Greater Greater Washington

What are your top issues with federal parkland in DC?

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is organizing a town hall to talk about National Park Service-controlled parkland in the District of Columbia on October 25. I'll be participating on a panel. What issues or requests should I bring up?


Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

Norton convened a town hall last year after a coalition of parks advocates and other activists, including myself, called attention to inflexible policies at the National Park Service interfering with Capital Bikeshare, the Circulator, farmers' markets, missing playgrounds downtown, and more.

The Park Service had recently gotten a new head of the National Capital region and new superintendents for several of the local park "units." These managers started working better with residents than their predecessors. They made considerable progress on Bikeshare, concession rules, and the Circulator.

That doesn't mean there isn't a lot more to do, and Norton is having another town hall hall on October 25. I'll be speaking on a panel, along with NPS Regional Director Steve Whitesell, Rich Bradley of the Downtown BID, Danielle Pierce of Downtown DC Kids (the group pushing for that playground), and Catherine Nagel of the City Parks Alliance, a national group that supports urban parks.

What should I talk about? Since there is no other person specifically devoted to pedestrian and bicycle issues, I'd like to raise the many ways that despite being parkland, rules make walkers and bikers feel less welcome than drivers.

On the Rock Creek and George Washington parkways, signs at off-ramps tell runners and bike riders they have to yield to cars. This is bizarre, since turning cars yield to pedestrians even on major city and suburban arterial roads; the only place with this kind of rule is a freeway, and that shouldn't be the standard for our roadways in parks, even ones that carry a lot of traffic.

The approaches to the 14th Street Bridge give bike riders really no safe or comfortable route to and from downtown, for instance. There is also no good way to cross the GW Parkway on foot or on a bike around the Memorial Bridge. (This area is actually inside the District's borders, even though it is across the Potomac.)

I hope Rich Bradley will talk about the ways public-private partnerships can better activate our downtown parks. Franklin Square should be a more inviting place to eat lunch, and Farragut host evening concerts. Strict concession contracts limit things like sponsorship of an event, and the food trucks can only operate next to the park because they are on the public street which NPS doesn't control. Yet these types of activities are good for urban parks, not bad.

How about retail on Pennsylvania Avenue? Vendors? Bike parking? Capital Bikeshare stations? The grand avenue of our capital city doesn't have to be barren and boring. Food options on the Mall don't need to be awful, either.

Then there are the memorials. DC's many small triangles and other shapes are reserved for future memorials, and it's appropriate to have sites of national or world importance in the American capital, but that doesn't mean the memorials can't also be successful public spaces, as the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue is.

I'm also concerned about a trend toward more fences in triangle parks, like at 21st and I, to "remedy social paths," or in other words, stop people from walking through the park the way they want to. Better to rearrange the walkways to be in the right places.

The Park Service is doing just that on Washington Circle, showing that they are now open to making parks work better for residents and visitors, people on foot and bicycles as well as in cars. We should hope that Steve Whitesell and his superintendents stick around for a while instead of moving to other parks elsewhere in the nation, so that we can all continue to make progress.

The town hall is Thursday, October 25, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Room 412.

What would you like me to talk about at the panel?

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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One problem is the lack of maintenance and upkeep on lands besides the Mall. A couple things come to mind regarding this: many of the less popular traffic circles for example or the bridge over 16th (immediately north of Spring Rd) which during the summer is always overgrown like a small jungle from Park property.

Another issues is lack of connectivitty to neighborhoods which surround many of the park service properties. For example many of the entrances into Rock Creek Park for pedestrians, runners or bicyclist are unfriendly and only the result of desired paths and not official entrances. For example entering the park from Harvard near the zoo is down a steep desired path abutting a exit ramp for Beach drive (when the zoo is closed) or entering from Arkansas Ave again is the same situation. It is almost as if NPS intentionally decided to not interface with the neighborhood.

by Ryan S. on Oct 11, 2012 3:32 pm • linkreport

Shovel the snow on all NPS sidewalks

by Andy on Oct 11, 2012 3:33 pm • linkreport

Does the NPS have a hierarchy of parks already? If so where do the DC spaces fit in and where can a resident learn about it? How often is this plan reviewed?

What about other NPS parks in Urban areas? How have NPS sites in other cities contributed to their respective neighborhoods and ways that they have been improved?

by drumz on Oct 11, 2012 3:33 pm • linkreport

second @Andy -- the parks service doesn't shovel! (pocket parks, at least)

by rusty on Oct 11, 2012 3:43 pm • linkreport

The inability to use park land to treat stormwater, without jumping through fiery hoops.

by Doug Davies on Oct 11, 2012 3:44 pm • linkreport

Going through the Park Service to try and implement LID or Green Infrastructure is exceedingly difficult and is often a barrier to implementation in the city. DDOT's ROW is small and the parks can offer green space for sotrmwater infiltration that would be a great benefit for the city's residents, from a stormwater and beautification perspective.

by Doug Davies on Oct 11, 2012 3:50 pm • linkreport

Close to home, I don't understand why the 15th street cycletrack can't continue southbound past Penn. Ave through the Mall toward the bridge to Virginia. At the least it should be able to get south from Penn. to Constitution, and then pick up again from Independence southbound. Can't we move those vendors? We need the paved lane for transportation, not for parking for souvenir and hot dog suppliers.

