The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Public Spaces

Congressional impasse shuts down DC's trails

DC bicycle commuters woke up this morning to find that one popular rail-trail was closed due to the government shutdown, which took effect at midnight.

Some cyclists are ignoring the barriers erected by the National Park Service and using the Capital Crescent Trail despite the shutdown. Photo by someone named Ricky, who is friends with DC Bike Ambassador Pete Beers.

The Capital Crescent Trail is the most heavily-used rail-trail in the United States, with more than a million users a year. Not just a weekend pleasure-ride spot, the CCT is thick with bicycles during morning rush hour as people use it as a safer and more pleasant bike-commuting alternative to DC's congested streets. Now, the government would give them no choice—though the Washington Area Bicyclist Association reports that there's little enforcement and intrepid bike commuters are using the trail despite the barriers.

Since this important bike route is managed by the National Park Service, it is part of the vast collateral damage of the embarrassing scenario unfolding on Capitol Hill. WABA warned yesterday that "all or part of the heavily-commuted Rock Creek Trail, Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, and George Washington Memorial Trail are on NPS property" and could also be shut down, but early reports seem to indicate that they're still open.

The 185-mile C&O Canal trail, which runs from DC's Georgetown neighborhood to Cumberland, is also closed.

The 185-mile C&O Canal Trail, which begins in Washington, DC, is closed. Photo tweeted by Bike Arlington.

All roads are open during the government shutdown, except some leading into national parks, which are closed. In DC, this would include Rock Creek Parkway and other roads through the largest urban national park in the country—but, curiously, that key car-commuter route is still open. However, Rock Creek Park's Beach Drive is closed to car traffic during the shutdown, so people who enjoy riding their bikes there on weekends, when drivers are normally kept out, will enjoy riding it today. That's one nice trade-off for losing the CCT.

WABA learned about the possible Capital Crescent Trail shutdown yesterday, and bollards were put in place at the entrances to prepare to block trail traffic. The sections of the CCT within Montgomery County remain open, since they are owned by the county, not NPS.

DC has a disproportionate number of city parks under NPS, but certainly the shutdown will prevent people from using other popular off-road trails around the country, like this one in the Philly area. Where else are cyclists and pedestrian commuters being impacted?

Crossposted at DC Streetsblog.

Tanya Snyder is the former editor of Streetsblog USA, which covers issues of national transportation policy. She previously covered Congress for Pacifica and public radio. She lives car-free in a transit-oriented and bike-friendly neighborhood of Washington, DC. 


Add a comment »

I saw three guys and a Bobcat loader, who I assume were responsible for the concrete blocks. NPS spend money to close the trail, which seems a silly use of money.

Also, they drove right past the partially downed tree.

Here is a question: why is CCT blocked, but GW Parkway and BW Parkway open?

by SJE on Oct 1, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

I was reading the WABA forums early this morning (like 5am early) and saw a posting from last night by someone who lived and biked through the last shutdown 17 years ago. His comment was - surprisingly - full of common sense. He said that if there's gates, they'll close it. If there's no gates, they probably won't do anything.

My experience this AM on the Mt. Vernon Trail seems to bear this out. The parking lot for Gravelly Point was blocked off but the Mt. Vernon Trail was "wide open" (and crowded for this time of year!).

So, yes, we should question why trails are closed but roads left open. And we should fight for parity. But, the knife cuts both ways and we do enjoy some "perks" of being cyclists.

by Commuter on Oct 1, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

We must shut down the interstates

by JJJJJJ on Oct 1, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

I would love to do a FOI request and see all the internal discussions over why exactly they should close a trail that requires little effort to keep open. It's not like the NPS is out there every day making sure the trails are safe, clean, and attractive.

by Michael on Oct 1, 2013 3:34 pm • linkreport

Are they still doing the twice-daily ritual of reversing traffic on Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway? If so, what's the justification? It seems silly to close trails that require little to no resources to keep open (at least in the short run).

by Paul on Oct 1, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

I'm with J. Shut down the Interstate highways system. That will get Red State voters calling up their Teabag Representatives. -danny

by Daniel Howard on Oct 1, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

For at least a decade NPS has been defacto shutting down the Rock Creek trail through inaction.

by SJE on Oct 1, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

@ Daniel Howard:Shut down the Interstate highways system. That will get Red State voters calling up their Teabag Representatives.

Methinks that Red States all live far far away from interstates.

@ Commuter. Thanks for the tip. Am gonna try now if it's still open.

by Jasper on Oct 1, 2013 4:45 pm • linkreport

Interstates are funded thru the Highway Trust Fund with money that has already been appropriated. You'll also find at USDOT Federal Highway Administrations staff are all at work today.

