Friday Question of the Day – Should Rock Creek Parkway be Rerouted?

Dear PoPville,

I am interested in the city and region getting better use out of their waterfront assets. The city is slowly starting with improvements in Georgetown, Navy Yard, and SW Waterfront, but I think there is more they can do. To help, I think the city should to reroute the Rock Creek Parkway from in front of the Kennedy Center onto existing roads. The existing roads in the area could handle the traffic with a few fairly simple upgrades to the intersections. Then the area north of the Lincoln Memorial and West of the Kennedy Center currently used by Rock Creek Parkway could be converted into parkland for everyone to enjoy. The area under the Kennedy Center overhang could even be used for some creative recreation or retail. I believe this would actually simplify traffic by removing some of the web of confusing roads in this area. I’ve attached a simplified picture showing how the road could be rerouted (pretty straightforward).

I know that there are people that will complain that this cuts off the Kennedy Center even more, but the fact is that Kennedy Center is already cut off. This proposal would do nothing to make that better or worse. Covering the road east of the Kennedy Center to integrate it better with Foggy Bottom could be a longer term goal, but it is expensive and would not happen for may years. This proposal could be done relatively simply and relatively quickly.

Actually, the National Park Service is already working on a plan:

Kennedy Center/Potomac River Pedestrian Access Improvement Project. Under this proposal, FHWA would provide pedestrian access between the Kennedy Center River Terrace and the Potomac Riverfront in Washington, DC; providing a direct link between the Kennedy Center and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway Trail, which is administered by the NPS. The purpose of the project is to improve access between the Kennedy Center River Terrace to the Potomac Riverfront. The action is needed because physical barriers and safety concerns currently discourage pedestrian traffic between these two resources.

In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the NPS and FHWA are preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) to identify alternatives and assess the potential impacts of the proposal. Concurrently, the agencies will conduct consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

So for the FQotD – do you think this will actually happen? If so, when do you think it’ll actually be implemented? Do you think there are other “waterfront assets” that should be improved upon?

82 Comment

  • This is a great idea. I always thought it was the weirdest thing that the city parked trucks on the water in Georgetown. Slowly, we improve.

    • there was a time in pretty much all cities that the water was where you did not want to be. industry, pollution, shipping, stink, funk. turning over that history takes a long time.

  • RCP is the best way to get in and out of the city. The extra “parkland” provided by the 30 feet of roads is negligible. Keep it the way it is! It’s a beautiful parkway.

    • +1. Although they need to figure out a way to get people to slow down. I think the speed limit is 35MPH, but the typical speed of traffic is 45-50. It’s a parkway, not a freeway.

    • +100000. It usually almost doubles my time to get out of the city if I have to use any way other than the Rock Creek Parkway to leave.

      I also wholeheartedly agree about the speed. I usually try to go 40 (only 5 above), especially in the dark, but even in the right lane, people aggressively tailgate me. I hate getting a speeding ticket as much as anyone, but a speed camera or two would probably take care of that problem.

      • Yes, installing speed cameras on RCP would be excellent. As would be some sort of aggressive enforcement of the left turns from the southbound side onto VA Ave. I can’t even count the number of close calls I’ve seen at that intersection when cabbies turn into oncoming traffic.

        I think part of the problem with enforcement is that RCP is a federal road/highway, since it’s part of the National Park system. So I’d guess that DC would have a nearly impossible time installing speed cameras and/or having cops there to do ticketing. Maybe the US Park Police should consider it as a way to raise revenue, haha.

        Anybody else know?

        • I don’t think that’s an issue – I’ve seen mobile speed cameras on the Suitland parkway in the past, and it is maintained by NPS as well.

    • it’s less about the 30 feet of parkland, and more about removing the speeding metal boxes that deter other uses.

      • Correct-o. A narrow park featuring four lanes of speeding traffic is not a park. A quiet stretch of waterfront without traffic is an invaluable urban asset. The proposal does not greatly diminish RC Parkway as an ingress/egress.

    • I agree. Leave it alone. The idea that a retailer would want to go there is ridiculous. Traffic is bad enough in that area, why make it worse. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed but we’ve got A LOT of parkland around the rivers.