by Greenbelt on Oct 11, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport

Franklin Park should not just be an inviting place to eat lunch, but a park that neighbors can enjoy at all hours. There are dozens of condo buildings just north of L street and more going up south towards metro center. Many of these buildings house young couples and families that would love to make use of the park, but cannot because it is a total disaster area on the evenings and weekends. The situation in Franklin Park is noticeably worse since the closing of Franklin Shelter, a move many in the community opposed.

by dcredhead on Oct 11, 2012 3:56 pm • linkreport

As someone who lives just off the park in Mount Pleasant, I would love if the park would allow for a children's playground section built into the huge field at the base of Tilden Street. The open space is fantastic and such an area would only serve to enhance the space.

by gio on Oct 11, 2012 4:02 pm • linkreport

Many of the roads through Rock Creek Park lack sidewalks or paved pedestrian paths. Some of the existing paths, such as the path along Beach Drive, are in terrible shape.

Several of the reservations L'Enfant Plan include walking paths that have one or two small steps along the way. Unfortunately, these steps make the paths inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.

The new wayfinding infrastructure on the Mall is great!

by Eric Fidler on Oct 11, 2012 4:16 pm • linkreport

Wayfinding. The new signs on the Mall are a considerable improvement, but there's still a ways to go, especially in some of the other area parks. I would say, as a rule of thumb, that you should be able to stand at any place on a park sidewalk or path and spot a navigational sign.

(I would argue that this is actually an issue that unites drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists, because the parkways have some of the worst, most absent, and most confusing signage of any roadways in the area.)

by Gavin on Oct 11, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport

It might be worth discussing the substantial demand for sports field space and the under-supply available through the park system. Almost all available park space intended for sports and lots of space not intended for sports is used for athletic purposes. I suspect that there is substantial unmet demand from those who play soccer, ultimate, frisbee, softball, and many other sports. Speaking from my experience, it is very hard to find any permitted green space anywhere downtown, in Dupont, Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, U Street, Columbia Heights or other nearby neighborhoods most of the year. What space there is, is generally permitted to for profit kickball entities.

Lack of permitted space is primarily a DCPS/DPR problem. Mis-management of NPS land resources though, is also a problem. Meridian Hill Park, for instance, isn't seeded with the kinds of grass that stand up best to daily use even though there has been a daily soccer game there for at least since 2005 (probably longer, but that's when I moved here and first saw it). These sorts of active park uses make public space safer by increasing the number of eyes on the street, improve public health outcomes, and also seem to create revenue opportunities. Since the space available at schools is consistently sold out on weeknights and weekends, perhaps NPS could support it's work by adding permitted field space.

by Zach Teutsch on Oct 11, 2012 4:19 pm • linkreport

I'd like to see Rock Creek Park become a park. Right now it is more of a parkway, focused on moving cars from one part of the city to another. It'd be nice if the road was closed to cars and set up exclusively for walkers, joggers, bikers and the like.

by Wright on Oct 11, 2012 4:19 pm • linkreport

Similar to @Greenbelt it drives me crazy when I see "holes" in the walking and biking network of infrastructure and then see "its because that "hole" is on federal parkland". E.g the bike lane that disappears from Park Rd NW when it enters NPS territory; the lack of sidewalks along the streets on all the Circle Fort Parks -c'mon its a city! there is a pathway worn away from people walking there! the lack of a striped crosswalk somewhere along Piney Branch between Arkansas and 17th, etc.

by Tina on Oct 11, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

I'm glad that Danielle Pierce will be there to talk about playgrounds, but on that note, you could recommend to everyone that they review p.81 of The McMillan Report, which I imagine many interested parties in this forum take more or less as a sacred text. In particular, it says "One such special use to which several squares should be devoted in different parts of the city is that of playgrounds" and goes on to explicitly recommend sandboxes, swings, "teeter boards," wading pools, outdoor gymnasia, and spaces for quoits (horseshoes but with rings) and bowling.

Although not directly mentioned, a picture on p. 81 of The McMillan Report shows, favorably, an "Open-air restaurant in the Prater, Vienna." It also recommends that "one or more places [be] arranged for night illuminations with electric fountains." That is, The McMillan Report proposes a vision for public parkland in DC that's vibrant and messy and full of life, where people can linger after dark and eat a real meal.

But the current NPS land in DC projects a sort of compartmentalized, infantilized, closed-after-dark-now-go-back-to-your-suburban-home, stuck-in-the-1950s, one-size-fits-all monotony. It's the same attitude and ossified rules that led us to lose The Awakening to National Frickin' Harbor.

Oh, and we need a beer garden in the National Mall.

by thm on Oct 11, 2012 4:37 pm • linkreport

Can Rock Creek Park become a conservancy like Central Park in New York? Rock Creek desperately needs an organization that focuses solely on maintaining and restoring the park while working with private partners to ensure its protection and ensure add more programming to draw residents and visitors to it.

by Randall M. on Oct 11, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

There actually is a Rock Creek Conservancy:
http://www.rockcreekconservancy.org/

NYC's conservancies have more flexibility, though. The Central and Bryant Park conservancies can do events and have corporate sponsors who get their names on something and in exchange pay money to help maintain the park. NPS doesn't allow that sort of thing.

by David Alpert on Oct 11, 2012 4:43 pm • linkreport

Strictly a traffic safety issue, but cars entering Rock Creek Parkway southbound from Beach Drive can't see whether oncoming northbound cars are in the right lane to Beach Drive (steering safely out of the way) or the left lane to the ramp up to Calvert Street (steering into a dangerous crossing). Flexible posts or cones between the two northbound lanes would let southbound cars at the stop sign see in advance when the ramp lane is clear and it is safe to enter the Parkway.

by Peter Belenky on Oct 11, 2012 4:56 pm • linkreport

Please, please raise the issue of the beach drive and rock creek parkway multi-use paths. They are well used and in terrible shape. Combined with the crossings mentioned in the OP it's a tough place to ride a bike. Access to the park could also use some work. There are many social trails for pedestrians. In a dream world they could even pressure DC to act on the CSOs.

