ANCs suggest closing parkway to cars in front of Kennedy Center

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The proposal would reserve the Rock Creek Parkway for bicyclists and pedestrians from Virginia Avenue NW south to below the Roosevelt Bridge. (Brian Kapur/The Current/October 2017)

A nearly forgotten proposal to block motor vehicles from a stretch of Rock Creek Parkway near the Kennedy Center is under fresh consideration, with community leaders in Foggy Bottom and Georgetown requesting a study of the idea.

First conceived in 2003, the proposal would use Interstate 66 as a bypass in order to divert most or all parkway traffic between Virginia Avenue NW and a point just south of the Roosevelt Bridge. Proponents say the change — whether implemented temporarily by using low-cost measures or permanently by altering some roadways — would create a safe, appealing area for pedestrians and bicyclists to get from Georgetown to the National Mall; free up riverfront access to and from the performing arts center; and relieve widespread traffic congestion caused by drivers who could easily take an alternate route.

“I always thought it was a waste — the fact that you had all this freeway sitting behind the Kennedy Center, and you have Rock Creek Parkway being used as a commuter route,” William Kennedy Smith, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A (Foggy Bottom, West End), told The Current. “It seemed to be that we weren’t taking advantage of the road that was there.”

Smith helped revive the idea earlier this year, winning recent support from his colleagues at ANC 2A as well as ANC 2E (Georgetown, Burleith). The two commissions have passed resolutions urging the D.C. Department of Transportation to allocate $500,000 to study the bypass concept in its 2018-2022 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, funding that wasn’t included in the agency’s draft document.

Sam Zimbabwe, chief project delivery officer at the Transportation Department, said at ANC 2E’s meeting on Monday that while the agency was considering the idea of a bypass study, identifying money by 2018 may not be feasible.

Foundations for a Rock Creek bypass were laid in 2003, when the Kennedy Center conducted several studies evaluating its feasibility and environmental impacts. New evaluations would build on this information, Smith said, but the groundwork is there.

Advocates for closing the Rock Creek Parkway in front of the Kennedy Center say it would smooth traffic farther north. (Brian Kapur/The Current/October 2017)

Will Handsfield, transportation director at the Georgetown Business Improvement District, said the bypass would ease traffic — which currently backs up into Georgetown from the stoplight at Rock Creek Parkway and Virginia Avenue — and restore the Kennedy Center waterfront for public use. In Handsfield’s analysis, Interstate 66 and Virginia Avenue are more than sufficient to handle the extra volume.

ANC 2E unanimously supported the funding at its Oct. 30 meeting, as had ANC 2A on a 5-0 vote Oct. 18.

“The current configuration doesn’t really work,” ANC 2A chair Patrick Kennedy said in an interview. “It’s kind of a no-brainer.”

The cost of a bypass was estimated at $20 million in 2003, which has climbed to $32 million today based on inflation. Because the project includes National Park Service land, it is a candidate for federal funding.

“That budget seems well justified by the potential benefits of the project in addressing longstanding roadway congestion and freeing up strategically placed riverfront land for public use,” ANC 2A’s Oct. 18 resolution states.