    • Amen, for people living in the Petworth area, RCP is absolutely essential and should never be messed with. It is beautiful just the way it is. I read this and was appalled.

    • +1.

      Leave it the way it is. Routing it onto “existing roads” would mean that it would cease to be a fast way to get from point A to point B, and would be stop-and-go traffic with a light every block, just like the rest of the city.

      • it looks like the route the OP suggested has it merging with I-66/E St. Expressway, so I doubt it would effect traffic that much, but I’m no traffic engineer so I certainly could be way off.

    • Thanks for your remark/s – those of you who don’t live in DC – you are really helping us get a new park with that kind of comment.

      City residents favor building a new parks, almost always. Those living elsewhere don’t care. I am not concerned with your commute as much as you are not concerned with life in our city.

      A new park would be great for those living in the city and tourist, not Marylanders or Virginians trying to get out of town at rush hour.

      Silly suburbanites!

      • I live in the city and drive RCP everyday. There’s no quicker way to get across the city, especially during rush hour.

        Aren’t there enough parks in this city already?? Do we really need more space to get a view of the sewage-infested Potomac?

        • i think a lot of people aren’t really looking at the map at all. the rerouting changes very little, but does add a lot of park space.

          would a study have to be done to see if a highway could handle the additional traffic? of course. nothing happens with out that.

          • And how long will the road be shut down for construction? We have better things to spend our money on than making a lot of people miserable. Why not spend the money on hiring more bus drivers or police, or making better schools?

          • 2:32,

            you fix the 66 interchanges first, adjust the signage reroute the traffic well before you actually shut down the southern section of rcp.

            and agreed, i’d rather have more buses and better schools. but we live in a complicated metropolitan environment that can and has to tackle multiple problems at once.

      • Those of us — like the earlier posters — who live in DC sometimes want out of town. Messing with one of the few quick exits to develop a negligible amount of parkland in a corner of the city far from metro and houses and close to acres of existing parkland is, frankly, daft.

        On the other hand, it looks as though the OP wants to build lanes onto the existing 66/E Street mess — and new lanes would be needed — so this may not be daft as it first appears.

      • I live in DC, I don’t own a car, and I still think this is a terrible idea. All of us need to get around town. It seems like there is just a war on getting from point A to point B no matter whether you live in the city or the suburbs. Parks are nice to have, but transportation is as essential as food and water. If one more major road gets shut down for another boutique construction project, I think I’ll just lock myself in the house and order delivery food from now on.

      • Baloney. I live in 16th Street Heights and work in Old Town, Alexandria. RCP to Memorial bridge (and back) is the *only* way to go. The slog is slow @ times, especially in the morning, but it is a breeze if one can slightly avoid peak rush hours.

        Glad your priority is more parkland for yourself at other people’s expense, but for plenty of us, roads — and, gasp, cars! — are necessary to get to work to pay our mortgages. Make it even harder for us to get around and live in the city, and we might have to take our high salaries (and taxes) to the suburbs. .

        Silly hipster urbanite!

        • Wait, so you’re saying you have the free choice to lower your commute time by living and working in the same state and you willingly choose to clog up DC’s infrastructure instead? You must really love drive-time radio.

          Those of us who are urban hipsters are often starting from the value that living where we work creates community and minimizes waste. What is your value? What are you really contributing to DC? Payroll taxes paid by your employer? Let ’em keep it. I’d rather have one fewer person cutting me off as a pedestrian and cyclist and I’d rather see you spending more time with your family, friends and neighbors instead of behind a wheel.

  • ah

    If they could fix the infernal Virginia Ave/Rock Creek Pkwy intersection it would all be worth it, and then some.

    (BTW, from a quick look the map does not seem to account for traffic that goes from current RCP to the Memorial Bridge.)

  • PDleftMtP

    I agree with the impluse, but I’m not sure this is the right place. It’s hard to get there, other than by bike, and East and West Potomac Parks already have a ginormous stretch of underutilized waterfront. Seems to me some serious demolition in Georgetown is the way to make a difference (even if we’re stuck having to leave the Whitehurst in place).

    • PDleftMtP

      Oh wow. I hadn’t clicked through the NPS mumbo-jumbo. Read, and be depressed – that’s an awful lot of pointless work to say “we should think about this.”

