents to the west and more diverse, less-affluent neighborhoods to the east.

At a public hearing tonight, the Department of Public Works (DPW) will let the two sides duke it out over whether the District should reopen a section of the road that's been closed since 1990.

The hearing is from 5 to 10 p.m. on the second floor of the Frank Reeves Municipal Center, 2000 14th St. NW.

No one issue or allegiance has emerged as a clear indicator of why some residents are for reopening the road and some advocate keeping it closed.

The two issues that seem to have galvanized residents the most are environmental worries if the road opens, and traffic concerns depending on the particular block of a nearby street a resident lives.

Even geography living west or east of the park doesn't dictate how residents see the fight, according to interviews with community groups' representatives and public officials. Nor has a clear consensus about the road emerged from the advisory neighborhood commissioners in the area.

After a consulting company finishes a wide-ranging environmental impact study and the public comment period ends next month, DPW will make its recommendation to Mayor Anthony A. Williams in early January.

Mr. Williams and the DPW take no official position on the issue.

For every argument to reopen the road to traffic, opponents counter with the same reason to keep the road closed.

"It's part of our transportation system," said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 4 Democrat.

Mr. Graham, who considers himself an advocate for public transit in general, said his constituents, who mostly live east of the park, strongly want the road reopened.

Democrat Adrian Fenty, council member-elect for Ward 4, also wants the road opened so his constituents can travel to the east side of Rock Creek Park.

Democrat Charlene Drew Jarvis, the outgoing Ward 4 council member did not answer telephone messages.

Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, is waiting to see the results of an ongoing environmental impact study before making a final decision, a spokeswoman said.

The road has run through the park since around the 1830s, so "it's an important part of the grid work," said Peter McGee, a Mount Pleasant resident who helped build www.repairklingleroad.org.

"When you shut down part of the grid, it makes a mess everywhere else," he said. "We are the second-most congested city in the country. Why are we talking about removing a cross-town artery?"

But Jim Dougherty with the Sierra Club's D.C. chapter calls it "a dumb road" that doesn't go anywhere. Before it was closed, "no one was driving on it. It doesn't serve any real purpose," he said.

The road might "save somebody five or 10 minutes on their commute, but is that more important than everyone having the ability to enjoy this beautiful natural feature?" said Isabel Furlong of the Klingle Valley Park Association, a group that formed to keep the road closed.

"In this day and age, we have to hold every little piece of green space precious and protect it from developers," she said.

The green space lost if Klingle Road is open to traffic represents only .02 percent of the 1,700 acres that make up Rock Creek Park, said Mr. McGee.

Susan Stevenson, a resident of the Klingle Valley Park neighborhood west of the closed road, fears Maryland commuters will tear up the hill and race through small residential streets on their way to Wisconsin Avenue.

"It never was and it won't be" overwhelmed by Maryland commuters, Mr. McGee said.

Mrs. Stevenson, who often walks along the road with her husband, baby daughter and their dog, Jess, also fears students at five nearby schools might be injured by harried commuters in the mornings.

"That's completely conjecture," said Mr. McGee. "The kids and the road have been there a long time. There's no record of anyone getting hurt."

Opponents of the reopening say a rebuilt road would be a great getaway for criminals. Proponents say it would cut down time for emergency response vehicles, and let police patrol the area by car.

The police commander for the district that includes Klingle Road said it is a neighborhood decision, and the department has no official position, despite requests from both sides.

"The way it is now, it doesn't pose any increased safety issues that have come to my attention," said Peter Newsham, commander of the 2nd District.

Both sides say the city's decision about Klingle Road should be based on the benefit to the greatest number of persons.

Of course, each side thinks its option is the best pick.

"A road through the park will allow the park to be used and enjoyed by the greatest number of citizens in the city," Mr. McGee said.

Spending millions of dollars to fix a road for few drivers is not cost effective and harms more residents than it helps, said Mrs. Stevenson.

DPW will present seven options at tonight's hearing, and then will take public comment.

Five of the alternatives would keep the road closed to vehicles. Of those five alternatives, the city would take no action or make some improvements, such as fixing drainage problems or paving a bicycle path.

The remaining two alternatives would reopen the road to vehicular traffic. Of those, one proposal includes additional areas for pedestrians and bicycles, while the other only would make room for two-way driving.

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