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Posts about Walkability

Retail


Walkability's next hurdle in Van Ness: A Chick-fil-A drive-thru

Chick-fil-A has plans to put a drive-thru store on Connecticut Avenue in Van Ness. But neighbors are saying the site's business plan doesn't mesh with the neighborhood's aspirations to be more walkable.


Rendering of the Chick-fil-A proposal. Except where noted, all images from DDOT public space permit application.

Chick-fil-A plans to take over the property at 4422 Connecticut Avenue NW, just north of the UDC campus and Van Ness Metro station.

Today, the space is occupied by a Burger King, which also operates a lightly-used drive-thru. The site is sandwiched between a dry cleaners and a heavily-trafficked car wash that already caters to Maryland commuters, causing traffic backups on Connecticut Avenue spilling over to nearby Albemarle Street.

Plans for the Chick-fil-A site include a new sidewalk cafe enclosed by a low retaining wall where today there is unappealing empty pavement, new landscaping and signage, and a renovation of the existing driveway.


Rendering showing the proposed sidewalk seating.


Today's existing conditions.

Neighbors are up in arms over the Chick-fil-A proposal. They see a popular driver-oriented fast food restaurant as decided step backward for the neighborhood. Van Ness has made significant progress toward being a more walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.

In the past few years, neighbors have established Van Ness Main Streets to fight for better walkability, a suburban-style parking-in-front shopping center has redeveloped across the street from the Burger King, and UDC built a new student union that bring will bring to life dead pedestrian plaza once the landscaping is ready.

Increased traffic volume is the problem, for people and cars alike

At the heart of the concern are Chick-fil-A estimates that the drive-thru will see three times as much traffic as Burger King does today. That's more than 90 vehicles per hour during its projected busiest period, Saturdays at midday.

Most of those 90-plus vehicles will be crossing the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk twice (entering and exiting the drive-thru). If Chick-fil-A can keep the line moving, that means a vehicle will be traversing the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk roughly three times per minute, roughly tripling the odds of pedestrian/motorist conflict.

If Chick-fil-A doesn't keep the line moving, it could see traffic backups similar to, or compounding, the ones that are already happening today at the car wash.


On sunny weekends, the line for Flagship Car Wash wraps around the block. (Left: The line at Connecticut Avenue; Right: The line continuing on Albemarle.) Photo from Forest Hills Connection.

In response to the expected traffic increases, Chick-fil-A presented a detailed traffic study and plan to ANC3F at its February 23 meeting. To keep traffic from backing up onto Connecticut Avenue at the busiest times, it would send out employees armed with tablet computers to take orders, collect payments and deliver food to waiting motorists.

In a perfect world, the plan might work. But new Chick-fil-A stores have caused significant traffic chaos in other communities. Bellevue, Washington, had to change traffic patterns and hire police to handle all the business that a new Chick-fil-A attracted.

And while Chick-fil-A presented this plan for dealing with auto traffic, so far, it hasn't addressed concerns about conflicts with pedestrian traffic.

Chick-fil-A's drive-thru plan depends on moving cars into and out of the drive-thru quickly. The chain's drive-thru in suburbs and exurbs rarely have to deal with pedestrians, if at all. But here, drivers will have to wait to turn into the drive-thru and wait again upon exiting for an opening not only in car traffic but in pedestrian traffic.

DDOT will weigh in on the issue

As is standard process for many projects across the District, to move forward with its plans, Chick-fil-A has applied to the DDOT public space committee for two use-of-public-space permits. One permit covers the elements making up the sidewalk cafe seating. The other permit covers the plans to close, renovate, and reopen the driveway. The committee is currently scheduled to hear the application on March 24.


Inset of driveway plan from public space permit application.

Residents have started a petition against Chick-fil-A's plans, and ANC3F has voted unanimously to oppose Chick-fil-A's application for the driveway. 3F's resolution calls on DDOT's Public Space Committee to reject Chick-fil-A's application, as "A busy drive-thru in the neighborhood now would represent a major step backward."

DDOT's design standards on minimum distances between driveways represent what may be the strongest argument for the ANC and other voices in the community to advocate against the drive-thru.

