The National Park Service’s mission is to “preserve the natural resources of America.” Apparently, they consider traffic to be a natural resource.

Back in 2005, the NPS went through a public process to revise the General Management Plan of Rock Creek Park. They considered four options: A) install a few traffic-calming measures on Beach Drive and some trail upgrades; B) do nothing; C) permanently close the parts of Beach Drive that are closed on weekends; and D) close those roads weekdays off-peak but keep them open rush hours.

In the spirit of their stewardship of America’s wilderness, the Park Service preferred alternative A, keeping all roads open to traffic all the time. They only included alternatives C and D because of public pressure, but rejected them. Closing the roads, they argued, “would result in a major adverse effect on the existing pattern of park use and visitor experience. Historic park roads are considered a cultural resource. By closing them to motorized traffic, Alternative C would modify some of the design features that define their significance.”

So, having the park crowded with cars and filled with noise and pollution is “historic”, despite the traffic now being triple the original design capacity and the fact that 60 mph is not a historic speed.

More bafflingly, NPS concluded that “all four alternatives would have fairly similar effects on air quality, the water quality and hydrology of Rock Creek and its tributaries, wetlands and floodplains, deciduous forests, and protected and rare species.” The amount of traffic has no effect on the air quality? What school of environmental management did these people go to?

What’s going on with the National Park Service? At the NCPC meeting I went to, the NPS representative seemed to be, by far, the least interested in good design and the most eager to simply build anything. Even Bush presidential appointees on NCPC seemed to value the Mall more highly than the National Park Service. Is this bad management from the Bush administration, or has NPS always been like this?

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.