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With the spring upon us (hopefully soon!), runners, walkers, and bikers will flock to our dearest Rock Creek Park -- which, if we’re honest here, could use a little love. With sharp turns, deep crevices, bumpy spots, and thin, winding lanes, the park trail just isn’t built properly to host the thousands of DC residents who come to it for activity.
Which is why the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) has recently ramped up its ten-year efforts to repave and revamp Rock Creek Park.
“This is one of WABA’s #1 causes for our membership right now,” said WABA Advocacy Coordinator Greg Billing. “We need people to rally behind us.”
WABA is hoping that through its online petition, enough community pressure will be applied to the National Park Service (NPS), the Rock Creek Park management, and the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) that the three forces will work together to make positive change happen in the park.
As this detailed timeline shows, biker- and runner-friendly modifications have been planned for the park’s trail since the late 1980s. Although official funds and a game plan for construction was released more than ten years ago, disagreements between Rock Creek Park management and DDOT have led to major delays in progress.
“The funds are there,” said Billing. “We just need the organizations to take agree on something and take action.”
The main argument between the agencies is the width of the trail. Although most trail standards nationwide indicate that trails should be at least 10 feet wide, Rock Creek Park stands at 8 feet wide. DDOT is okay with widening the trail; Rock Creek Park is not, due to environmental reasons.
In 2011, a compromise was reached. The agreement (a draft environmental assessment) stated that the majority of the trail would be repaved to ten feet wide, with certain environmentally special portions left at eight feet. Other changes, such as widening sharp turns and smoothing out bumpy/sunken spots, are also planned. One major pain point that WABA hopes will be resolved is the dangerous, narrow footpath under the traffic tunnel by the National Zoo.
To move forward with actual implementation, a second and final environmental assessment must be completed -- and that assessment has yet to take place. Hopefully the petition will change that, and convince NPS, Rock Creek Park, and DDOT to move forward, says Billing.
Unfortunately, even if the planned changes do go through, they likely won’t fix all of Rock Creek Park’s problems. According to Billing, the changes drafted in the compromise reached more than five years ago are now slightly outdated.
“The fixes imagined by NPS and DDOT are from 2005 and 2006. Those fixes would have barely worked then, and will work even less now,” Billing said. “We have thousands more people on the trail now than we did then.”
Still, some progress is better than none. Sign the WABA petition to help our beloved Rock Creek Park become a safer place to run, walk, and bike.