The DDOT public space committee could deny the driveway permit thanks to it not meeting the minimum distance requirement. But they could also choose to approve the permit. Ultimately in situations like this one, the committee is the final decision-making body, and has discretion to weigh whatever arguments for and against the permit however it likes.

A version of this post first ran on Forest Hills Connection.

Pedestrians


Walkers were left out in the cold after the blizzard

If you try to walk around in many parts of our region, particularly in the suburbs, it's easy to get the feeling that you're an afterthought, at best. Governments' actions in the recent "Snowzilla" blizzard show even more clearly how being "multimodal" is more lip service than reality.


Photo by Fionnuala Quinn.

In Fairfax County, sidewalks in neighborhoods and along major arterial roads were impassable a week or more after the storm. Schools in Fairfax, Arlington and other jurisdictions closed for seven consecutive weekdays, putting many parents in a bind. Children lacked safe routes to school and safe places to wait for buses.

This was no simple issue of having to prioritize; as Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova told residents, the Virginia Department of Transportation, which plows all of Fairfax's public roads, was not going to clear the sidewalks, and the county had no plan to either.

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

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Transit


Walking and transit score high in Virginia's transportation rankings

Scores that evaluate transportation projects in Virginia recently came out, and many of the highest belong to projects focused on walking and transit. That's because they provide the most bang for taxpayers' bucks.


West Broad Street and Oak Street in downtown Falls Church. Image from Google Maps.

In Northern Virginia, projects that focused on improving walking conditions and transit service came out on top in statewide rankings for cost-effectiveness. These included:

  • Sidewalk work in downtown Falls Church between Park Avenue and Broad Street (#2 statewide)
  • More marketing of transit and carpooling in the I-66/Silver Line corridor (#3)
  • Improving crossings at several intersections on Broad Street in downtown Falls Church, including at Oak Street (pictured above) (#8)
Passed in 2014, a state law commonly known as HB2 requires Virginia's Department of Transportation to use an objective and quantitative system to score transportation projects. The idea is to make planning more transparent, but high score doesn't guarantee funding nor does a low score preclude it.

In the most recent rankings, 287 transportation projects from across the state received two different scores, one based on the total projected benefit and one based on the benefit divided by the total funding request.

Each of the projects above would cost between $500,000 and $1 million, while most other projects would cost many times that amount. For total project benefits, the addition of High-Occupancy/Toll lanes to I-66 outside the Beltway has the highest score, but it requires a $600 million public investment.

Here's more detail about the law

Virginia law requires that "congestion relief" be the primary metric in scoring projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Scores also account for a project's environmental impacts, how it fits with local land use plans, and what it might do for economic development.

Three agencies developed the evaluation system: Virginia Department of Transportation, the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, the and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The agencies have posted a wealth of data on the HB2 website. You can search for projects in various ways, including by jurisdiction. Data points such as whether or not a project has bicycle facilities, and how it is coordinated with nearby development projects, are posted in an easily navigable format.

What do you think of the analyses? Is there a project in your area that scores higher or lower than you would have expected?

Roads


Reston wants urban street grids around future Metro stations

Fairfax County wants to make it easier to walk, bike, and drive in Reston, especially to current and planned Silver Line stations. A new street grid and three ways to cross the Dulles Toll Road are part of the plan to make that happen.


Image from Fairfax County

The county's Department of Transportation recently kicked off the Reston Network Analysis, which is focused on finalizing the grid of streets necessary to support the coming development around three new Metro stations in Reston.

Ideas for near the stations include new bike lanes, adjusted traffic signals, and re-striped roads, as well as realigned or wider roads. It's also possible that Fairfax will build new roads in these areas.


Proposed bike facilities in Reston. Image from Fairfax County.

One of the Reston-wide improvements is the Soapstone Drive Overpass , which will provide another connection across the Dulles Toll Road and a new way to get to the Wiehle-Reston East station.

There will also be a Town Center Parkway Underpass to provide an additional connection across the Dulles Toll Road to help relieve Fairfax County Parkway and Reston Parkway. It will also provide a direct connection from the transit-oriented developments to the north and south of the Reston Town Center station.

