- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Residents near Rock Creek Park’s Beach Drive are voicing outrage about a National Park Service plan that would close the road to traffic outside rush hours to create car-free zones for pedestrians and recreation.

The Park Service’s general management plan for Rock Creek Park proposes closing three segments of Beach Drive north of Broad Branch Road for six hours every workday. The plan has gained support from groups representing joggers and bikers.

“The homeowners have been stunned and outgunned by special interests groups,” said Tom Broadwater, who lives in nearby Rock Creek Forest. “We feel that we are under attack.”

Laurie Collins, an activist with Friends of Open Parkways who lives in Mount Pleasant, said that taking away Beach Drive would push more traffic into her neighborhood. “Far too often, politics obscures common sense,” Mrs. Collins said. “We need all of our roads. We need all of our options.”

Park Service officials did not return telephone calls yesterday seeking comment.

The Washington Times first reported in March that the National Park Service wanted to close Beach Drive, a major route to the Maryland suburbs and one of the city’s swiftest escape routes in a national emergency, between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. each weekday. The proposal appeared March 14 in the Federal Register and was part of the Park Service’s general management plan.

In May, the Park Service held public hearings about the road’s future, and by law it must accept written comments from members of the community for 60 days after the hearing. The deadline for filing written comments is Tuesday.

Under the plan, the Park Service has four options for managing Rock Creek Park, and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. According to its Web site, the Park Service favors the six-hour weekday closure.

The three sections of Beach Drive are closed to traffic on Saturdays and Sundays for joggers and bikers.

Opponents of the plan say the weekday closures would divert traffic to nearby 16th Street Heights, Takoma, Brightwood and Crestwood neighborhoods.

“This would cause an undue burden on residents, children and elderly,” Mr. Broadwater said.

Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the motor club wants Beach Drive to remain open to traffic.

“I fear the Park Service knows what they are going to do. They are just jumping through legal hoops,” Mr. Anderson said. “In a city with the third-worst gridlock in the nation, it makes no sense to give recreation higher priority than commuting.”

But People’s Alliance for Rock Creek, an organization supporting more recreational use of Beach Drive, disagrees.

“We are going to have to share this park,” said Ellen Jones, the alliance’s spokeswoman and executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. She said the closure would allow more people to enjoy the park.

The other three management options include allowing commuters to drive only during rush hour with HOV-2 restrictions, eliminating car traffic along much of the northern portion of the road, and keeping current operations intact. The D.C. Council unanimously passed a resolution to continue the current management plan.

“I am opposed to the plan because my constituency is overwhelmingly opposed to it,” said council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat. He calls the plan a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. “I jog through there, and it is fine the way it is,” he said.

The Montgomery County Council voted yesterday to “keep the status quo” and not change the traffic pattern on Beach Drive.

Residents in Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Kensington use the road as an alternative to the traffic on Interstate 495 and Georgia, Connecticut and Wisconsin avenues, even after the rush hour.

Mr. Anderson said AAA Mid-Atlantic would like the Park Service to build and maintain separate paths for recreation instead of restricting roads. The Park Service has said the topography in those sections does not allow space for bike paths.

But Mr. Anderson remains optimistic. “I am confident that if we can build paths through the Grand Canyon, we can do it in Rock Creek Park,” he said.

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