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Keep Beach Drive Open to People, Not Cars

Keep Beach Drive Open to People, Not Cars
By Gordon Chaffin • Issue #145 • View online
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Map from WAMU-FM shows what closing "Upper Beach Drive" means.
Map from WAMU-FM shows what closing "Upper Beach Drive" means.
Petition & Info to Support Beach Drive Closure
People’s Alliance for Rock Creek (PARC) | Washington Area Bicyclist Association
Please Ask NPS to Close Upper Beach Drive Permanently to Cars
The National Park Service may close Upper Beach Drive – the North-South road running through DC’s Rock Creek Park – to car traffic permanently. However, you need to raise your voice now so NPS doesn’t respond narrowly to the unverified fears of privileged Ward 3 and 4 residents living nearby. I hope you will join me in support of the greater number of DC residents that depend on Beach Drive for non-car transportation and family-friendly recreation.
The National Park Service is the ultimate decisionmaker, so prioritize your efforts to sway them. DC Council supported a permanent closure only narrowly. The momentum is currently with nearby residents who fear Beach Drive closure makes their streets more dangerous. Adjacent Councilmember Lewis-George supported the closure but then was swayed to oppose by a relatively higher-income enclave of residents in northwest Ward 4 (i.e. “The Gold Coast” of Washingtonians who’ve “made it” and oppose all reduction in car space on roads). Congresswoman Norton recently asked for Beach Drive closure post-pandemic but is now wavering in her support – according to the public meeting advisory quoted below.
Here are two upcoming public meetings and a public comment request:
  • Tuesday 6/29 | 7 PM: Public Meeting about Beach Drive Closure, by Congresswoman Eleanor H. Norton; “the congresswoman will hold a virtual community meeting on whether the portion of Beach Drive that has been closed to vehicle traffic during the pandemic should remain closed permanently. Norton initially supported the closure, saying it has become apparent during the pandemic how important and healthy it is to be outdoors, but has since heard from many constituents would like the road reopened to cars. This meeting will provide a chance for both sides to speak and make their respective cases before a final decision is made.” [Email to RSVP]
  • Thursday, 7/8 | 6 PM: Public Meeting about Beach Drive Closure, by National Park Service; “NPS will host a virtual public meeting and begin a public engagement process to inform the future management of the section of Beach Drive that runs from Broad Branch Road NW to the Maryland border.” [Meeting Details | Link to Join Meeting on MSFT Teams | Dial-In: 202-640-1187 + enter passcode 815310000# | Recording Posted Here Afterward]
  • July 8 through August 22: Public Comment Period to NPS Regarding Upper Beach Drive Closure; “You are invited to review the proposal and provide comments and ideas from July 8 through August 22. To provide comments online starting on July 8, 2021, visit If you prefer to mail your comments, make sure they are postmarked by August 22, 2021, to receive consideration. Mail comments to the address below. SuperintendentATTN: Beach Drive Rock Creek Park 3545 Williamsburg Lane, NW Washington, DC 20008”
Beach Drive Scared Me as Silver Spring Resident
I strongly support the closure of Upper Beach Drive to car traffic for many reasons and based on personal experience.
I moved to the DC area in 2009 and lived first in downtown Silver Spring. From Silver Spring, I frequently rode my bike commuting and ran recreationally on Beach Drive starting from the Maryland border near Portal Estates. I used Beach Drive itself, not the uneven, dirt trails nearby which don’t go directly north/south.
When I tried to use Upper Beach Drive during weekday rush hours, I was constantly bullied off the road by motorists. In the evening, riding north, it’s uphill and the honking starts if an opening to pass doesn’t come after a few dozen seconds. Motorists would take dangerous risks to pass, almost striking oncoming traffic.
I would’ve found a convenient alternative route to Beach Drive for bike commuting, but those don’t exist. Upper 16th Street NW is an insane drag strip that DDOT doesn’t seem interested in making a beginner-friendly bike route. Upper Georgia Avenue is similarly a death trap for even experienced bike riders like me. Oregon Avenue NW isn’t getting bike lanes with the reconstruction project. The Metropolitan Branch Trail is a huge eastward detour. I wanted to bike to my Dupont office and nothing is there but Beach Drive.
Many other residents will speak to the recreational and livability advantages of a people-first Upper Beach Drive. COVID displayed with amazing power how our shared spaces benefit the public much more when we restrict the scary and omnipresent use of motor vehicles. Anyone regularly using Beach Drive will tell you that the north/south adjacent trails are extremely busy and intimidating. By comparison, a closed Upper Beach Drive is a wonderful symphony of multimodal transportation and all-ages joy.
Commuter Car Use of Beach Drive is Irresponsible
I’m a Ward 5 DC resident now, and a transportation planning expert. Speaking with that expertise, it is quite frankly insane for National Park Service to allow arterial-level vehicle traffic on what is obviously designed to be a low-traffic, slow-speed park road where visitors access parking lots, mixed-use green spaces, and make only East-West connections between adjacent neighborhoods.