A November presentation also mentioned a South Lakes Drive Overpass. The connection would be similar to the Soapstone over pass, allowing for pedestrian, bikes, single-occupancy-vehicles and busses to cross the Dulles Toll Road without using Wiehle Avenue or Hunter Mill Road.


The Reston Transportation Study Area. Image from Fairfax County.

The study will also look at ways to improve four specific areas: Reston Parkway from Lawyers Road to Baron Cameron Avenue; Fairfax County Parkway at Spring Street; Fairfax County Parkway at Sunrise Valley Drive; and Rock Hill Bridge, which connects Loudoun County and Fairfax County over the Dulles Toll Road.

These areas are under consideration because they are important parts of Reston's transportation network and are currently over capacity or will be after the redevelopment around the Metro stations occurs. The study will also look at how to make it easier to bike and walk in these areas.

The Hunter Mill Supervisor has appointed the Reston Network Analysis Advisory Group to help staff develop and test ways to make the street grids better.

In 2015, the Fairfax Department of Transportation presented a report that summarized existing conditions by looking at traffic counts from mid-2015. Among the key findings in the report:

  1. During evening commutes, the intersection of Wiehle and Sunset Hills rates an "F" for level of service
  2. The planned grid of streets will make pedestrian access and mobility near transit stations better
  3. The report also published baseline vehicle volume levels near current and future Silver Line stations
For future trips that come from more density around the coming Metro stations, the goal is to cut vehicle trips within a quarter mile of the stations by 45%.

Members of the public can learn about and comment on the project at a meeting on Monday, February 1 from 7-9 pm at Lake Anne Elementary School, which is at 11510 North Shore Drive in Reston. You can also contact project manager Kristin Calkins at Kristin.Calkins@fairfaxcounty.gov.

Pedestrians


Pedestrian deaths tripled in Fairfax County. Bad road design didn't help.

Eleven people on foot died in crashes in Fairfax County in 2015. That continues a rising trend since 2012, when the number was just four. What's going on?

NBC4 reporter Adam Tuss talked to some people about what's going on. A leading hypothesis in the story is that more people are walking around. That seems likely, but one element is missing: how poorly Fairfax's roads are designed for walking.

A number of people in the story talk about newcomers. One driver says, "I definitely worry about people who aren't from here," who try to cross when they don't have the light or not at a crosswalk. The subtext sure sounded like, "... people aren't familiar with the way we haven't designed roads for pedestrians in Fairfax County."

Just look at this intersection where Tuss is standing, the corner of Gallows Road and Route 29. It's about 0.6 miles from the Dunn Loring Metro station. And it's huge.


Image from Tuss' report.

That Target is part of the Mosaic District, which was designed to be walkable and transit-oriented. The interior is beautiful, but to get there from Metro requires walking along a not-very-hospitable sidewalk on 6- to 8-lane wide Gallows, and then crossing this monstrosity, 9 lanes on both Gallows and 29.

VDOT widened both roads in 2011 in a project billed to "increase safety, reduce congestion and enhance bicycle and pedestrian access," but which prioritized car throughput over other considerations. (This recent article from Joe Cortright effectively summarizes the mindset that would let VDOT think this would "increase safety.")

At least there are sidewalks, though, and you can legally walk directly along the road. That's not always true elsewhere in the county, like at Tysons Corner. Some sides of many intersections there were never designed for people to cross on foot. Only a lot of people are, now that Metro goes there.


Tysons Corner. Photo by Ken Archer.

Lucy Caldwell of Fairfax Police told Tuss, "We have situations that have occurred near Metro [stations], where people sometimes don't want to take that extra few minutes, and they cross where they shouldn't be crossing." If someone has to walk a few minutes farther to cross a road, most of all near a Metro station, you haven't designed it right.

To its credit, Fairfax officials are trying to gradually fix these spots, but there's a long way to go.

Public Spaces


When "aging in place" efforts extend beyond the elderly, everyone benefits

Across the region, grassroots efforts are underway to make it easier for elderly people to independently take care of errands and chores. But one group is recognizing the importance of mitigating these kinds of challenges for people of all ages.


