DC delegate asks Park Service to permanently ban traffic from part of Beach Drive

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has asked the National Park Service to permanently close a portion of Beach Drive in Northwest to traffic.

The National Park Service closed the upper part of Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for more space for people to walk, bike, run and play.

In a letter sent to Shawn Benge, acting director of the National Park Service, Norton said the benefit of spending time outdoors is something the community has learned during the pandemic.

“There are not many gifts that you get from a pandemic, especially this one,” Norton told WTOP Thursday.  “The closing of Beach Drive has given D.C. residents a wonderful, beautiful place to walk and engage in recreation.”

Norton said she doesn’t see why the National Park Service would refuse her request, citing positive public response, minimal disruptions to traffic and the possible impact on the Park Service’s budget.

“If anything, I believe it will save the Park Service money because they won’t have to keep the roads in good condition,” Norton said.

A National Park Service spokesperson told WTOP they received the letter and will send a response to Norton.

Norton asked for a response by June 11.

Norton doesn’t think there will be a significant increase in traffic as the D.C.-area moves past the COVID-19 pandemic because “it looks like many people won’t be returning to the office, at least not for the full day.”

“I certainly predict that especially in this region, the District of Columbia region, there will be fewer people returning to offices; and therefore, less use of Beach Drive than might have been the case before the pandemic,” Norton said.

Norton’s letter comes nearly a month after D.C. Council members signed a proposed resolution with the same request. Council member Mary Cheh said on Twitter Thursday that the council plans to meet on Tuesday to vote on a Sense of the Council resolution requesting the permanent closure of upper Beach Drive.

“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 in April. “And it’s just been a wonderful opportunity for them to be in the park.”

During a Q&A session in March with NPS leaders, Rock Creek Park Superintendent Julia Washburn was asked about the section of 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.

“The people have voted with their feet,” Norton said.

Before the pandemic, more than 5,000 cars traveled on Beach Drive each weekday, and was closed to traffic on weekends.

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