  • My first reactions were: “God, please no” and “OP does not have a car.” But I’m not as opposed after looking at that map, and it would be great to get from Roosevelt Bridge to Beach Drive without the Virginia Ave madness (Thursday was a case in point).

  • I work in VA and live in DC. I commute across the Memorial Bridge and jump onto RockCreek to get up to Adams Morgan and then cut over to Columbia Heights.

    I don’t know if the original question takes into account the amount of traffic RC handles during rush hour. RC works because it’s 4 lanes. I don’t think the existing streets near the KC and through Foggy Bottom can handle all this traffic unless your proposing to make the existing roads 4 lanes in one direction during rush hour.

    • look at the plan again. it seems to me that it would actually be better for traffic.

      • I think that’s my confusion– I don’t know this area that well. What are the existing roads? During rush hour, are these existing roads already jammed with cars? Are these roads 4 lanes in one direction?

  • i think that the number of dc residents that would enjoy this increased park and pedestrian space is far greater than the number of dc residents that drive along rock creek parkway.

    • I’m not sure what you’re basing that on, RCP handles a ton of traffic. And while I’m all for more park and open space, unless any new route can handle the same amount of traffic, I say leave it as is.

      • it does handle a lot of traffic. i was referring specifically to dc residents.

        • ah

          It’s not just Maryland residents using it.

          I drive it in the morning, and the plates are >50% DC, probably more like 70%.

          • Rock Creek is the great secret of any savvy DC motorist. Except for a few Maryland commuters, the average motorist fears the road. So I can get anywhere I want quicker than on any other road. And that part under the Kennedy Center is where most of the time is saved. I think it is asinine to close a major road so 17 weekday birdwatchers can enjoy some extra parkland. And I also think it’s asinine to claim that closing any road by the Kennedy Center will not be a problem since “existing roads can handle the traffic.” No they can’t. They can’t handle it now. The only thing keeping that whole area from being a parking lot is the Rock Creek Parkway. Put some speed cameras on the Parkway to slow people down and keep closing Beach Drive on weekends. Compromise.

        • I don’t have to drive to work (thank God), but I use RCP a lot for getting around quickly both within the city, and to get to Northern Virginia or 395.

          RCP is most certainly not just for Marylanders and Virginians. I suspect residents of Adams Morgan, Woodley Park, Mount Pleasant, Petworth, 16th Street Heights, etc. will agree.

          • Without RCP, I wouldn’t be able to commute to Northern Virginia from Woodley Park and stay sane.

          • From Adams Morgan where I live, and Mt. Pleasant where Mr. Annonny lives, I can tell you I use RCP a lot and specifically use the section proposed for re-routing at least weekly.

            I do not commute by RCP and am not a traffic engineer. But the suggestion to do away with the road and let the traffic sort itself out seems cavalier at best. Without seeing a lot more data about usage, I’d be uncomfortable with this suggestion going anywhere.

    • Have you ever driven on RCP during rush hour? Or driven anywhere in the city during rush hour? We should be improving traffic flow in the city, not making it worse.

      • yes, i have. i once lived in upper northwest and commuted to the hill via rcp.
        now i live closer to downtown and drive for work still.

        i don’t believe that this plan would make things worse. it makes more sense if you look at it.

        • Agree. Next time you are in the area take a close look at the roads in this area (on both sides of KC). The plan actually seems makes sense when you look at the roads and intersections. It actually may improve traffic flow rather than limit it, and would be a nicer stretch of park not being next to a freeway.

    • PDleftMtP

      Yes, and that’s why East and West Potomac Parks just along the way are always jammed.

      Oh wait….

  • I’d be happy with this and a permanent closure of beach drive. I know all the commuters would be up in arms but National Parks don’t exist so shave a few minutes off your commute they are meant for recreation and for the enjoyment of nature. Those goals are hard to meet with 50,000 speeding cars and the noise pollution they bring. Anyone who goes to Beach Dr on the weekends when it is closed to cars can attest to how different the park is car free. You hear the birds and the creek. Maybe you could put a commuter light rail from Maryland to Downtown through the park but ban cars 7days a week.