College students help serve dinner at a meal hosted by Glover Park Village. Photo by Street Sense on Flickr.

Trips the doctor, food shopping, yard work, snow shoveling, and going to social events are all examples of things that can get harder as residents age or sustain long or short-term disabilities. Not having a way to do these things can cause people to live in isolation, eat poorly, worry a lot, and have a generally lower quality of life.

While residents sometimes ask for help from neighbors when they can't do it all independently, volunteers often step in and help.

This is commonly referred to as "aging in place," but more recently, "aging in community" has become the preferred term because "community" reflects the value of strong and fulfilling bonds that keep people engaged.

In 2010, Glover Park Citizens' Association president Patricia Clark and a team of volunteers formed the Golden Glovers to formalize efforts to help seniors age in community, like seminars, financial counseling, and end of life care. Before they even got started, though, they widened their scope to include everyone in their community, recognizing that young and old residents alike face both temporary and permanent conditions that could force them away from independent living.

Very soon after it formed, the organization shed "Golden" from its name and started calling itself Glover Park Village because, as a participant in Washington Area Villages Exchange (WAVE) it wanted to apply the larger organization's "village" concept.

Glover Park Village offers tons of different services

Glover Park Village offers a broad range of services to make independent living more feasible. Some residents need a helping hand with yard work, small fix-it projects and help using tools or computers. Sometimes volunteers help with taking winter clothes out of storage and decluttering living space. They also take people for walks, help with paperwork, and simply pay friendly visits.

Others residents request transportation to medical appointments, prescription pickup, mailing packages or grocery shopping. In those cases, Clark explained that the drive itself isn't always why someone requests a ride to the doctor. Walking to and from parking spaces on both ends of the trip adds additional complexity, making a door-to-door drive more feasible.

Still others are interested in the home visits and seminars for the companionship and social interaction. Glover Park Village hosts regular gatherings with guest speakers, and attendees often say that simply getting together as a community means as much as the speaker's topic.

Really, Glover Park Village volunteers do just about everything except personal medical care. Addressing the situations of those they help is often more like peeling layers of an onion than fixing a single problem, according to Clark.

"One neighbor needs an eye operation," Clark says. "Then, he stays at home at least a week to recover. Transportation to and from the surgery is only part of his concern. We're working with him to plan his meals and volunteers to keep him company. Before he schedules the surgery, he wants to see and feel comfortable about his daily routine."

Glover Park Village has been running for five years now

At its five year anniversary, Glover Park Village boasts over 100 volunteers, including a pool of 20-30 available drivers, and provides services to over 100 residents. Glover Park Village currently gets its funding from donations, not charging a dime for its services or events.

When Glover Park Village formed, the GPCA and ANC3B provided nearly $10,000 over a three year period for early operating expenses such as background checks for volunteers, insurance, website, database, printing and postage. Now organization, currently relying on resident donations and volunteer efforts, is self-sustaining. The volunteers report that they appreciate their own opportunity to strengthen the community and connect with fellow residents.

Glover Park Village works with residents of more than just Glover Park. It has triangle shaped borders, with Glover-Archbold Park to the west, Whitehaven Parkway to the south and Massachusetts Avenue to the east—that means it covers Glover Park, Cathedral Heights, Massachusetts Avenue Heights, the Naval Observatory, and other nearby areas.

And in fact, neighborhoods across our region run a network of 48 villages that meet quarterly through WAVE to discuss issues such as end of life care, hospital discharges and financial liability. The DC Office on Aging organizes four seminars annually on topics relevant to villages.

Ultimately, the village movement is about more than senior citizens needing a ride. It's a reflection of how neighbors organize to identify needs of individual residents living independently, resolve quality of life issues and build livable communities.

Transit


Metro will run bare-bones service Monday; local officials urge people to stay off the roads

Metro will run extremely, extremely limited (and free) service Monday. Meanwhile, local jurisdictions are working to plow roads, and DC is recruiting people to help shovel sidewalks. What do you think of the region's snow recovery efforts?


Metrorail service Monday. Map by Peter Dovak. Click for full version.