As I'm sure you know, there is a rehabilitation plan that closed for comment in January. Simply encouraging action on it would be helpful, although I believe DDOT might have as much to do on that as NPS.

As an alternative suggestion --- simply add some traffic enforcement! It's chaos on the Parkway and Beach drive for motorists and cyclists alike. They could ticket illegal merges at the northbound exit for Beach drive in the afternoon to raise money for trail repair!

by John on Oct 11, 2012 5:04 pm • linkreport

@Doug Davies

NPS parkland is already being used by the District as dumping sites for stormwater runoff. While I agree that NPS should be flexible in working with neighbors on stormwater infiltration projects, DDOT and DDOE are also uncooperative.
I'd like to see the District and NPS begin to take this seriously.

by DC Trails on Oct 11, 2012 5:11 pm • linkreport

I've lived here since 1989, and have waited 23 years for something to be done to improve the bike trail in Rock Creek Park. Parts are too narrow, too bumpy, too prone to flooding, and there are major obstacles like the super narrow bridge by the Zoo, and lamp posts that are stuck within the lane space.

What's worse, the Park Service doesn't understand what a crosswalk means. Their "cross walks" at parkway exits have stop signs... for the people on the trail. Plus, those "dismount bike" signs (by the airport) are annoying, and show that whoever is in charge knows nothing about biking.

by M.V. Jantzen on Oct 11, 2012 5:45 pm • linkreport

Open data: I would love to see a current list of all public space permits. That way I could figure out what's going on in town (and what I should take pix of!)

by M.V. Jantzen on Oct 11, 2012 5:52 pm • linkreport

Open up paths (pedestrian and bike) around Fort Totten to make the area safer.

by Joe in SS on Oct 11, 2012 6:13 pm • linkreport

Make Beach Drive follow the same traffic pattern as Rock Creek Park (all lanes inbound in morning, outbound in afternoon) and retool the Beach/Rock Creek intersection (again) to make it a stop from Calvert Street, not on Beach. The backup can stretch back past the zoo.

by Michael Cunningham on Oct 11, 2012 6:22 pm • linkreport

@ David.

I'd like NPS to cede the responsibility of the park to the Conservancy so that it could perhaps emulate Central Park's process. I think you mentioned this before. NPS treats every park the same, as if it was in the middle of Montana, which does not work for cities.

I think a good compromise is to work with Congress to pass legislation to allow certain parks to remain with NPS (Mall, tidal basin), some to be retained by the District (slivers, circles, small parks) and others to be maintained by a Conservancies (Meridian Hill, Rock Creek).

by Randall M. on Oct 11, 2012 6:47 pm • linkreport

I have a request specifically for the 4th of July: stop protecting us from terrorism. No more bag checks, no more miles of fencing, no more mobile police towers. Relax.

The NPS needs to get out of the counter-terrorism business. If there is some sort of catastrophe, call the military, or call the cops, but do not fund a full-time counter-terrorism program. Use the money instead to do what you're supposed to do and make the parks the best they can be.

I remember at that dance-protest at the Jefferson, the NPS had its own army: mounted police, police dogs, riot gear, and shockingly, there were officers holding MACHINE GUNS. (http://flic.kr/p/9QM3Mn). Again, calm down, and spend the money on regular park maintenance and improvements.

by M.V. Jantzen on Oct 11, 2012 7:25 pm • linkreport

If the conservancy takes over administration of RCP, let them subcontract to MPD to issue automated tickets to speeders on the Parkway and Beach Drive. That by itself would generate a lot of revenue to improve the park.

Also, remove the slip lanes from intersections on Beach Drive, just put up stop lights. You could use Street View photography to highlight the differing conditions for pedestrians and motorists in RCP, a paved road for cars, a dirt track for everybody else.

Rock Creek Park doesn't feel like much of a "recreational facility" for people on foot, mostly, one feels like a hitchhiker on a highway shoulder.

by Steve S. on Oct 11, 2012 8:30 pm • linkreport

Wayfinding for drivers (and bicyclists) around the tidal basin, Lincoln Memorial, etc. is awful, and I believe NPS is to blame.

I rarely drive, but when I do take a car it's almost comical how often I take the wrong turn and end up somewhere I don't want to go (usually Arlington).

All the unintuitive ramps and overpasses, not to mention the sheer number of tourists driving around the mall, makes good signage for drivers an imperative. But it's almost completely absent. I'm not asking for lit freeway signs visible at 60 mph, just some decorative signposts visible at 25 mph.

