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Public Spaces

Park Service makes great strides, but much work remains

The Cherry Blossom Festival is underway on the Mall, and for the first time, it's a lot easier to see the trees on a bicycle. In a few years, a low-cost DC Circulator bus will likely add another convenient mode of travel and bring "America's front yard" closer to our doorstep than ever before. ...

Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

When cyclists gathered in the District last week for the National Bicycle Summit, Park Service head Jon Jarvis agreed that "we haven't been all that bike-friendly in all our parks over the years" and pledged to change that. ...

The Park Service deserves a great deal of credit for this refreshing change in attitude, but a long list of tasks remains undone. Capital Bikeshare is a great start, but there are still many more steps to make bicycling safe and convenient on our parkland, and bring activity to barren urban spaces.

Continue reading in my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Here's a related problem: if the Senate's transportation bill somehow manages to pass the House as or close to how it currently exists, it's going to prohibit bikes on NPS roads where a nearby parallel path exists. This'll completely kill efforts to reopen GW Pkwy south of Old Town to bikes, and might also impact Rock Creek Pkwy.

I, for one, would like to know just which Senator put that in the bill.

by Froggie on Mar 24, 2012 12:11 pm • linkreport

I think good change is in the air across NPS in the greater Washington area.

Over the past several months, I've seen amazing responsiveness to maintenance requests by the NPS Rock Creek Park staff (specifically in relation to Glover-Archbold Park, formally part of ROCR).

* Removed bee hive along walking trail one business day after phone contact.

* Provided status of invasive bamboo removal requests within two weeks after email contact.

* Replaced NPS sign hit by car within four weeks after email contact.

* Replaced broken step in park within one week of email contact. Actually replaced worn five steps even though only one was broken.

* Replaced entire eroded stairwell through park, although in fairness this took several phone calls from a concerned resident.

Here's their phone and email contact info for folks who have maintenance requests or other concerns:

by Mitch Wander on Mar 24, 2012 12:20 pm • linkreport

Agree with your points here. Only issue is that the National Environmental Policy Act is not a NPS regulation. As you point out later, it's not "regulations" holding things back (although they can cause some delay), but the discretionary decisions of particular NPS employees.

by David on Mar 24, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

@Froggie, I don't think you can legally bike along Rock Creek Pkwy now...

by @SamuelMoore on Mar 24, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

I don't think you can legally bike along Rock Creek Pkwy now...


by oboe on Mar 24, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport

I didn't used to be emphathetic about it, but part of the NPS problem in DC is that they are somewhat gun shy about doing stuff, because Congress is here, and all the top DOI/NPS officials, so they are under the microscope, and that tends to be paralyzing, not liberating.

2. DC should have a parks and rec master plan

3. and that plan should have guidance about the NPS installations across the city because as you point out (although this isn't a new point) many of these facilities function as neighborhood parks. Therefore, while lower govts. tend to not want to provide "guidance" in plans to "higher level government agencies", it's completely appropriate to do so in how this represents citizen interests, desires, preferences, and needs.

by Richard Layman on Mar 24, 2012 4:54 pm • linkreport

@Mitch Wander

Could you provide locations for the broken step and eroded stairwell in Glover Archbold Park? North or south of which cross streets (e.g. Mass Ave, Reservoir Rd)? Many thanks.

by A on Mar 25, 2012 3:15 pm • linkreport

@A Sure. I think it's great to publicize the exceptional maintenance responsiveness of NPS.

The five replaced steps are accessible if you walk north from the intersection of T Street NW and 38th Street NW in Burleith. At the end of 38th Street NW, you reach a dead end with a set of steps into the park.

The completely eroded stairwell that was replaced is at the south end of Huidekoper Place NW at the cul de sac in Glover Park.

Take a look. The work is impressive and shows that NPS is responding to park maintenance requests.

by Mitch Wander on Mar 25, 2012 4:37 pm • linkreport

I'm all for improving bike and pedestrian facilities along the GW Parkway (and nearby connections along Washington Blvd too) but I can't agree with making one the GW Pkwy lanes into bike-pedestrian on weekends, as you suggested in your Post article. Maybe in the area south of Old Town, down to Mt. Vernon, it could be do-able. But not along the rest of its length - there is simply too much traffic. Taking "one of its four lanes" in reality means taking one of the two lanes in a given direction, and even on weekends there's too much traffic and its too important as a route to cut the 40-50mph plus traffic to one lane in a given direction.