    • I think you have two choices to achieve your utopia. #1 is move to West Virginia. #2 is to move to 1856. I’m guessing you also want to shut down the GW Parkway? I’m also not sure how many National Parks you’ve been to. They seem to primarily exist so a bunch of overweight tourists can drive through scenic lands as quick as possible.

  • I am always highly skeptical when someone who is clearly a non-expert on something technical says something like “existing roads should handle extra volume”.

    Clearly you’ve never driven on the Rt 66 extension behind the Kennedy Center or on RCP in front of the Kennedy Center during rush hour. It is a clear and present clusterf*&k as it is.

    But enough anecdotal evidence, lets use numbers. DDOT’s traffic volume maps show that that section of 66 behind the Kennedy Center gets 47,500 vehicles per day. The section of RCP in front of the Kennedy Center gets 15,700 vehicles per day. Saying the “road should handle it” doesn’t even come close to passing the smell test as you would be increasing traffic 33% behind the Kennedy Center by closing the road in front.

    I would agree that it would be nice to do something to the Va Avnue/RCP intersection but the city has other things to spend ~50 million dollars on.

    And I agree with the folks above, the cost and congestion as a result is no where near worth reclaiming 40 feet of road for half a mile, especially when all it would be is a taxpayer funded freebie property value increase for the folks who own condos in the Watergate.

    • A lot of the congestion around this area seems to come from poorly designed intersections and a confusing maze of roads. Streamlining the roads onto one and fixing the intersections like this plan proposes would definitely help, and probably get people through the area faster. Of course there would need to be traffic studies, no one is saying to do it without studying it more.

  • i think taking down Whitehurst would be better focus of energies.

    • i like the whitehurst. or more specifically, i like the space underneath it.
      i hope they never tear it down.

      • +1 for the space below the Whitehurst in Georgetown. I wish that the District would focus some energy on doing something interesting with that space. I’ve long thought that it should be closed to traffic on the weekends and turned into a large market space. Like the Dupont Farmer’s Market x1,000.

    • The Ritz lobbied the DC Government heavily to remove the Whitehurst 12 years ago before they built their swanky condos there.

      Once it was determined that it would cost nearly 200 million dollars to remove the Whitehurst and dig a tunnel underneath to reroute traffic, and that Ritz (surprise surprise) didn’t want to contribute a dollar, the idea died

    • hell no. horrible idea. georgetown traffic is bad enough even with the whitehurst. there’s simply no other way to get across georgetown to get to the far west parts of the city. and the whitehurst is packed during rush hour, there would be no other place for all that traffic to go except m st, which is always crowded to begin with. and as others point out, somehow that whole underpass area is not creepy, so let it be.

      • actually it is usually the increasing of roads, not the decreasing of roads that makes traffic worse.
        but no one likes that reality so we just ignore it because it’s harder to understand why.

        • i get what you’re saying- if you build it, they will come.

          but if you look at a map of georgetown, only 3 streets go completely across it from west end/foggy bottom to glover park- m st/canal rd, combo of m st, wisconsin and resevoir rd, and whitehurst. all the lettered streets turn on to wisconsin and eventually end at the university.

          if you tear down whitehurst, a 4 lane highway, where do all the cars that use it to get across georgetown go? that reality is pretty easy to understand, which is why a notion like this should be ignored. nobody is saying build more roads.

        • Thank you for saying this! Americans look at road expansion as a solution, despite the perverse incentives it creates for increasing car ownership, miles driven. You never hear anyone saying, “If only Los Angeles would build more roads and highways, they wouldn’t have such a traffic problem.”

  • This idea makes so much sense. This is some of the best located land in the world. Why do we have to use it for highways?

  • I am totally in favor of this. It will never happen – cars still rule – even to the point of having a highway through a park.

  • I love driving the waterfront section of RCP, under the Kennedy Center, because I own a convertible and it’s a gorgeous drive. I can’t claim to always drive the speed limit, but I stay pretty close to it, even (make that especially) when a Super Shuttle is tailgating me.

    I think the parkway’s very well managed, but the interchanges around Virginia Ave and the E Street expressway are poorly managed. I don’t think NPS has charge of them.