Better wayfinding would also help keep bicyclists out of trouble -- they don't want to be the 66 bridge, the Whitehurst freeway or Virginia Ave. underpass.

by Matt C on Oct 11, 2012 8:43 pm • linkreport

Allow mountain biking and mountain bike trails to be built in Rock Creek

Not DC but allow us bike route signs on mt Vernon trail, plow snow from mt Vernon.

by John on Oct 11, 2012 9:08 pm • linkreport

Several things:

* Follow USDOT guidelines on complete streets. Make sure all users of parks can get around safely and conveniently. Stop focusing on cars alone. People do not only want to drive into parks, park and then enjoy. They want to hike and bike into the parks too. And safely so. This does not only apply to the parks in DC, but even to the Skyline drive and Yellowstone.

* Listen/look at where users want to go, especially bikers and pedestrians. There are so many worn-out trials that are ignored by the NPS. In fact, they often put up fences to discourage them. The NPS mission is: The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. (underlining mine). Please pay attention when you see users are enjoying the park in a way you did not foresee. Accommodate that use, do not block it. Fences do not help. An example where fences are not working despite the clear danger of the situation is the turn from the north side of Memorial Bridge to the Mt Vernon trail. Clearly people want an entry point there: Make it so.

* Mark the parks better. Car entrances and exits are usually pretty well-marked. But it's hard to explain people where all they can enter and exit Rock Creek Park. Put clear signs at all trail heads. Also provide better way finding on trials. Great Falls is well marked on the Billy Goat trails, but on the VA side, especially near the swamp, things are still iffy, despite improvements. Trails heads along the Skyline Drive are sometimes impossible to find. Make sure your maps clearly indicate all trails and intersections. Name parking lots. "Where are you?" "In a parking lot along the GW Parkway" Been there, done it. But how else to describe where you are if there's no signage. Even just lettering or numbering lots would help.

by Jasper on Oct 11, 2012 9:11 pm • linkreport

Rock Creek Park is a PARK, with trees, deer, a stream, etc. You'd think it would be better for cyclists than it is, but
(a) little to no enforcement of speeding by drivers
(b) the multi-use paths that track the road are winding, very narrow and in poor condition
(c) the MCPs are not cleared of snow
(d) to get around the tunnel, you have a gated area (often locked) and a path that is too narrow for more than one bike.
(e) cars get right of way at intersections?

Now, for CCT
NPS does a great job. It would be better if _
(a) they went into Maryland.
(b) regular brush trimming
(c) fix the canal leaks at the K St end that damages the road
(d) adopt long term plan to improve the trail surface, especially to correct damage caused by tree roots.

by SJE on Oct 11, 2012 10:04 pm • linkreport

As a Dupont Circle resident, please improve the Dupont Park. The fountain is down to a trickle, with only enough volume for one of the three cascades. And we need new trees to replaces ones that have been cut down.

And, as I mentioned in I Wish This Were... in Dupont Circle, can we please get underwater lights added to the Dupont fountain?

by M.V. Jantzen on Oct 11, 2012 10:06 pm • linkreport

More food options in all parks, including some that allow for outdoor seating and alcohol sales. Other retail would be good as well. Perhaps more perment structures like the limited food vendors that do exist on the mall.

Set up a special division to manage parks like Dupont circle that should function more like city parks instead of national parks.

by nathaniel on Oct 11, 2012 11:37 pm • linkreport

Revive RCP General Management Plan Alternative D, closing much of Beach Drive to automobile traffic between 9:30 AM and 3:30 PM on weekdays.

Establish a policy in the National Zoo to encourage bicycle commuting by keeping the trail through the Zoo open until dark. And stop trapping bicyclists and joggers in the Zoo by closing the gate on the downtown side first, rather than last. Keep the pedestrian gate at the Harvard Street exit open even after the automobile gate is closed, to let bicyclists out. Countless times I found myself trapped in the Zoo, and ordered by unsympathetic Zoo cops to go to Connecticut Avenue to get out.

by Jack on Oct 12, 2012 9:12 am • linkreport

As some have mentioned:

Upkeep on the Mall (I happen to notice this biking home one night as many lights were out).

Lack of clearing sidewalks when it snows.

That massive park in the middle of town that seems to be treated as nothing but a ROW for cars to drive as fast as possible into and out of town. Rock Creek Park should be a park and be able to be used as such (closing off for cycling events, expansion of the weekend closure, etc.).

by rdhd on Oct 12, 2012 11:39 am • linkreport

In a longer-term effort, the Park Service should coordinate with the Department of Agriculture on a model project to develop the hardiest possible grass, for use in areas with intense human traffic. The USDA used to have experimental gardens on the Mall; those are long gone but departmental HQ is still located on the Mall and it is sad to see the sorry state of the Mall green areas right outside their front door, and in general. USDA could work with the best minds in plant science and turf management, in both the public and private sectors, to create a grass that could grass that could be used on the Mall and by park systems nationwide.

by ZZinDC on Oct 12, 2012 11:50 am • linkreport

Better pedestrian and bike access to Greenbelt National Park. It's a great little park completely surrounded by difficult-to-cross traffic sewers.

by Greenbelt on Oct 12, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

So it seems like some parks (like Meridian Hill) are constantly under renovation, or otherwise only half-working (like the comment about the Dupont foundation). I wish NPS would do a better job of explaining what's going on. Maybe there are explanations somewhere but I don't know where to find them...

The obvious place would be poster right next to whatever's closed that says, "We're fixing this foundation and should be done in Fall 2013."

