The Future of Beach Drive
By Tej Mehta
Beach Drive has been a staple of Natural Highways bike routes passing through D.C; we are grateful to be able to use the road to ride out of the city via Rock Creek Park. We especially enjoy the sections of road that are closed to cars, offering a safe way to enjoy road biking in the city.
For those unfamiliar with Beach Drive, it is a roughly 10 mile stretch of road that connects Northwest DC to Garrett Park, Maryland. It is known for offering a scenic pass through the Rock Creek Park.
The 4.3 mile section of closed road
Beach Drive has recently been the center of attention as the National Park Service considers a long term management plan for sections of Beach Drive that have been closed to automobile traffic since the pandemic.
The upper portion of Beach Drive, from Broad Branch Drive to the DC-Maryland line, has been closed to cars since April 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Bikers, walkers, runners, and even cross country roller skiers have flocked to the park in the past two years to enjoy the tree covered closed sections.
Currently, the National Park Service sees a seasonal closure as the best option moving forward - keeping the section of road closed daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and only closed on weekends and holidays for the rest of the year.
Opinion on the future of Beach Drive is divided:
On one hand, some believe that since it is a road running through a park, recreational users should be prioritized, which would support the case for a year round closure. Additionally, bicycle commuting advocates support year round closure to allow those riding a bike to work or school to benefit from the car-free road even in winter months.
On the other hand, some believe that traffic from Beach Drive would get diverted to local neighborhoods, creating unnecessary car traffic in residential zones. The National Park Service also points out that the closure “has increased the creation of informal, unofficial trails, which can cause natural resource damage”, as park visitors are able to access areas previously unsafe or inconvenient to reach. The NPS hopes their compromise, closing the road only during the summer months offers a solution to this problem as during the summer increased vegetation in forested areas deters the creation of such informal trails.
I personally use Beach Drive for recreation, so I can’t speak much about the commuting and
residential concerns surrounding the road closure. However, the idea that Beach Drive is a park road and therefore park/recreational usage should be prioritized does speak to me the most. Parks are built as spaces for residents to enjoy, so those who want to enjoy a walk, bike, or run in the woods should be prioritized.
If you feel especially passionate about this issue, consider leaving a comment for the National Park Service to review. They are considering comments on the topic until August 11, 2022.