As most COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted in the D.C. area, one remains that's at the center of a debate. At issue: whether to reopen a popular commuter route through Rock Creek Park that's been closed to cars so it can be used for pedestrians and cyclists during the pandemic.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has asked the National Park Service to keep Beach Drive closed to traffic. On Tuesday, the D.C. Council weighed in, voting nine to four to ask the park service to keep Beach Drive closed.
Beach Drive is a major connector from upper Northwest D.C. to downtown. For the past 13 months, much of the upper portion has only been used by cyclists and people out for a walk or a run in nature.
"I think they should keep it closed," said D.C. resident Sherman Squire. "People can come around, exercise, you know, get a little workout."
The National Park Service closed the road to vehicular traffic last April so people could have a place to get outside while maintaining social distance. Three segments of upper Beach Drive from Broad Branch Road to the Maryland state line have been closed to cars seven days a week. Before the pandemic, a stretch of Beach Drive was only closed on weekends and holidays.
Since the closure, some nearby residents have complained about extra traffic in their neighborhoods.
Neighbors on both sides of the debates have signed online petitions. Hundreds are asking for the road to be reopened to cars, but thousands want it to stay closed.
"I would really oppose reopening it full time, because I bicycle a lot," said Takoma Park resident Mike More. "I bicycle through here all the time, and it’s just a great resource."
"I have sort of mixed feelings," another Takoma Park resident, Bob Robbins, said. "I love walking on it with no cars. But they spent a lot of money just fixing up this road, and they opened it and then they closed it. So that’s a little weird to me, I think."
The park service did not return a request for comment on the Council's vote. In the past, they have said they plan to keep it closed until the state emergency is lifted. That is expected to happen July 25.
A spokesperson for Norton's office said she has not received a reply from the park service either.
An organizer with the group wanting to keep Beach Drive closed said they see Tuesday's Council vote as a big victory, and they hope the Montgomery County Council will follow and urge the park service to keep Beach Drive closed.