Speaking as a taxpayer, it is financial madness to re-open Upper Beach Drive to commuter vehicle traffic given the effort and expense of the recently completed Beach Drive reconstruction and improvements. Washingtonians know well how difficult it is to get funds for basic maintenance on the NPS land we use as neighborhood parks. Thinking of Beach Drive’s next 20 years, how could NPS be good stewards of that freshly laid asphalt if frequent, commuter traffic is invited onto Beach Drive?
It was a mistake to allow commuting motorists on Beach Drive in the first place – an incongruous nod to vehicles NPS normally restricts quite heavily – and keeping Upper Beach Drive closed is a restoration of sanity to our city’s central green space.
Make Ward 3 & 4 Streets Safer AND Close Upper Beach Drive
Residents asking for NPS to allow a return of traffic, especially of the adjacent residential neighborhoods, voice legitimate claims that should be addressed in parallel with a continued closure of Upper Beach Drive. During necessary inconveniences of a multi-year project, residents near Beach Drive organized to demand that the DC government make safety changes to the steep east/west streets with Beach Drive access. I support those traffic safety efforts. I’ll join them to fight for every speed hump and every widened sidewalk and curb extension. How about chicanes on Blagden? This calls for large-scale, neighborhood-level traffic calming.
Those neighborhoods’ street safety efforts can’t be mutually exclusive to closing Upper Beach Drive. We should close Upper Beach Drive to cars AND make sure our neighbors get safer streets in Crestwood, in Portal Estates, in Brightwood, and in Sixteenth Street Heights.
One, Still Bad, Alternative to Closing Upper Beach Drive
Some residents have suggested putting protected bike lanes on Beach Drive itself, but NPS has regularly rejected that idea for good reasons. Here’s the only reasonable way that could happen:
Upper Beach Drive can only fit one car lane if a bike path is added.
Upper Beach Drive can only fit one car lane if a bike path is added.
Upper Beach Drive is 20 feet curb-to-curb most of the way, which means adding a bike facility would require a one-way conversion or a reversing traffic lane. Cars could be allowed to travel in the peak direction in a 10-foot lane, next to a two-way cycletrack. Reversible car travel lanes are extraordinarily dangerous; I do less than rule them out here only because it’s a park road that – again – should not have commuter car traffic.
It is not possible for NPS to create an ADA-compliant paved bike path along Beach Drive beyond the curbside because it’s a federal agency that’s literally using a GoFundMe to fix the Tidal Basin and because Beach Drive travels in many places around bends where there isn’t horizontal space for it.
That cross-section above is dumb for a very obvious reason if you step back to the big picture: the point of car-free Beach Drive during COVID is the same reason it’s so extraordinarily popular on weekends and holidays. Cars are scary and dangerous and at best we can somewhat limit them with ugly plastic posts or provide low-resilience physical barriers like 2-inch concrete curbing when motorists regularly jump curbs much higher.
The entire point of keeping Upper Beach Drive closed is to provide a relaxing space for people: not a cycletrack that kind of only somewhat fits and would only benefit bike riders.
Petition and Info to Support Adding Cars Back to Beach Drive
Petition · Keep Beach Drive open to auto users and work to ensure safe use by all ·
Comedian and YouTube Creator Bo Burnham shares his mother's experience as a Hospice nurse.
Comedian and YouTube Creator Bo Burnham shares his mother's experience as a Hospice nurse.
The geographic scope for "Duke Street in Motion" project.
The geographic scope for "Duke Street in Motion" project.
Wed 6/23 | 7 PM - Duke Street Transitway Public Meeting:
Alexandria’s Transportation Department is moving forward with “Duke Street in Motion” – a project to scope out and design previously planned transit and safety improvements. Duke Street (VA-236), from Old Town to Landmark Mall in Alexandria, is an important East/West corridor getting to I-395. Duke is wide road, but not so wide as to obviate the need for tradeoffs. Local residents will need to show up strong at this meeting and in the feedback surveys to show that limited road space should be used for dedicated transit lanes, expanded sidewalks, and beginner-friendly bike lanes. The City of Alexandria needs to know that adding delay to drivers is okay – it’s necessary – to have a safer Duke Street. Right now, there’s basically no safe biking or walking in the area even though it’s an ALX Priority Transit Corridor.
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Gordon Chaffin

This is Gordon Chaffin's newsletter. By day, he's a local journalist and current events storyteller living in Washington, DC. The goal: produce writing and multimedia -- civic participation resources -- that include, inform, and equip stakeholders with the least power to improve their community. On evenings and weekends, Gordon is a freelance audio/video producer and photographer. Topics of interest: transportation -- especially non-car transit -- plus housing, environmental justice, social and gender policies like family-medical leave, and education -- especially early childhood. Please send news tips to gordon[AT]streetsensemedia[DOT]org and freelance job inquiries to gordonchaffin[AT]gmail[DOT]com.

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