- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Montgomery County Council is for doing nothing. So is the D.C. Council. So are six advisory neighborhood commissions from Chevy Chase to Mount Pleasant, as well as the Shepherd Park, Rollingwood and Crestwood neighborhood residents’ groups. Add AAA to the growing list of do-nothing groups. But none is more active or vocal in opposing the National Park Service proposal to close a bucolic section of Beach Drive to daytime drivers than Laurie Collins with Friends of Open Parkways. “Someone said they were going to get me a T-shirt with ‘Road Queen’ printed on it,” Ms. Collins said yesterday. Ms. Collins will be front and center, standing alongside Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen and D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty at a press conference this morning at the Candy Cane City recreation center at the corner of Beach Drive and East-West Highway. The organizers will be drumming up additional public support for “Alternative B,” of the Park Service’s proposed general management plan, which calls for making no changes to the existing uses of the bucolic boulevard inside Rock Creek Park. In other words, do nothing. However, it’s just like bureaucrats to fix what isn’t broke and break what’s working just fine. Tuesday is the deadline for a required public comment period on the proposed changes. Mandatory (uh, make that perfunctory) public hearings were held in May. Beach Drive is by no means Ms. Collins’ first go-round with road closures. For years, Ms. Collins, who lives with her husband in Mount Pleasant, was the predominant face of the 12-year fight to reopen Klingle Road, the east-west thoroughfare across the park that the D.C. Council finally freed up for city commuters. Now this community activist, advisory neighborhood commissioner and member of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has turned her formidable attention to our beloved Beach Drive. Ms. Collins, a native Washingtonian whose parents — a Metropolitan Police officer and a government worker — taught her how to drive through Rock Creek Park as a teenager, is serious about saving the history and culture for everyone. “We can’t let special interests reduce public access to our national park that so many people have enjoyed and cherished for so many years,” she said. Her research led her to Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., an esteemed landscape architect who said the serpentine roadways and opened vistas were intended specifically to provide the masses with a scenic driving experience. “A connected system of parks and parkways is manifestly far more complete and useful than a series of isolated parks,” said Mr. Olmstead in 1890, who envisioned more, not fewer, roadways connecting to Beach Drive, according to Ms. Collins. “It’s an urban park, not the wilderness; this is an urban retreat, not Yosemite; and it should be enjoyed equally by everyone as much as possible,” she said. “We need to find options that are not divisive and that are inclusive, not exclusive.” Ms. Collins sees a more sinister motive afoot. Environmentalists are really after a “car-free” Rock Creek Park and they are attempting to get it one stretch of roadway at a time. Contrary to her critics, Ms. Collins said, “I’m an environmentalist and a member of the Sierra Club, and we were recycling in Mount Pleasant long before it was popular in the city.” The Park Service has admitted a preference for closing three segments of the roadway — from Joyce Road north to Broad Branch Road — for six hours each day. That stretch is already closed to vehicular traffic on weekends. Indeed, most residents have demonstrated their disdain for the road closure, which is supported primarily by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and the powerful Sierra Club lobby. “They think that closing the road will magically attract hordes of cyclists and strollers,” said Ms. Collins. She pointed out that the Park Service projections buried in the management plan determined that the number of cyclists was too low to warrant building new paths in the parks. In the traffic-choked metropolitan area, any road closure should be done with great care and caution, but here it’s outrageous to close a road used by 9,000 commuters daily for a half-dozen cyclists. In an earlier interview, Park Service Superintendent Adrienne Coleman said, “This is not a biker vs. commuter issue.” They want to “strike a balance” between the various park users. However, she acknowledged that their object was to change the public’s thinking about the park from use as a thoroughfare to simply a destination. Excuse me, but how are you going to get children, seniors and goodies into the picnic areas along that stretch of Beach Drive? Walk? I don’t think so. When I suggested that the Park Service could construct a trail for bikers and hikers and in-line skaters, and that would make everybody happy, Ms. Coleman said she would like to do just that to “accommodate everybody” but “there’s just not enough room.” Again, Ms. Collins, who also bikes and skates in the park, said, “They need to think outside the box” and “they need to think higher.” She said a path could be built along the park’s higher ridge, which would keep nonmotorized vehicles away from the road and remedy any safety concerns. “If you can build paths in the Grand Canyon, you can build them in Rock Creek Park,” Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA, told The Washington Times earlier this week. When is doing absolutely nothing the best thing? I have to agree with Ms. Collins and crew: When it comes to speaking in favor of “Alternative B” of the Park Service’s management plan, which calls for doing absolutely nothing. Send written comments to Superintendent, Rock Creek Park, 3545 Williamsburg Lane NW, Washington, D.C. 20008. You can also send e-mail to [email protected] The deadline is Tuesday. A Web site has also been established for those opposing Beach Drive’s closure at www.openparkways.org.

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