The other obvious place is the park website. The "news" section of Meridian Hill's website currently helpfully explains that they're doing renovation that should be completed in 2010. Probably time for an update!

by Gavin on Oct 12, 2012 12:23 pm • linkreport

*fountain

by Gavin on Oct 12, 2012 12:24 pm • linkreport

I live off of Suitland Parkway, and it's easily the most neglected parkway in the city. It's seriously depressing. Park Service ignores even the basics -- litter removal (or ENFORCEMENT, for that matter), cutting the grass, keeping the brush cleared away. There's a bike/running path right by Suitland Parkway, and it's unusable because it's so poorly maintained. Dumping is a major issue too.

Please don't forget about those of us east of the river! I love Rock Creek Park too but we're always neglected over here...

by Jamie on Oct 12, 2012 12:47 pm • linkreport

This is more events-oriented than transportation-oriented, but perhaps ask the NPS about doing more ahead of time to settle permit issues involving the Mall. Forcing the cancellation of the DC Triathlon with three months' notice (long after people had registered for it and started making travel plans) earned a lot of ire.

by Mike on Oct 12, 2012 1:27 pm • linkreport

While by no means the most pressing of issues with DC NPS, I personally cringe at the exclusive rights that are given to the paddle boats concession in the Tidal Basin. My understanding is that it is illegal for personal craft to be used in the Tidal Basin. If no boats at all were allowed, well that would be one thing, but why only the paddle boats? This seems like a "tourmobile vs. bikeshare" situation to me.

by Matt on Oct 12, 2012 2:46 pm • linkreport

I second @Matt; people should certainly be able to paddle their kayaks in the Tidal Basin!

And @Mike - let's also re-visit why the Solar Decathlon was first moved from the Mall, and then from West Potomac Park. What would it take to bring that event back to the Mall?

by M.V. Jantzen on Oct 12, 2012 3:44 pm • linkreport

I would like to revisit the no-alcohol policy in the parks. I'm pretty sure it was instituted after I moved here in '89, as a tool to remove drunk vagrants from Dupont Circle and Meridian Hill Park. Now it seems heavy-handed, as I have witnessed a few arrests of picnickers in Meridian Hill Park (http://flic.kr/p/cKjqyC), not for disorderly conduct, but merely for possessing alcohol. I don't think we need to ban alcohol; instead, just focus on things that are clearly criminal. (And luckily Meridian Hill has become vastly safer since the 90s.)

by M.V. Jantzen on Oct 12, 2012 3:46 pm • linkreport

I live down the street from Fort Totten metro, and directly across the street from one of the two very large tracks of land known as Fort Circle park. It is a part of the "Rock Creek Parks", yet it is housed within a residential area of Riggs Park NE. The park needs better maintenance and upkeep, but unlike other residents this is entirely within a neighborhood yet offers no amenities to the residents-no walking trail, no bike path, no playground, no dog park, no lighting, no shelters...nothing. It as if it is a forgotten space that does not command the attention of NPS-beyond the infrequent mowing. To increase the viability of the neighborhood and encourage new residents, while providing much needed amenities for those present this park needs desperate help. It has space for all the afore mentioned items, specially playgrounds and walking trails that would serve our young families and elderly residents alike. We need to ensure that there is a focus that moves beyond the greater Rock Creek park and the mall, and provides resources to all DC communities on a more equitable basis.

by Ray @ Fort Circle Parks on Oct 12, 2012 3:59 pm • linkreport

I second @Jasper, @Jacks and @Greenbelts comments; in general pay more attention to non-motorized access and use of the parks.

by Tina on Oct 12, 2012 4:02 pm • linkreport

I strongly second Nathanial's comment on food service. NPS policy has created such blights on the Mall as the "food service" in Constitution Gardens. The one at Pershing Square used to be as bad, but it closed years ago - while across the street there is a thriving sidewalk cafe! The problem used to be sole-sourcing with Government Services Inc - is it still? How about some open bidding? I am sure many of the modern food truck vendors would love sites like these.

by Dan Gamber on Oct 12, 2012 4:52 pm • linkreport

Another sore point: access to the RCP bike trail from Tilden Street. This used to be easily done via the parking lot at Pierce Mill. But with the restorations at the site, bicyclists are now instructed to "Walk Bike" from the remaining parking lot, and along an unpaved, gravel stretch to get to the bike path. The NPS could hardly have been more clear in displaying a "Bicyclists Not Wanted" policy, and discouraging bike-commuter use of the RCP bike trail.

by Jack on Oct 12, 2012 5:16 pm • linkreport

NPS should let cyclists on the Clara Barton Pkwy early Sat & Sun mornings. They recently started enforcing the ban on cyclists from the parkway and this has forced cyclists back to MacArthur Blvd, which is only two lanes, has more traffic and intersections, and is much more dangerous. WABA has not been successful talking to the NPS. Bikes shouldn't be on the parkway when it's busy, but weekend mornings the 4 lane parkway is lightly traveled and much safer for a groups of cyclists than MacArthur.

by Kris on Oct 12, 2012 8:26 pm • linkreport

NPS is not a user friendly agency. They take FOREVER to complete anything (Spout Run, Humpback Bridge, shoring up the walls on the Parkway near the Mass Ave entrance, to cite a few examples).