    NPS will never, ever put speed cameras on RCP, and if they do, some pinhead member of our national assembly will force them to take them right back out.

    The proposed reroute along the E St expressway is wide open and could probably take the traffic, but I don’t think the area under the Kennedy Center would be turned into a decent park. Instead, it will become a campground for vagabonds and the mentally ill.

    My preference is to leave it as is.

  • First, the NPS study is only seeking to provide pedestrian access, not to close the parkway. There are ways to increase access without closing the road completely.

    Second, another option would be to close the parkway on weekends or Sundays alone, to provide a “ciclovia” type space that many other cities do within their parks.

    • ah

      Closing it won’t work. For better or worse, RCP has developed as a critical traffic corridor for getting into and out of the city, and from parts of the city to other parts.

      That may not be the best but a lot of other infrastructure has been developed on the assumption that RCP is part of the road system.

      Yes, one can change that but it’s not as simple as closing the road, even on weekends. Just look at the mess that gets created when it’s closed for a couple of hours for marathons and triathlons.

  • This is a terrible idea. There is plenty of waterfront that DC still hasn’t developed that could be put to such use.

    And I’d love to see some numbers to back up the claim that existing roads could handle all of the RCP traffic.

  • I think this is a great idea, but I have no idea how much work would need to be done to equip neighboring roads to handle the extra traffic. A few commenters like joker say that the area is a clusterf* as it is, so why not put some resources (within reason) towards making both the waterfront (for pedestrians/residents/visitors) AND traffic (for drivers/commuters) better?

    • The NPS plan is much less ambitious than the OP’s plan (what is NPS going to do, add a sidewalk? having walked along the dirt path alongside RCP from the Kennedy Center to Gtown, I admit that would be an improvement but…) I wonder what it will take to motivate NPS into taking real action on this, maybe one day they will need the money that redeveloping this area could provide?

  • The biggest worry for me is “66 should handle extra volume.” Since its a study – then that is okay. What I think would actually be valuable is to improve the RCP/Virginia Ave/66 interchange and leave RCP alone (agree with speed enforcement).
    In case of an emergency (when not if for DC) having roads that can move people out and responders in is invaluable. The fact that any regained parkland by the Kennedy Center would be covered by the building seems like a huge waste to me. It’d also make the circle by the Lincoln be a huge, loud mess – that needs to be part of the study.

  • I think the Rock Creek Parkway’s historic status as one of the earliest examples of a parkway for motorized vehicles will keep it from ever being closed. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as such.

  • Terrible idea. Our green spaces & parks, including the new Georgetown waterfront park and the area between the parkway and the river are already underused. RCP is an essential artery. Other roads cannot handle the traffic. If you want to increase use of parkland – restore the ferry that used to cross from Georgetown to Roosevelt Island. Another greatly under-used park because it is difficult to get there without a car.

    • Agreed. Traffic would be more a distaster than it already is around that area during rush hour. And it’s not really any tougher to get to Roosevelt Island than it is to the Kennedy Center or Georgetown without a car — just cross Roosevelt Bridge and bam, you are there. You can link up with the Mt. Vernon trail and take advantage of all the greenspace on that waterfront too.

      • “Just cross Roosevelt Bridge?” I dont’ even know where a pedestrian would actually get on the bridge from the DC side, but I clocked it today from the Kennedy Center and it is .8 miles to the bridge leading to Roosevelt Island.

        Nearly a mile of walking along a highway. Not an enticing excursion.

  • I don’t know that it makes sense to shut it down. But they do need to improve pedestrian access. And also take care of that intersection where when as you drive southbound on Rock Creek Parkway around the Lincoln Center, you have to take your life into your hands to cross Ohio Drive.

  • Yes absolutely! I have pondered this myself and I like your diagram. This proposal isn’t about eliminating Rock Creek Parkway but rerouting it through the existing 8 lane I-66 spur.

    Next target: Consolidating the mess of roadways in Lady Bird Johnson Park to free up more useable parkland.

    • @jonglix

      Agree 100%. That area around Lady Bird Johnson park is even more of a cluster f***. If you rerouted roads in that area you could free up a ton of land and make traffic flow much better. Such a waste to have a park for the purpose of putting a bunch of roads in it.

