Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is organizing a town hall to talk about National Park Service-controlled parkland in the District of Columbia on October 25. I’ll be participating on a panel. What issues or requests should I bring up?
Norton convened a town hall last year after a coalition of parks advocates and other activists, including myself, called attention to inflexible policies at the National Park Service interfering with Capital Bikeshare, the Circulator, farmers’ markets, missing playgrounds downtown, and more.
The Park Service had recently gotten a new head of the National Capital region and new superintendents for several of the local park “units.” These managers started working better with residents than their predecessors. They made considerable progress on Bikeshare, concession rules, and the Circulator.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot more to do, and Norton is having another town hall hall on October 25. I’ll be speaking on a panel, along with NPS Regional Director Steve Whitesell, Rich Bradley of the Downtown BID, Danielle Pierce of Downtown DC Kids (the group pushing for that playground), and Catherine Nagel of the City Parks Alliance, a national group that supports urban parks.
What should I talk about? Since there is no other person specifically devoted to pedestrian and bicycle issues, I’d like to raise the many ways that despite being parkland, rules make walkers and bikers feel less welcome than drivers.
On the Rock Creek and George Washington parkways, signs at off-ramps tell runners and bike riders they have to yield to cars. This is bizarre, since turning cars yield to pedestrians even on major city and suburban arterial roads; the only place with this kind of rule is a freeway, and that shouldn’t be the standard for our roadways in parks, even ones that carry a lot of traffic.
The approaches to the 14th Street Bridge give bike riders really no safe or comfortable route to and from downtown, for instance. There is also no good way to cross the GW Parkway on foot or on a bike around the Memorial Bridge. (This area is actually inside the District’s borders, even though it is across the Potomac.)
I hope Rich Bradley will talk about the ways public-private partnerships can better activate our downtown parks. Franklin Square should be a more inviting place to eat lunch, and Farragut host evening concerts. Strict concession contracts limit things like sponsorship of an event, and the food trucks can only operate next to the park because they are on the public street which NPS doesn’t control. Yet these types of activities are good for urban parks, not bad.
How about retail on Pennsylvania Avenue? Vendors? Bike parking? Capital Bikeshare stations? The grand avenue of our capital city doesn’t have to be barren and boring. Food options on the Mall don’t need to be awful, either.
Then there are the memorials. DC’s many small triangles and other shapes are reserved for future memorials, and it’s appropriate to have sites of national or world importance in the American capital, but that doesn’t mean the memorials can’t also be successful public spaces, as the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue is.
I’m also concerned about a trend toward more fences in triangle parks, like at 21st and I, to “remedy social paths,” or in other words, stop people from walking through the park the way they want to. Better to rearrange the walkways to be in the right places.
The Park Service is doing just that on Washington Circle, showing that they are now open to making parks work better for residents and visitors, people on foot and bicycles as well as in cars. We should hope that Steve Whitesell and his superintendents stick around for a while instead of moving to other parks elsewhere in the nation, so that we can all continue to make progress.
The town hall is Thursday, October 25, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Room 412.
What would you like me to talk about at the panel?