San Francisco has the Embarcadero Freeway. New York has the West Side Highway. In both cases, nature forced the city to close a road which it would never have had the political fortitude to do otherwise. In both cases, residents realized they didn’t really need the road after all.
Would DC do this? If the Southwest-Southeast Freeway fell down, would we restore Virginia Avenue? Actually, we have an example. In 1991, Klingle Road, an express bypass through Rock Creek Park from Mount Pleasant to Woodley Park, flooded and had to be closed. For 17 years, people have gotten by okay. But Mayor Fenty and Jim Graham are set on rebuilding the road, even using DC money to do it. And most DCist commenters agree. “It’s a road, and always has been a road.” So was the Embarcadero Freeway.
We already dedicate too much natural space to cars. Biking or walking along Rock Creek Park means navigating a very narrow, windy path alongside a four-lane expressway. Rock Creek Park may be nice in the far north, but for most of the stretch is far from a peaceful natural oasis, of which we have precious little.
And advocates of reopening Klingle are ignoring the reality of induced demand. In 17 years, traffic patters have adapted to not having the road. If we reopen it, people will choose to drive instead of take the bus, or choose to live across the park from their workplaces knowing that they have this shortcut. I’d rather all of Rock Creek Park be a park, not a freeway; it’s nice for residents of Mount Pleasant or Crestwood to be able to zip downtown at high speeds, but that just means it’s appealing to live up there and zip downtown at high speeds, or even to work in Virginia and drive every day. This may be the reality today, but we should absolutely not encourage any more.
Let’s make this road a walking and biking trail instead.