Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

The National Park Service spokesperson told Spokes Magazine that putting Capital Bikeshare stations on the Mall would violate its historic purpose, and implies that it just serves a “select few”

“select individuals” instead of “American citizens.”

You’d think the National Park Service would be interested in sustainability and recreation. After all, their service is about parks. That’s what I certainly assumed when first moving to DC, since to most people outside the District the Park Service’s reputation involves beautiful natural places and interesting historic sites well designed for visitors.

But when it comes to many issues including bicycling, the Park Service sounds like Robert Moses was the last parks commissioner they ever heard from. Moses built many parkways across New York state, because he viewed enjoyment of nature from the automobile as sacred, but abhorred all other modes and refused to design his parkways to accommodate buses, bikes or pedestrians.

In a Spokes Magazine feature, spokesperson Bill Line basically says bike sharing is not going to happen on the Mall:

Line said the Mall is covered by the same laws as other national parks such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. Putting a bike station on the Mall would violate the National Historic Preservation Act because a station would be seen as going against the historical purpose of the Mall and its monuments.

“The National Park Service reflects an American heritage and what a particular park means to American citizens, not (necessarily) at (the) convenience of select individuals,” Line said.

Although a Bikeshare station would be convenient, it would destroy the nature of what makes the National Mall an American institution in the first place, he said.

“The National Park Service is an organization that strongly encourages (the) use of mass transit, but Capital Bikeshare wants to place a structure on the National Mall, which (the park service) does not allow under current regulations,” Line said.

There are several troubling things about these statements. First is the way Line juxtaposes “the convenience of select individuals,” relating to bike sharing, against “American citizens.” Bike sharing on the Mall would actually serve many different American citizens who visit the area. Meanwhile, the freeway-like roadways crisscrossing the Mall primarily serve commuters from Virginia.

What the Mall means to most American citizens is a place to go learn about American history, visit museums, and see significant memorials. Right now, it’s actually quite difficult to get to most of those museums and memorials.

Line’s point about “structures” is equally bizarre. In recent years, they have placed numerous structures on the Mall for security, like security walls around the Washington Monument and upcoming ones around the Jefferson Memorial. They want to build a new pavilion to screen people before entering the Washington Monument.

They’re building a Martin Luther King memorial, soon a Museum of African-American History and Culture, a Vietnam Memorial Visitors’ Center, and more. Maybe the Park Service would rather not have any of those memorials or security structures, but any bikeshare station “structure” is far, far less intrusive.

The Park Service is designing new wayfinding signs. Those aren’t “structures”? The Tourmobile has a whole garage in East Potomac Park.

Not to mention all the freeways. The Mall is crisscrossed with roadways designed like parkways to move cars which are very inhospitable to pedestrians. Walking between the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial requires crossing several roadways in a landscape that sends the clear message that the walker is an interloper in this space.

Currently, the Park Service is straightening the GW Parkway to move cars at even higher speeds. Maybe that doesn’t count as a “structure,” but it certainly doesn’t perpetuate the historical purpose of that land.

Line also tells Spokes about NPS regulations that limit all transportation to just one concessionaire, the Tourmobile. Never mind that not everyone wants a $22 bus with interpretive audio presentation. The way regulations are written today, if there are bus tours, there can’t be the Circulator, bike sharing, or pedicabs.

Another bigger issue at work here is that the Park Service has negligible relationships with DC residents. They only really hold meetings when there’s an Environmental Impact Statement to compile, and those are very structured. NPS representatives don’t attend DC Council hearings, like one this winter on snow. They don’t come to community meetings when invited. They don’t reach out to bloggers.

Their only point of contact with most residents is Bill Line, who is notoriously nasty to the press. It’s baffling that an agency operating spaces designed for the public, and which controls small neighborhood circles and squares in DC, is so uninterested in its relationship with citizens.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.