Take a look at some European Parks for some good examples of how the public would like to be treated: food, adult beverages, seats, restrooms for example. It's high time for the NPS to grow up and join the world. The food choices on the mall and at parks in the area are abominable.

by Martys on Oct 12, 2012 9:31 pm • linkreport

Access to the park is oriented to vehicles. Improved sidewalk access into the Park would make ped and bike access safer. It required 3 years of constant pressure on DOT and NPS, with able support from Ward 4 Councilmember Bowser to install a sidewalk along Blagden Ave. down to Beach Dr. NPS should not have to be bludgeoned to improve ped & bike access. It should be incorporated into their management plan.

by larry martin on Oct 12, 2012 10:47 pm • linkreport

I would strongly encourage you to talk about the bike/ped access to the 14th street bridge from the Jefferson Memorial. As someone on GGW noted in an earlier article, the bridge is the best bike route across the Potomac. The problem is that as soon as you leave the bridge heading for the memorial, the trail goes through some abrupt altitude changes and becomes much narrower with a dropoff on one side and a steep bank leading up to the roadway on the other. Throw in a pole supporting one end of a road sign, and the recipe for serious crashes is complete. The volume of bike/ped traffic there is enormous. An eight or ten foot, smooth trail without obstacles down to the memorial would make a much better gateway into the monuments/mall area for the many folks entering from Virginia.

by Longshanks on Oct 14, 2012 7:59 pm • linkreport

At this time, there is no effective communication between the Park Service and the cycling community. Much of the frustration expressed by cyclists riding through NPS facilities is identifying someone to talk to. The National Park Service should identify a bicycling coordinator. This person could take the lead on several of the most critical areas where the Park Service seems to lack leadership, including:
• Developing and effective bicycle route from the 14th Street Bridge into the city
• Identifying and resolving critical safety issues for cyclists including sharrows on 15th Street between Independence and Jefferson, traffic turning from the center lane of Madison south onto 14th Street in the afternoon, and the path from the 14th Street Bridge to East Basin Drive.
• The inconsistent enforcement activities by the Park Police against cyclists

In the absence of such a coordinator, issues with NPS accommodation of cycling activities are typically addressed in a one sided approach on various internet forums and blogs. As one could imagine, this does not provide any opportunity for easy resolution of the underlying issues.

Cyclists are among the most consistent users of NPS facilities and can be great advocates for those facilities.

by DBB on Oct 14, 2012 9:17 pm • linkreport

Some excellent comments/recommendations here. I second many of them. A couple that I would add are as follows:

-I don't think it could be restated enough how much of a waste the current iteration of Franklin Square is as a public space. Aside from some business people taking their lunch into the park during the weekday, and homeless people hanging around most other times, Franklin Square absolutely fails as a large, public park in the middle of downtown. I would probably list Franklin Sq. as exhibit 1A in how NPS management completely fails at urban parks management. There is no reason, other than NPS strictness and inefficiency, that Franklin Square could not become the Bryant Park of DC. But yet, this potentially fantastic green space sits neglected and underutilized. It needs to be fixed.

-And speaking of NPS management in general, the policies regarding vendors, both food and otherwise, must be relaxed. Why can I get an alcoholic drink, and even a full sit down meal, at parks in Manhattan, yet am restricted to bottled water and terrible hotdogs in DC? That's absurd. NPS mus develop ways to work with local orgs and governments to make better use of these spaces.

-Finally, I, too, will put in a word about the Dupont fountain. It is almost embarrassingly neglected. This, too, probably strikes at the heart of NPS urban parks mismanagement, but simply by virtue of the fact that I work in Dupont and thus walk past the fountain multiple times a day, I'm calling it out specifically.

Oh, and what others have said about ped and bike access in RCP. A thousand times over.

by Ben on Oct 14, 2012 11:24 pm • linkreport

@John

The likelihood of mountain bike trails in RCP is very poor,
and it isn't helped by the lack of sustained interest in maintenance by the mountain biking community in the Fort Circle Hiker/Biker Trail. National Parks East is begging for help. If the community stepped up and put forth consistent effort in rehabbing the Fort Circle Trail, we might see some movement by NPS. Until then, I just don't see it.

by DC Trails on Oct 15, 2012 2:39 pm • linkreport

(1) Would like to see more imaginative use of the smaller parks throughout the city. As Ben and others mention above,parks like Franklin Square, Farragut Square or Lafayette Square should have Bikeshare, performances, and something akin to a Shake Shack or simple kiosks serving beer, wine, great food etc.

(2) Better maintenance in general. So many of the nps-controlled public spaces look like mini jungles in the summertime. If the NPS cannot afford to maintain these spaces in a manner consistent with what the neighbors and the city require, maybe NPS can lease some of these smaller parks to DC for $1 for the next 50 years, etc. so we can do what we need to with these spaces, while leaving room for future planning of federal memorials, etc.

(3) As a biker and a driver, better bike paths and bike mobility in RCP. But not at the expense of reasonable vehicular flow in all directions: RCP needn't be more of a barrier between East and West (and all that implies) than it already is.

