- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

Activists living near Beach Drive, which runs through Rock Creek Park in Maryland and the District, yesterday rallied against a National Park Service plan to close portions of the road to workday traffic, leaving it more open to bikers and joggers.

Protesters at Candy Cane City, a playground on Beach Drive in Chevy Chase, decried efforts to close three segments of the road from Joyce Road north to Broad Branch Road between 9:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays.

“My constituents want maximum access to Rock Creek Parkway,” D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, told the gathering yesterday. “The proposal to close it for most of the day only opens it up to a select few,” he said, adding that implementing the plan would do more to congest already crowded thoroughfares.

Beach Drive, which carries about 9,000 daily commuters, is a major route to the Maryland suburbs and an alternative to the traffic on the Capital Beltway, and Georgia, Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues.

“It’s a critical respite from the rush of Connecticut Avenue and 13th Street,” Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen said at yesterday’s rally.

Laurie Collins, a member of Friends of Open Parkways, said closing parts of Beach Drive would run counter to the park’s original purpose of providing a scenic driving experience.

“Rock Creek Park is not a wilderness. It is a beautiful urban retreat — an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life,” said Miss Collins, an advisory neighborhood commissioner and member of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Naomi Brodsky, who often rides her bike in the park and fears for her safety, was the lone supporter at yesterday’s rally for closing the roadway to traffic.

“People don’t obey the speed limit and they drive recklessly,” she said. “They speed right through; they don’t enjoy the park. That’s like saying I love the National Gallery — I drive by it all the time.”

With public comment time for the Park Service set to expire Tuesday, the participants reiterated their concerns that a higher risk of danger could come with hundreds of cars being rerouted every day into their neighborhoods.

Park Service Superintendent Adrienne Coleman said officials have not yet tallied or analyzed comments from the public that will weigh heavily in the board’s decision. She added that plans the Park Service is presenting are not written in stone and could change based on feedback.

While opponents to the plan fear the result of bringing some of the commuters into their side streets, the number of cars that come through outside of peak traffic times might not cause too large a problem, said Patrick Gregerson, chief of planning for the National Capital Region of the Park Service.

“I can understand their concerns,” Mr. Gregerson said. “But we ran some studies, and it came out to about two or three cars a minute more. More than likely, they’re going to be changing their direction from the point of origin.”

Mr. Gregerson also said the Park Service would not violate the founding statutes for the park by closing the road to traffic during those hours. The road would be open 18 hours a day during the week, and people would still be able to ride or walk through, he said.

The Park Service is considering three ways to manage Rock Creek Park, in addition to the method under protest yesterday. Officials could leave park management as it is — allowing cars to use the street between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., permit commuters to drive only during rush hour with HOV-2 restrictions, or close three segments of upper Beach Drive to automobile traffic all week.

The Sierra Club and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association support cutting the amount of vehicular traffic, while the Montgomery County and D.C. councils have passed resolutions calling for the parkway to continue as it’s currently being administered.

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