Interesting Beach Drive is closed and not RC, GW or B-W Parkways...that would certainly draw attention to the issue if NPS has the smart to do that...

by Some Ideas on Oct 1, 2013 5:37 pm • linkreport

Not reversing Rock Creek Park becomes a safety issue. Remember a couple of decades ago the head on crash on a minor holiday (Columbus Day or maybe Veterans Day). That said, the entire roadway could be closed, not just the northern sections. Close the Memorial Bridge too.

by tour guide on Oct 1, 2013 5:39 pm • linkreport

Truly ridiculous all around, both roads (Madison and Jefferson Drives, Ohio Drive) and trails.

The irony is that they presumably are closed to save money on enforcement, yet the lack of enforcement means they can be used anyway.

by ah on Oct 1, 2013 5:48 pm • linkreport

I don't understand why a bike trail has to be closed if roads aren't.

by Omar on Oct 1, 2013 6:08 pm • linkreport

That's when it's time to take the government back into our hands and move those barriers ourselves without spending tax payer dollars. Take back what is ours... The people's.

by Mike on Oct 1, 2013 7:46 pm • linkreport

Mt Vernon trail and GW Parkway were still very open this night.

I don't get this. The government has to shut down, but there seem to be laws excepting no-so-essential stuff. I understand national defense and stuff. But how are all the Parkways in DC essential? With the Feds closed, there's nobody to ride on them, anyway. Why is the FAA essential, while health care to cancer patients through the NIH is not?

[Obligatory bad and superfluous comment: And certainly Congress is not essential, as they're not doing their job]

by Jasper on Oct 1, 2013 8:17 pm • linkreport

I don't understand why a bike trail has to be closed if roads aren't.

I agree that closing the trails is stupid. But using the standard that "things that protect life and property" are essential and must stay open one could argue that roads are more likely to be essential because they allow ambulances, fire, EMS, police etc...access in emergencies. Not sure if that is the basis, but it could be.

by David C on Oct 1, 2013 9:47 pm • linkreport

CCT was open from Georgetown to Fletcher's Cove. No barricades at the trailhead and dozens of folks on their ride home after work. The parking lot at Fletcher's was closed off to cars, but the barricades appeared to be placed to allow bikes and peds clear access around them.

by ontarioroader on Oct 1, 2013 9:57 pm • linkreport

Pathetic. Considering the utter neglect the NPS shows to the maintenance, policing and policy of these trails, it's astonishing how efficient they can be in closing them to cyclists and other users while, of course, ensuring motorists can still race along Rock Creek Parkway etc at double the posted speed limit. Proof that sending these people home without pay may not be such a bad idea afterall. And proof cyclists should resist being banished to "paths" and assume their rightful place on the roads where they belong.

by Peter K on Oct 1, 2013 9:58 pm • linkreport

Is the gate to the foot-bridge to Roosevelt Island shut?

by Devol on Oct 2, 2013 1:43 am • linkreport

Ragnar relay from cumberland to DC is this weekend (Friday into Saturday afternoon). A lot of the run is on the C&O Tow path & mount vernon trails. As it currently stands they're apparently looking to reroute large sections of the course.

by jj on Oct 2, 2013 9:05 am • linkreport


You should do it. Seriously. Make it narrowly tailored enough, and even if they charge you for reproduction costs, I doubt there is much discussion about the C&O trail specifically.

Would be an interesting view for sure, and would make for a TERRIFIC article!

by Kyle-w on Oct 2, 2013 9:29 am • linkreport

@Michael: just don't expect a reply any time soon

by Mike on Oct 2, 2013 9:34 am • linkreport

@Jasper -it's not just Feds who use roads in and around DC; all of us DC government employees are at work today.

by Stella on Oct 2, 2013 9:36 am • linkreport

Two points:

Part of "closures where they can" is probably due to our litigious society. If NPS rangers, maintenance and even Park Police are furloughed or stretched thin, yet facilities remain open and an accident happens, someone will probably try to make a lawsuit out of it.

As for Rock Creek and the GW Parkway, I'd like to see NPS get the authority to put (aesthetically unobtrusive) automatic toll sensors up, like on the Inter-country Connector. Why should NPS have to dedicate such resources to running what have become commuter highways. The tolls don't have to be high (even $.50 or a $1, plus any surcharges for non-EZPass holders) but it would allow NPS to recoup costs directly from users and might alter driver behavior a wee bit.

by Jasper on Oct 2, 2013 10:19 am • linkreport

how about hains point? is that loop still open? it has a gate, but is easily circumvented.

by actor1 on Oct 2, 2013 10:20 am • linkreport

BTW, Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park is closed to motorists because of the shutdown. Note that they have gates in place because they already close most of it on weekends to vehicles.

by Jasper on Oct 2, 2013 10:21 am • linkreport

@ Stella:-it's not just Feds who use roads in and around DC; all of us DC government employees are at work today.

