- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton yesterday said she will work to get federal funds for a new bicycle and running trail in Rock Creek Park along Beach Drive as an alternative to the National Park Service’s plan to close parts of the road.

The Park Service wants to open up more room for recreational activities, and Mrs. Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, agrees that there is a desire for running and biking trails.

But she said urged the Park Service to drop plans to close Beach Drive to cars on weekdays. She said closing three portions of the road to workday automobile traffic between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. would benefit few people because most families aren’t at home and don’t use the park then anyway.

“We’ve got working parents, we’ve got children in school and even have younger children in day care,” she said. “We have no significant information that any great number of people would benefit from this.”

Beach Drive, which runs through Rock Creek Park in Maryland and the District, carries about 9,000 commuters a day. The Washington Times first reported in March that the Park Service was considering closing three sections of the road, from Joyce Road north to Broad Branch Road.

Mrs. Norton said there are no studies showing that people want the additional space for recreation to come from closing a major route to the Maryland suburbs, which also serves as an alternative to the traffic on the Capital Beltway and Georgia, Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues.

“It is important in seeking to preserve Rock Creek Park for the benefit of users that NPS is careful to avoid negative, unintended consequences,” Mrs. Norton said.

The Park Service has said building a new jogging and biking trail would be too costly, but Mrs. Norton, a Democrat, pointed to her success in securing $8 million in 1998 for the Metropolitan Branch Trail as a sign that federal money could be available for a path along Beach Drive. The Metropolitan Branch Trail is a commuting and recreation trail that runs adjacent to Metro’s Red Line from Union Station to Silver Spring.

The Park Service’s suggestion to close the road to traffic is part of a management plan meant to make the area safer for joggers and bikers. Yesterday was the last day for the public to submit written comments to Park Service officials.

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 currently is being administered.

In a letter to Adrienne Coleman, superintendent of the National Park Service, Mrs. Norton expressed concern about dangerous situations that could come from cars being detoured into residential streets. Nearby residents have banded together saying their small, sometimes curvy residential roads are not suitable for heavy traffic.

Patrick Gregerson, chief of planning for the National Capital Region of the Park Service, said officials definitely would like to meet with Mrs. Norton to discuss plans. He said the Park Service saw the potential for some expensive obstacles when considering building a recreational path, though.

“We looked at that ourselves, and the topography is very, very difficult,” Mr. Gregerson said. “The problem is mainly the terrain and the amount of trees that might have to be removed.”

He has said that Park Service testing has shown the number of cars that would come through outside of peak traffic times might not cause too large a problem.

The Park Service is considering three other options. Officials could leave park management as it is — allowing cars to use the street between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., permit commuters to drive only during rush hour with high occupancy vehicle-2 restrictions, or close three segments of upper Beach Drive to automobile traffic all week.

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