We're doing our own shoveling and so forth, but want to let members of our community discuss the latest in the snow dig-out.

WMATA just announced there will be service every 20-25 minutes Monday on just underground parts of the Red Line (Medical Center to Union Station), Orange Line (Ballston to Eastern Market) and Green Line (Fort Totten to Anacostia).

Buses will run a "lifeline service" of a vehicle every 30 minutes only on 22 lines: the 32, 33, 36, 53, 70, 90, A6, A8, S4, U8, V4, and X2 in DC; the C4, D12, K6, P12, Q2, Y2, and Z8 in Maryland; and the 16A, 16E, and 28A in Virginia.

Metro won't charge any fares on the rail or bus.


Photo by Ryan McKnight on Flickr.

Officials say don't drive or walk yet

DC officials are urging people to stay off the roads unless necessary. Anyone who tries to drive and ends up blocking a major road could face a $750 fine. Many sidewalks are still impassable on foot, which has led to some people walking in the street.

Some officials have responded by urging people not to walk in the streets; others have responded by pointing out that many have little choice. The Bowser administration has been pleading with residents to volunteer to shovel out others who can't do it.

What are you observing? What do you think of the region's snow response so far?

Transit


These two Prince George's neighborhoods show how bike trails help neighborhoods

Riverdale Park and East Riverdale are two neighboring communities just east of Hyattsville in Prince George's County. One is thriving while the other has struggled. One reason could be that the Riverdale Park is near bike trails, while East Riverdale is blocked from them.


Riverdale Park and East Riverdale. Image by Dan Reed. Base map from ESRI, with boundaries from the Census Bureau.

As part of an effort to extend the WB&A Trail south toward DC, Bike Maryland and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association studied property values and housing patterns in several Prince George's county neighborhoods. The large differences in property values between neighborhoods with close proximity to bike trails and other nearby communities with few non-car transport options was striking.

As part of the study, the organization divided whole communities into those that have good access to trails (Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, Edmonston) and those that have poor bike access or are otherwise "carlocked" by major uncrossable roads (Woodlawn, East Riverdale, Landover Hills). They also looked at properties within 200 meters of a bike facility and those beyond 200m of a bike facility, both within communities and overall.


A heat map of bike infrastructure in Prince George's County. The area where Bike Maryland and WABA want to expand the WB&A Trail is circled in yellow. Image from Bike Maryland.

Two neighboring communities highlight the contrasts

For example, let's compare East Riverdale, where there is no safe place to bike or walk, either for recreation or for commuting and utility, with Riverdale Park, where there are far more options.

Riverdale is a burgeoning community with a lively farmer's market, a nascent craft beer scene, a weekly blues jam, and easy walking and bike access to the new Hyattsville Arts district and a revitalized Route 1, which has several new restaurants. A trendy new development anchored by a Whole Foods market is under construction just north of town.

But East Riverdale, which is just across Route 201, has been designated as a Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative community, meaning it faces "significant economic, health, public safety and educational challenges."


Riverdale Park. Base image from Google Maps.


East Riverdale. Base image from Google Maps.

Median housing values are more than $30,000 higher in Riverdale Park ($246,200) than in East Riverdale ($215,500), and assessments are about $50,000 higher ($215,800 in Riverdale Park vs. $163,700 in East Riverdale). Riverdale Park's value per acre ($995,000) is nearly 10 percent higher than East Riverdale's ($908,000).

Houses in East Riverdale are actually newer and larger than those in Riverdale Park. East Riverdale also has more single-family housing and fewer buildings with large numbers of units, there's more owner-occupied housing, and its houses have more rooms; all of these things are often associated with higher home values.

The demographic characteristics of the residents in Riverdale Park and East Riverdale are similar, with approximately half of the residents of Hispanic of Latino heritage (48% in Riverdale Park vs. 53% in East Riverdale). Downtown Riverdale Park has a MARC commuter rail station with some charming pre-WWII homes and cottages nearby, although the commercial area around it seemed relatively lifeless and contained several abandoned buildings until recently. On balance, looking at individual street views of East Riverdale's and Riverdale Park's housing stocks, it is certainly not obvious that East Riverdale would have dramatically lower housing values.

