National Park Service could reopen Beach Drive to traffic 9 months a year

Used exclusively by bicyclists and pedestrians since the pandemic began, Beach Drive in D.C.’s Rock Creek Park would reopen to traffic nine months a year, under a new proposal by the National Park Service.

The park service is proposing that the 4 1/2-mile upper portion of Beach Drive be closed to cars seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Since the 1980s, Beach Drive has been closed to traffic on weekends and holidays, and those closures would continue under the new proposal.

“Adopting the seasonal closure schedule will allow visitors to enjoy the park’s recreation and nature opportunities during the summer and will allow the drivers to commute through the park, or do scenic driving through the rest of the year,” said Rock Creek Park Superintendent Julia Washburn.

The park service rejected another proposal that would have kept Beach Drive closed to traffic year-round, reserving it for bicyclists and pedestrians, including runners, skaters and scooter riders.

Instead, the National Park Service views the seasonal closure proposal as a compromise.

“The alternative will improve recreational opportunities and minimize impacts to natural and historic resources and address the needs of people who drive and those who use non-motorized transportation,” said Washburn. “It allows for the continuation of commuting during the fall, winter and spring and then, in the summer, when traffic is lighter, it allows for full recreational use.”

The summer closure would extend from Broad Branch to Joyce roads; from Picnic Area 10 to Wise Road; and from West Beach Drive to the Maryland boundary.

Beach Drive would remain open to cars between Joyce Road and Picnic Area 10 but only to access picnic areas and parking lots. Ross Drive would remain open to traffic.

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, Beach Drive accommodated about 5,500 to 8,000 vehicles each weekday.

The public is being asked to comment on the proposal until Aug. 11, and comments may be offered during a park service virtual public meeting, which is set for 6:30 p.m. July 18.

Some residents in D.C. Wards 3 and 4 have voiced concern that Beach Drive closings divert traffic through their neighborhoods. But the park service said it’s working with D.C.’s Department of Transportation to reduce the impact of cross-through traffic.

A final decision on the proposal is expected in early fall. The road will remain closed until then.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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