  • I live in Petworth and use RCP quire often on weekends to get around quickly and it’s really a lifesaver. It only takes minutes to get to 395, 66, …
    Having said that I’m all for tearing up roads and replacing them with parks.

  • Leave the parkway as it is & make the other improvements as well. If it works, you can close off the parkway on the weekends. I personally doubt the improvements would allow for the amount of traffic on the parkway, and even if it did: there needs to be parking there.

    Assuming that the other modifications really can take the traffic, including rush hour, then the parkway can be modified to be slower. One lane of traffic, one lane of parking, weaving back and forth between the two sections of current road section; with big speed bumps.

  • The OP sounds just like the proponents of closing the Whitehurst did: We haven’t really studied it, but I’m sure that the other roads can handle the displaced traffic. When it was shown to the anti-Whitehurst crowd that re-routing the traffic would be a.) astronomically expensive and b.) make Georgetown even more of a traffic disaster, they quietly went away.

    OP also clearly isn’t taking into account the Foggy Bottom Association and the ANC in that area, which would take about five seconds to protest this. Those old bags hate PEDESTRIAN traffic (especially if said pedestrians are GW students) and would rather Foggy Bottom be a desolate wasteland than the vibrant neighborhood it’s become. God knows what they would think of added automobile traffic in their neighborhood, which the OP’s plan would surely cause.

  • ah

    Here is what would need to be done if RCP under the KC were to be eliminated.

    1) At the south end of the KC the Potomac Freeway (I-66 extension) would have to be reconfigured to allow traffic to go onto the Memorial Bridge, which would probably require a route through what are now sand volleyball courts (those could be moved to the new free space). The exit ramp from I-66 onto Ohio Drive would need to be modified to allow a smoother merge. Traffic flow in this area would likely improve because there would essentially be no 3-way intersection at Ohio Drive, RCP, and Potomac Freeway. This would also be relatively easy to do.

    2) This is the hard part, because it would require massive reconfiguration of the RCP, Virginia Ave., Potomac Freeway, Whitehurst Freeway, K Street clusterf**k.
    a) New connecter for Potomac Freeway northbound to RCP. This would probably go under the existing K Street to Whitehurst roadway, or could split off of the Potomac Freeway-Whitehurst On ramp (although that would need to be widened to avoid massive backups.
    b) A new connector from RCP southbound to the Potomac Freeway/I-66. This is what creates such a mess now, because that traffic has to cross traffic going onto RCP–it’s one giant left turn essentially. Solution–a new ramp or tunnel going directly from RCP SB to Potomac Freeway, going either over or under 27th Street. The ramp would start about where RCP passes under the Whitehurst. It could take one or both of the existing NB RCP lanes and no traffic would be coming the other direction from Virginia Ave (see next item). One lane of traffic could go straight to provide access to the boathouse and to Virginia Ave. EB
    c) Traffic on Virginia Ave. going to RCP would go up 27th Street and across K street (which would be allowed) and then onto RCP. Traffic from K Street WB that now turns left on 27th to access I-66 would still do so and could turn immediately left onto what is now the Potomac Freeway connector to 27th Street.

    I’m sure I’m missing out on a couple of connections here, but that’s roughly the scope of it. Absent an interchange that looks like something from LA or the I-395/I-495/I-95/Wilson bridge area there’s going to be a need for lights because traffic streams cross each other.

  • Americans have rerouted rivers but no way in hell we can get traffic traveling on one side of a building to start traveling on the other side. thats unpossible!

  • I live in DC and use the RCP every day to commute I Virginia. It’s a beautiful way ti enjoy a park every day and it’s the fastest way in and out of town. DOnt change a thing. .. Except the weird merge at VA Avenue.

    • Same. And if you can time your commute to miss peak traffic, it is one heck of beautiful drive. Especially in Spring in a convertible.

      People come from all over the country to see the Lincoln Memorial, and we get to cross Memorial Bridge twice a day!

  • I use all those roads many times a week driving in from Old Town, and I think this is a fantastic idea. I concur that the existing roads can handle it. It would simplify the whole jumble. Create park space. Hooray for engaged citizens.

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