Staff Editorial: Idea of closing section of parkway merits careful study

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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)

Geographically, Georgetown is within easy reach of the National Mall — a natural extension of the District’s leading touristic and recreational area, and able to offer the commercial experiences of prime shopping and riverfront dining unavailable around the monuments.

But on a practical level, the neighborhood feels like it’s a bus or car ride away. The Mall’s western end, and all of Foggy Bottom’s riverfront, is taken up by bustling thoroughfares that seem to signal “turn back” to pedestrians or bicyclists approaching from the Lincoln Memorial. A tangle of streets and exit ramps curve every which way, eating up acres of national property while also resulting in confusing traffic patterns and heavy congestion.

To many community leaders in Foggy Bottom and Georgetown, there’s a simple win-win solution: Close the Rock Creek Parkway to motor vehicles around the Kennedy Center — from Virginia Avenue NW to just south of the Roosevelt Bridge. Advocates for this approach say motorists should be diverted to Interstate 66, on the opposite side of the Kennedy Center. They argue that I-66 can take Rock Creek Parkway traffic to the same place; that there’s ample capacity for more vehicles there; and that traffic will flow better if cars go in fewer directions.

Most significantly, this change would allow for an appealing recreation connection from Georgetown to the Mall. Although there’s already a small riverfront trail for pedestrians and cyclists, its capacity is limited and it’s daunting to access that area when cars are flying around in so many directions. The potential is tremendous. Local residents and businesses would benefit greatly from greater integration of the National Mall, Georgetown and Foggy Bottom, but it could also expand the District’s appeal to its national and international tourists.

Advocates are urging the D.C. Department of Transportation to promptly study the feasibility of this plan. We strongly agree the agency should undertake this study expeditiously. If advocates are right, these changes would boost multimodal access; beautify the Potomac waterfront with space for recreation instead of traffic congestion; and link a delightful D.C. neighborhood with the Mall’s world-famous monuments — all while providing a neutral or even positive impact on automobile traffic. These all sound like welcome benefits, but a thorough study is essential to determine whether new traffic nightmares are the more likely scenario.

If the study does uphold proponents’ claims, the lengthy process of implementing this change — which would require extensive local-federal coordination — should begin as quickly as possible. Even with a negative traffic impact, though, the benefits might outweigh that drawback. With a study in hand, officials and the community at large will have the data necessary to make an informed cost-benefit analysis.