(4) @David Alpert: Thanks for mentioing that Pennsylvania Ave. is a mess. The Avenue is our Champs Elysees, and as such, it should not be a desolate, lifeless, windswept expanse. It will take decades to fix the urban renewal mistakes of the 1950s and 60s, but why not get started on it now? -- Penna. Ave. desperately needs retail and mixed-use zoning to bring people and life back to the boulevard.

by nativedc on Oct 15, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport

I wrote a little blog post highlighting what I think is the most confusing and potentially dangerous trail junction in DC. Several other road-trail intersections along the Rock Creek trail system are bad, but this one combines blind spots, sudden grade changes, speeding, and a total lack of wayfinding signs between the Mall and the Potomac paths. It's also not that difficult to correct.

by Payton on Oct 15, 2012 6:28 pm • linkreport

In the longer term, it would be instructive to launch an investigation into whether there need to be quite so many roads within and around NPS parks -- or whether a lot of that pavement could be returned to parkland. Many slip lanes, bypasses, streets bracketing little triangle parks, turnarounds like the one I noted above, etc. could easily be closed or turned over to ped/bike circulation with no impact on the traffic system. Some places where this has already been done, like the front of the Lincoln Memorial, are among the most beloved places in the entire park system.

by Payton on Oct 16, 2012 12:29 pm • linkreport

Make Rock Creek Park into an actual usable urban park instead of a wilderness preserve traversed by narrow commuter roads. Instead of narrow bands of picnic tables placed adjacent to roadways, NPS should create some meadows and usable spaces linked by safe pedestrian/biking paths. Create green spaces we can use---instead of isolated and poorly maintained woodland trails that most people are afraid to venture onto for fear of meeting a fate like Chandra Levy's.

See San Francisco's Golden Gate Park for an example of a great urban park with a multitude of uses.

http://216.121.125.82/maps/GGP_WebMap.pdf

by Grace on Oct 16, 2012 4:41 pm • linkreport

Without venturing into the myriad usability and traffic problems of the Mall and downtown pocket parks, here are a few suggestions specific to Rock Creek Park proper: (1) Name more existing hiking trails, and add signs with mileage markers on trails other than Western Ridge and Valley (which have somewhat improved recently). I constantly meet DC residents who live very close to trailheads for great hiking, but have no idea that the trails exist, or where they go; (2) extend DC bike lanes onto roads traversing the park, and add Sharrows to Beach Drive to discourage aggressive Marylanders from abusing bikers; (3) add a traffic signal or change the stop sign configuration to reflect the actual volumes at Beach Dr. and Rock Creek Parkway, to mitigate the horrendous, wasteful congestion regularly occurring at that dangerous pull-out; (4) end the rush hour lane reversal of the parkway, which appears to be unnecessary even during peak hours; (5) be more responsive about cutting downed trees blocking trails; (6) actually manage the forest, which is largely a neglected tangle of undergrowth and denuded by the rampant over-population of deer; (7) make the paved pedestrian and bike pathway more usable; (8) add crosswalks at road intersections in the park, for example at Piney Branch and Beach or Blagden and Beach.

by Paul on Oct 16, 2012 5:18 pm • linkreport

There should be separated bike and pedestrian paths on the busy major commuter parks, such as Rock Creek and Riverfront trails.

by Lilly on Oct 17, 2012 9:55 am • linkreport

@Paul

All of the un-named, official trails in Rock Creek Park are
horse trails, and I too would like them named and properly maintained. At the moment, no one maintains these trails regularly. The named ones- like the Western Ridge Trail,
Melvin Hazen and Normanstone- are maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC).

Notify PATC when you come across downed trees on named trails.

Your wishes for the deer problem are being realized. NPS and DOA are bringing in sharpshooters to cull the deer population soon.

by DC Trails on Oct 17, 2012 12:30 pm • linkreport

PLEASE bring up the issue of dogs off leashes in rock creek park. It is against the law to let your dog off the leash, yet it is entirely unenforced. RCP is filled with very large dogs running free off leashes, often quite a distance ahead of their owner. Sometimes it is unclear if the dogs are strays. I no longer find it safe to walk there, and certainly would never ever bring a small child there. This is a shame.
We could solve this problem by imposing heavy fines on having dogs off leashes. Enforcement in a semi-secluded park like RCP will always be inconsistent, but having a hefty fine would deter violations. Hefty fines would also raise some revenue for the city or the parks system.

by MS on Oct 18, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

David,

Really the NPS mission should be limited to parks of significant grandeur like Yellowstone, Shenandoah, etc. Why the heck is NPS even managing little spots like the Dupont water fountain anyway? Such an inefficient use of resources to me.

NPS should simply give all Federal parkland in DC to the DC govt, so locals can use their ANCs and elected officials to make changes much faster than NPS could ever do it. To me this is the easiest solution and probably one that DC govt would welcome. Throw that curveball at NPS ...

by TC on Oct 18, 2012 10:21 pm • linkreport

@DC Trails October 15, 2:39-

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] If we want to have good trails in this area, all user groups need to work together. While I can't speak for all mtbers, I do want to get accurate info out there.

The local mountain bike community has been very involved with trail construction and maintenance across the region for many years. MORE (www.more-mtb.org) and IMBA (www.imba.com)have worked with state DNRs as well as county parks managers and mountain bikers have constructed and actively maintain literally hundreds of miles of trails in this region. I don't think it's an exaggeration at all to say that the MTB community's trail construction and maintenance efforts are far away the best thing that has happened to the Montgomery County trail network, for example.

To the best of my knowledge, NPS has only recently softened its position on allowing any cyclists on its trails, but there is a long way to go before the relationship is on par with the relationship that the community has cultivated with state and county level land managers. NPS has allowed the opening of trails in a limited number of National Parks recently, across the country. It's a big bureaucracy and these things move slowly, but this progress strikes me as a reason to be hopeful.