It's quite possible that the reason Riverdale Park is being revitalized while East Riverdale has struggled economically goes back to basic community design: East Riverdale's layout forces residents to drive everywhere, and residents can't easily walk to the market or ride their bikes to work.

Meanwhile, as younger residents who are not particularly attached to driving look for affordable place to live, Riverdale Park is a more attractive choice. The new energy attracted to the neighborhood creates an upward cycle of renovation.

To note: The comparison data on the housing characteristics and demographics of households in East Riverdale and Riverdale come from the US Census American Community Survey (ACS) for 2009-2013. Tax valuation data are from PG Atlas, gathered in June and July of 2015.

Can transit turn East Riverdale around?


Caption: East Riverdale is Blocked from the Anacostia Tributary Trails by a Major Highway, MD Route 201; map by Google maps.

It's possible that the Purple Line, which will affect East Riverdale more than Riverdale Park, may switch economic momentum back to the east over the next 10 or 20 years. The Purple Line and its feeder walks and bike routes (if any) should make it easier to get around without a car.

Granted, a more desirable neighborhood layout, with more transportation options, will attract higher income residents, who, in turn, attract more businesses and amenities, making the neighborhood even more desirable in an self-reinforcing cycle. It is very difficult, and can be a fool's errand, to try to accurately say that any one item makes a neighborhood more or less desirable when every contributing factor is related to every other!

But we certainly want to make county leaders aware of the fact that the carlocked neighborhoods in Prince George's County contribute much less per acre to county's tax rolls than trail-accessible neighborhoods. We hope our county will agree to build more great bike trails in the county and thereby test our hypothesis that unlocking carlocked neighborhoods could lift whole communities!

Public Spaces


The National Zoo will be open for 1,000 fewer hours in 2016

Starting in 2016, the National Zoo's grounds will be open for three fewer hours per day. Beyond not having as many chances to see the animals, the change means people who use the Zoo to walk and exercise early in the morning or late in the afternoon won't be able to anymore.


Photo by m01229 on Flickr.

Year-round, the Zoo will open two hours later and close one hour earlier than it does now. That means it will open at 8 am instead of 6, and close at 5 pm in winter and 7 pm the rest of the year rather than the current 6 pm in winter and 8 pm otherwise. The later opening will allow the animal house buildings to open at 9 am, one hour earlier each day than they are now.

The changed hours are the equivalent of the Zoo shutting its doors 7.5 days a month compared to the current winter schedule.

There's more to the Zoo than animals in buildings. When it's open, residents walk through the grounds for fitness or relaxation before and after work or school. The Zoo grounds provide a direct east-west connection, especially for pedestrians. Also, a section of the Rock Creek Trail runs though the Zoo.

In an email to members earlier this month, the Zoo cited visitor and animal safety as the primary reason for this change, particularly when it gets dark on shorter fall and winter days. Not having the public on the grounds will also allow Zoo staff and vendors "to move freely around the park during early morning hours."

What's unclear, however, is the degree to which new safety measures are actually needed.

The Zoo is great in the early morning and late afternoon

Congress chartered the Zoo for "the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people," and some of its wonderful sights and sounds only happen outside during early morning hours. Visitors can watch the Zoo staff introduce new orangutans to the overhead "O Line" when there aren't many people around, or hear sea lions bark or lions roar.

Nearby resident and Zoo member, Sheila Harrington, describes the value for her family of accessing the grounds prior to the Zoo's planned 8 am opening.

I've been walking in the Zoo early in the morning, before starting work, often 2-3 times a week (unless it's freezing or pouring), for decades. My husband used to visit the gibbons with each of our babies in a Snugli, and bonded with the mother gibbons similarly burdened. When the children were in strollers they rode along on my walks—up and down those hills pushing a stroller is a great workout. It's quiet, mostly without vehicles, and the animals are lively and fascinating. Sometimes I stop to sketch. The Zoo staff are usually working on some interesting tasks. Opening at 8 am would be too late because I need to get to work!