I am at work as well. But considering that the feds are not working, there is much less congestion on other roads. So, that should work out fine.

by Jasper on Oct 2, 2013 10:34 am • linkreport

@ by Jasper on Oct 2, 2013 10:19 am: Please change your name. There is already a Jasper here.

Also @ Jasper (not me):If NPS rangers, maintenance and even Park Police are furloughed or stretched thin, yet facilities remain open and an accident happens, someone will probably try to make a lawsuit out of it.

What is there is a car crash?

by Jasper on Oct 2, 2013 10:35 am • linkreport

Hains Point is closed. So is CCT, but still had dozens of bikers and walkers this morning.

For those who advocate removing the barriers: please do not. The NPS appears to accept that we will use the CCT and ignore the barriers. But actively messing with their barriers creates another issue, and might trigger either (a) barriers we cannot get around (b) NPS police.

by SJE on Oct 2, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

What about NPS-owned parkways in the region? Are they closed?

by David on Oct 2, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

So uhhh, there are also people who live in DC, and work neither for the DC Govt, nor the federal Govt. Such as myself, who drives to work.

Just wanted to clear that up.

by Kyle-w on Oct 2, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

@Michael - Unfortunately, the part of the gov't that handles FOIA requests also is shut down.

by Anthony on Oct 2, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

I don't think you need a FOIA request to know that the NPS (most likely) considers the trails part of the recreational uses of the park, and therefore something that is currently unavailable. The roads, on the other hand, are part of the transportation network and must remain open.

Especially GW. Alexandria would be a disaster and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to leave my house.

by Another Nick on Oct 2, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

The other reason GW Pkwy is open is that big exit just up river from Chain Bridge Road. -- Need get to/from there real quick...

by Some Ideas on Oct 2, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

Beach Drive should never be open during rush hour. At least the Park ecosystem is getting a tiny break from the tens of thousands of cars that drive up its length every day on trips having absolutely nothing to do with the park's purpose.

by Crickey7 on Oct 2, 2013 6:46 pm • linkreport

I was outright riding on the Mt. Vernon Trail (connecting from the Four Mile Run. I saw dozens of people there. What was closed were the parking lots (at Gravely Point and at that parking lot in Rosslyn where you can go to Roosevelt Island at the end of the trail. I guess they can't really stop somebody from going on the trail (other than physically erecting barriers) nor do they think that it's worth doing so.

However, they can make life unpleasant on the trail. For example, they locked up the portable toilets. I wouldn't be surprised if they also cut off the water pumps and fountains as well.

I think we the cyclists of the DC area should ride on these trails en masse. Let the police try and arrest us - they can't and they won't. And if they try we keep riding. Maybe that will get Congress' attention.

by Jason on Oct 2, 2013 10:32 pm • linkreport

The GWP and BWP (along with the Suitland Parkway) are parts of the National Highway System and are deemed integral links in the transportation system, so they won't be shut down to vehicular traffic.

by Bob on Oct 2, 2013 10:42 pm • linkreport

@Another Nick - I aver that now that major hike/bike trails on federal land such as the GW, CCT, Anacostia Riverwalk, etc. have such increased bike commuter use, they should more and more be considered as actual travel routes akin to highways, and therefore should not be closed during this shutdown period, if they are closed now, that is. As opposed to simply being recreational routes.

by DaveG on Oct 3, 2013 2:40 am • linkreport


I'd love to see Beach Drive closed more and to have RCP be less of a commuter way. But it's unrealistic -- it would turn Conn. Ave., Reno Rd. and 16th St. into even more of traffic-choked parking lots than they are today. I don't know how this problem gets solved. At least the NPS (and finally, a majority of the DC council) took a stand against rebuilding Klingle Road to traffic and thereby putting more traffic into the park.

by Jasper2 on Oct 3, 2013 9:23 am • linkreport

Around 2 PM October 2, 2013, Wed, a Capitol Hill police car was driving back from Mt. Vernon towards DC along the Mt. Vernon parkway. Perhaps they were sent to help reopen the parking lots?

At the same time, a man was driving down the Parkway removing barriers from the smaller parking lots. The larger ones are locked by barriers.

by Mark Tenney on Oct 3, 2013 9:38 am • linkreport

Rode from Bethesda all the way down to Mt. Vernon yesterday using CCT, Rock Creek pkwy and Mt. Vernon trails and back to Bethesda. Saw 2 US park police cars near DCA while 100s of bikers, runners and walkers were going by them.

by Nid on Oct 6, 2013 8:03 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us