Updated with the results of the DC Council vote on Monday, June 1.
The DC Council voted 9-4 Monday to approve a resolution urging the National Park Service to permanently close sections of upper Beach Drive to motor vehicles.
D.C. Council votes 9-4 to ask National Park Service to close upper Beach Drive permanently to traffic. This is a non-binding resolution. NPS makes decision.
DDOT says nearby streets could handle traffic, but several CMs say they need a full traffic analysis for neighborhoods. pic.twitter.com/GYSeUYN1CW
— Jordan Pascale🎙️ #WeMakeWAMU (@JWPascale) June 1, 2021
Three segments – between Beach Drive and Joyce Road NW, and two sections closer to the Maryland border, have been car free seven days a week since April 11th, 2020.
Longtime advocates for a car-free Beach Drive told the National Park Service that with more people working from home during the pandemic, we needed the space to recreate more than drivers needed access. The Park Service listened to that rationale, but made the closure a temporary one.
Peter Harnik and the People’s Alliance for Rock Creek Park have been advocating for a permanent, full-time closure since the late 1970s. In 1980, they won a partial victory when the Park Service agreed to close upper Beach Drive on weekends and holidays. The pandemic gave them a chance to move the needle once again. This time they have the support of many DC Council members, Montgomery County Council members, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
On Wednesday, May 26th, Norton sent a letter to the National Park Service to request the permanent closure.
“As we shift to post-pandemic life, there is much we have learned about our values as a community,” Norton wrote. “One of those lessons is the benefit of spending time outdoors. We want to take advantage of the opportunity the temporary closure of Beach Drive provided to prioritize health, outdoor recreation and other forms of transportation by making the closure permanent.”
The DC Council could be next to weigh in. Today, Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh will submit a resolution, with five other co-sponsors, also requesting that the National Park Service permanently close these parts of Beach Drive to cars.
For those concerned about the impact on traffic on alternative routes, the resolution cites an analysis done by last fall by the People’s Alliance for Rock Creek. Using DDOT traffic data from prior to and during the 2017-2019 Beach Drive reconstruction, the analysis showed that rather than increasing overflow traffic, vehicle numbers actually decreased on 16th Street NW and Broad Branch Road.
To support the Council members’ efforts, Harnik and other Beach Drive closure supporters gathered at Peirce Mill last Friday to present Cheh with a petition signed by close to 3,000 DC residents.
The Council resolution will now be submitted along with the petition signatures to the National Park Service. And on June 15th, the Montgomery County Council will be taking up a resolution endorsing the permanent closure. The resolution has the support of all nine members.