The Zoo is a useful travel route across Rock Creek

The paths and roads that the Zoo maintains also fulfill transportation needs, intended or not. The Zoo's 163 acres are directly adjacent to Rock Creek Park, an area with somewhat limited routes through the parkland.

When the Zoo closes its grounds in the evening, there are two big negative impacts to transportation. First, four Zoo entrance gates close across walking paths and roads that normally allow direct east-west (or west-east) routes into and through the Zoo for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers (yellow marks on the map below). Second, two gates close at the two ends of the north-south Rock Creek Trail within Zoo boundaries (green marks).


The yellow dots are entrances to east-west paths that cut through the Zoo, and the green dots are entrances to those that run north-south. Base image from Google Maps, with labels from the author.

Whether the four Zoo entrance gates are open affects anyone who wants to travel across the Zoo and Rock Creek at this point. Pedestrians can walk just 0.8 miles to get from the Harvard Street NW bridge through the Zoo to Connecticut Avenue NW. But the walk doubles to 1.5-1.6 miles when the Zoo is closed when they have to walk around to Porter Street NW or Calvert Street NW. The distance similarly doubles for cyclists and drivers when they have to use Calvert or Porter instead of North Road.

When the two trail gates close, pedestrians and cyclists instead need to traverse the Beach Drive tunnel on a narrow sidewalk. (This area will be widened in late 2016 and early 2017 by planned NPS construction.) DDOT, NPS and the Zoo explored closing Rock Creek Trail at night during the Rock Creek Park Multi-Use Trail Environmental Assessment. Trail users want to see it open 24/7, but Zoo insists this is infeasible "in order to maintain ... accreditation by the American Zoological and Aquarium Association (AZA)."


The November Project DC, a "just show up" fitness group, did its Friday
6:30 am exercises on the Zoo grounds. Photo by tusabeslo on Flickr.

Safety issues? What safety issues?

Zoo users are both surprised and disappointed by the change to fewer open hours. They're also still unsure of what, exactly, the safety issue is because the Zoo did not release the crime or safety data used to support its decision or identify any potential alternatives.

Media coverage on crime at or near the National Zoo has focused on incidents that occurred on three separate Easter Monday events at the Zoo. A shooting in 2000, stabbing in 2011 and shooting in 2014 all occurred in late afternoon between 4 and 6 pm. These events were unfortunate, but they were isolated, and they happened in late April when even the new Zoo hours would mean it'd be open until 7.

Zoo management has historically been great about keeping up a dialog with members, visitors and nearby neighborhoods on an array of issues. But the Zoo hasn't shared any details with the public regarding this decision. Even the announcement only went to members by email and on the public website, not appearing on any of the Zoo's active social media accounts.

Warren Gorlick, a nearby resident, said he wants to know the exact safety concerns that warrant the hours changes.

There is not much we know, however, because the [letter] ... was carefully worded to provide almost no details as to the underlying rationale. It simply mentioned "safety" issues repeatedly, without stating what they were or whether the zoo had considered methods other than restricting public access to the zoo. We have to wonder what is causing this sudden concern about "safety" right now that would result in such a major cutback in public access to this space.
Can Zoo users prompt a change of course?

Zoo users want to understand whether closing the Zoo is the best solution to keep visitors, staff and animals safe, but the Zoo's email is correct in saying the change will "frustrate" some patrons. The closure of Zoo grounds three hours a day represents a significant change in public access to the animals and walking trails. The plan to add one hour of animal house access during hours when the grounds were open anyway doesn't outweigh the overall reduction to grounds access.

What remains to be seen is whether the Zoo will share details behind the safety concerns. There may be other options through sponsorships to support hiring more security staff, partnerships with other law enforcement agencies or even establishing community watch groups. Without more information, we only see the locked gates in the name of keeping visitors safely on the outside.


Photo by Tim Herrick on Flickr.

The Woodley Park Community Association will host Dennis Kelly, the Zoo's director, at its upcoming meeting for a discussion of the Zoo operating hours changes. The meeting is open to the public and will be held on Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 7:30 pm at Stanford University in the Washington Building (2661 Connecticut Ave NW).

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