I would, however, like to see some improvements in widening the current paths and making the crossing points safer.

by Nick81 on Mar 26, 2012 3:28 am • linkreport

@ GW Parkway: I wold very much like an NPS bobo to just grab a (Ca)bike and bike some along the Mt Vernon trail, preferably during rush hour, or on a nice weekend day. The problems with the trail are obvious. It's so narrow that on many places adjacent grass has worn down. There are also many tree branches that have deformed the pavement, making unpleasant bumps. Finally, there are some very tight corners, with poor visibility. If it were a road, it would have been widened and fixed long ago. The advantage that congested bikers and walker mingle better than congested cars works against users here.

I haven't ridden the Rock Creek Park trail in a while, but it had (and probably has) pretty much the same problems.

by Jasper on Mar 26, 2012 9:39 am • linkreport

@Jasper - Rock Creek Trail is in better shape, but it too has a mass of frost heaves, root intrusions, and low-hanging branches.

@SamuelMoore "I don't think you can legally bike along Rock Creek Pkwy now..."

This topic came up here sometime back and I believe the answer was that it is legal to cycle on the roadway even when it is open to cars. Unlike interstates where there are provisions against self-propelled vehicles, there is no such law against bikes on this parkway, or on the GW and Clara Barton Parkways, for that matter.

It was in the context of the Mt Vernon trail that bikes on NPS parkways came up, and the poor state of the bike trail. There are riders that can move fast enough not to be a slow-moving target on this stretch of road. Given what I see while driving GWP and CBP north of the city, I'll pass on using it as a bike lane, and cede it to others.

by Jack Love on Mar 26, 2012 12:49 pm • linkreport

David: in the oped you state:

"Unlike every other city in the nation, the District must contend with the fact that a federal agency controls most of its neighborhood parks, right down to some of the smallest triangles"

While that is one way to look at it, you could also say that unlike every other city (and state) in the nation, the District does not have to pay to maintain many of its neighborhood parks and this is one of the major financial benefits (along with not having to operate a prison system) of DC not being a state. I bet that the Mayor of Detroit would love to have to "contend" with the federal government operating Belle Isle right about now.

It goes beyond the small parks as well. The three largest parks in the city, Rock Creek, the Mall, and Anacostia, basically don't cost the city government a cent to operate. That is not the case in nearly any other major city. New York pays for Central Park as an example, not the federal government.

by dcdriver on Mar 26, 2012 1:03 pm • linkreport

@ dcrdriver: New York pays for Central Park as an example, not the federal government.

New York City gets to tax its citizens and workers, DC does not. NY(C) and the surrounding states do not have the reciprocity that exempts VA and MD residents from paying DC income tax. Also, the largest employer in DC has chosen to not tax itself.

You're making an old argument, that still has no value.

by Jasper on Mar 27, 2012 9:07 am • linkreport

I agree that the National Parks Service is doing lots for the District, residents & tourists. But as a neighbor of American University, I've been involved over the last year in the community's effort to inform the DC Zoning Commission of our concerns and objections to the University's proposed 10 year plan. We spent time and effort to provide input and offer alternatives. The University instead offering bits of "concessions" here and there to impress the Zoning Commission. The Commission completed its consideration of the AU proposal last week and gave it almost 100% of what the University sought.

By law, the Zoning Commission is supposed to give "great weight" to the views of the community, especially as expressed via the Advisory Neighborhood Commission. In this case, our ANC offered extensive comments and suggestions. Various community organizations did as well. But the final Zoning Commission actions disregarded almost entirely neighborhood concerns.

With one member short - a community representative - the Commission's four members included two appointees from the federal government, from the Parks Service and the Architect of the Capital. These two individuals took the lead within the Commission on giving the University everything it asked for. The Parks representative was especially unfriendly to community concerns as he resisted even the modest efforts of Chairman Anthony Hood to suggest changes to the consultative mechanism meant to handle future town-gown disputes.

There is no good reason for federal bureaucrats to have such say in local zoning matters. That they do is due solely to the District's status as a federal colony. The federal government has a legitimate concern in matters affecting the core capital district. But the majority of the District is not in that core. Yet many matters affecting our community are subject to federal whim - from budgeting to zoning. The way the two federal officials were able to inject their own personal preference for development over community is a disgrace and totally unacceptable in a democracy.

The federal government - Congress and Executive - should carve out a core area and let the rest of the District become a state or return to Maryland. The Park Service (and Architect of the Capital) should also account for the kind of people they send to interfere in the lives of our residents.

by Jerry Gallucci on Mar 29, 2012 12:16 am • linkreport

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