DC Council members push to keep Beach Drive closed to traffic

Several members of the D.C. Council have signed a proposed resolution to permanently close a portion of Beach Drive to traffic.

The upper part of Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park has been closed since the pandemic began, giving residents space for activity amid pandemic-related closures.

But council member Mary Cheh and some of her colleagues — as well as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton — want to extend the closure for good.

“It would be better if we just kept it closed, because what we have found is that thousands and thousands and thousands of people have used that part of Beach Drive to engage in recreation and walking,” Cheh said. “And it’s just been a wonderful opportunity for them to be in the park.”

Addressing concerns that closing the road on weekdays will have a spillover effect on other roads, Cheh said data from previous closures in 2017 and 2019 — when Beach Drive was closed for reconstruction — showed a decline in traffic, not an increase.

“We found the data showed that when it was closed for reconstruction, on some of the roads that we thought there would be spillover, there was actually a decline in traffic. And in Connecticut Avenue and Broad Branch Road, there was a very negligible decline, but not an increase,” Cheh said.

Because the expected negative effect of the closure never came to pass, Cheh said, the costs of keeping Beach Drive closed are “minimal or nonexistent,” and the benefits are so “extraordinary.”

Members of the council have asked the National Park Service if it would be willing to keep the road closed. WTOP has contacted NPS for comment.

During a Q&A last month with leaders from the Park Service, participants asked Rock Creek Park Superintendent Julia Washburn about keeping Upper Beach Drive closed to cars long term. Washburn said that it was unlikely, but that the agency is willing to listen to D.C. leaders on a plan for moving forward.

“There’s no reason to deprive people of access to this wonderful spot every day of the week,” Cheh said.

Before the pandemic, Beach Drive carried over 5,000 cars a day and was closed to traffic on weekends.

WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She has a master’s degree in interactive journalism from American University and a master’s degree in English Literature from The George Washington University.

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