- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003

Enough already. It’s bad enough that Washington area motorists are forced to sit on gridlocked roads just about anytime, anywhere for anything, but our federal masters are only making matters worse with increasingly curious road closures.

The skittish federal government planted concrete barriers to block Pennsylvania Avenue NW to commuter-crazed locals because of a perceived threat to the White House. Traffic carrying motorists along E Street NW also was detoured for similar reasons, creating a mind-boggling maze of one-way crosstown thoroughfares downtown.

Streets around Capitol Hill and the State Department are guarded and barricaded. Don’t even try to drive to the fortressed Pentagon or the vice presidential mansion on Massachusetts Avenue NW. No doubt traffic on Nebraska Avenue NW will be next as the Homeland Security Department moves in.

Some gates at area parks, such as the National Arboretum, have been locked because of crime and security concerns.

But, dear longtime Washingtonians, there comes a fork in the winding road where we must block the barricaders. And, that spot to make a hometown stand is on the curves of our beloved Beach Drive.

The National Park Service is set to close the northern end of Beach Drive from Joyce Road to Broad Branch Road NW to weekday traffic from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to make room for joggers and bike riders and other nonmotorized visitors.

No way. Yours truly is one of the 9,000 drivers who enjoy soaking up the sights on that bucolic boulevard almost daily. In fact, I purposely plan my schedule based on which way the traffic is moving so that I can enjoy one of the District’s secret and simple peaceful pleasures during the workday.

“It’s crazy. I don’t know why we’re even entertaining this,” said Laurie Collins, a member of the Coalition to Repair and Reopen Klingle Road who is savoring a recent victory after a 12-year effort to get that short stretch of roadway reopened. Ms. Collins intends to testify tonight during a public hearing before the Park Service about the so-called “general management plan.”

Go to the hearing tonight or Thursday. Lobby for “Alternative B,” which is to do nothing.

Park Service Superintendent Adrienne Coleman said, of course, that it has “a preference, but public input is important and our ears are open and that’s why we are having public hearings.”

“This is not a biker vs. commuter issue,” she said. The Park Service wants to “strike a balance” between the various park users. She, however, acknowledged that it wants to change the thinking about the park from use as a thoroughfare to simply a place of destination.

Hey, I’m greedy. I want both because I do both, because I also know that there’s nothing like a picnic in the park near Pierce Mill. Or an evening concert at the Carter Barron.

Old timers will remember the Blackbyrds, the Howard University group that made the charts with a song that included the lyrics “Doing it in the Park, Rock Creek Park, oh yeah,” celebrating D.C. summertime fun in the groves there.

Ms. Coleman maintains that “doing nothing” would create “gridlock on Beach Drive” by 2020. This point, Ms. Collins argues, also is debatable.

When I suggested that the Park Service could construct a trail for bikers and hikers and in-line skaters, and make everybody happy, Ms. Coleman said she’d like to “accommodate everybody,” but “there’s just not enough room.” The park, according to its engineers’ study, is too narrow.

But Ms. Collins says “they need to think higher.” She wonders if a path couldn’t be built along the park’s higher ridge that would keep nonmotorized vehicles away from the road and address any safety concerns.

What about seniors and the handicapped who can only be motored through that section of Beach Drive, which I think is the most beautiful? My mother, for one, simply enjoys the rock-ridden greenery. Ms. Coleman said those folks can still get to other areas that are just as nice. As for rush hour, we all know that there is no such thing any longer in this area. It begins when it ends — long after dark. By the way, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. is the senior citizens’ prime-time drive time.

In April, when the Beach Drive closure plan was disclosed, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said he prefers that the Park Service delay plans until construction on 16th Street NW is completed. He continues to support the compromise but wants the issue to be “considered carefully, given the strong feelings on both sides,” spokeswoman Sharon Gang said yesterday.

But D.C. Council member Adrian Fenty, whose constituents live on both sides of the park, said yesterday that with the portions of the road already closed on weekends, “It’s enough of a sacrifice; anything else is nonsensical.”

Beach Drive “was built as a roadway, and I’ve seen nothing to show why it shouldn’t stay a roadway,” he said. Mr. Fenty, like most of his constituents, is opposed to any road closures that create more of a burden on congested roadways and communities.

He has written letters to the mayor and to D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton seeking their support to keep the roadway open because of “homeland security concerns, public safety” and because “the residents don’t want it.”

An estimated 2 million people visit the park for “recreational” purposes annually, according to Park Service figures, and an estimated 12.4 million use it to commute.

“Closing it will only benefit a few people,” Mr. Fenty said. The organized lobby, mainly cyclists, seeking closure of the road “are well-meaning people, but they are not thinking about the larger community.”

Exactly. Enough already.

Public hearings are scheduled from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. today and Thursday at the University of the District of Columbia auditorium (Building 46) at 4200 Connecticut Ave. NW. Written comments can be sent to Superintendent, Rock Creek Park, 3545 Williamsburg Lane NW, Washington, D.C. 20008. You also can send e-mail to rocr_superintendent@nps.gov.

A Web site has been established at www.openparkways.org. for those opposing Beach Drive’s closure.

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