To address your comments about the Fort Dupont trails:

1.) The MTB community has led after-work group rides there during the summer for years. These rides are curtailed during the winter because night riding after dark is not feasible there. There have been trail work days. Trips for Kids has held kids' bike rodeos there to engage local youngsters.

2.) AFAIK (and I may be wrong on this), the NPS contact has not allowed our sawyers in to clear deadfall. This has really hampered maintenance efforts. If you know a way to get permission to run saws, please reach out to us. We would love to know how.

3.) Interest to ride at Fort Dupont is always going to be limited because of the nature of the trails. There isn't a huge community of trail users in Wards 7 and 8, and the trail network isn't (and can't be) very extensive compared to other trail networks in the region because of the shape and size of the parks. If I have to travel to ride, I may as well go to Fairland, Rosaryville, Fountainhead, Cosca, etc.

What does this mean for the feasibility of mountain biking in Rock Creek Park?

I think NPS has shown some willingness to listen to reason when it comes to opening up its parks to a broader range of users, where appropriate. There is a ton of space in the northernmost parts of the park - more than enough for mountain bikers as well as many other user groups. I think Wissahickon Valley Park in Philadelphia provides a great model of what mountain bike trails in an urban stream valley park, accessible by public transit, can look like. I also think that the fantastic work that has been done by the mountain biking community right there in Montgomery County demonstrates the will and commitment to build and maintain a world-class trail network that benefits all user groups right here in the region.

If you're curious about how our community's trail-building and maintenance efforts go and want to chat with some of us, I would like to invite you to come and volunteer for the upcoming trailwork days at Fairland and Cosca. I know that the leaders of these projects will truly appreciate having the extra help.

by JNewcomb on Oct 19, 2012 1:39 pm • linkreport

@JNewcomb

Thanks for your interest in DC Trails. I'm well aware of "your" community's building and maintenance efforts elsewhere, and I'm quite familiar with the state of the Fort Circle Hiker/Biker trail and the need for regular maintenance. I don't doubt that "your" community has performed excellent work in other parks. If you read the post again, you will see that my comment only pertained to the Fort Circle Hiker/Biker Trail and the relevance of that to the prospect of mountain biking in Rock Creek Park. [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

My comment stands. Staff at NCP-East and Fort Dupont are eager to work with volunteers to provide regular maintenance
for the Fort Circle trail and they've reached out to several organizations, including mountain biking groups. Little has come of this. That's a pity, for all concerned.
And NPS staff in the DC region do talk with each other (though sometimes I wonder). In my opinion, an opportunity exists for the mountain biking organizations in the area to build a relationship with NPS staff in a productive manner,
and I think that could spill over to RCP. Take that for what you will. But if you aren't aware of the approaches by NPS staff to the mountain biking organizations or of the lack of sustained interest by those organizations, you should either correct your lack of knowledge or cease your campaign of disinformation. Cheers!

by DC Trails on Oct 19, 2012 2:52 pm • linkreport

I think RCP should be opened to bikes. The trails in RCP need upkeep and the mountain bike community would provide some much needed maintenance.

by SamP on Oct 19, 2012 3:22 pm • linkreport

@SamP

I'm agnostic on the matter of opening up dirt trails in RCP to bikes. But NPS is not, and if the biking community wants to show NPS in DC what it can do, then the already functioning Fort Circle Hiker/Biker Trail seems to be the logical place to do it. It's a missed opportunity for the mountain biking community in the DC Metro area.

Or perhaps, according to JNewcomb, it is all a campaign of disinformation. If so, it's a rather weak one. A single post on a blog topic. Today, GGW! Tomorrow, the world!

by DC Trails on Oct 19, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

Regarding the Fort Circle Trails, I recently stepped down as MORE Trail Liaison for the trail for personal reasons, so I know a little about the history, having led many rides and workdays for MORE there over the last 10 years. DC Trails is correct that our involvement in the trails was not always consistent. JNewcomb is right to say that MORE and IMBA have done a TON of work in the parks over a long period of time and have been very involved in many projects. Here is my perspective:

For a number of years, I led MORE workdays every spring and fall, and this was at a time when NPS paid less attention to the trails. We would clear poison ivy for the kids' races, clear some deadfall with hand tools and make whatever repairs we could. That has declined in the past couple of years, as I will explain below, but in that time, NPS has done a MUCH better job of clearing the trails and staying in touch with the various stakeholders. Props to Capital Parks East for their hard work.

In the past few years, the number of riders joining our weekday after work rides dropped, and our workdays became two or three guys out there doing what we could. No one is to blame for this, and very few people will do work on a trail they do not use. NPS has been responsive and proactive, but we (MORE) have just not had the ridership in that park to generate proper work involvement. Our record in other places in MD and VA is well known, but we have some work to do in DC. This is why I stepped down, hoping someone else with more time might be able to jumpstart the riding community.

There is no value in arguing about the past. What we need to do is come together as a community of people who care about the trails and do something. We need people to organize rides, get people out there together on the trails, and the workdays and regular maintenance will come back. If I could do that right now, I would. Hopefully our new liaison will help inject some energy from MORE back into things, and get mountain bikers in the city riding the trails in the city.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone for the interesting comments. I see a ride in my near future.

by Dan Fitzgerald on Oct 19, 2012 6:37 pm • linkreport

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