March 2021 - Parks & Recreation - 10

WE ARE PARKS AND RECREATION
Closing Park Roads to Cars -
An Idea Goes Viral
By Peter Harnik

I

f you sat for one hour by the side of the road in Washington, D.C.'s
Rock Creek Park at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, September 1, 2020, you would
have been passed by a total of 904 bicyclists, runners, walkers and
skaters, and 11 dogs.

This was a regular, unprogrammed
evening during the coronavirus
(COVID-19) pandemic. The park
visitors were enjoying nature, getting
exercise, maintaining a physical distance, and escaping the confinement
of their houses and apartments. They
were being counted as part of a rare,
formal study of park usership. They
were counted on a roadway that had
been cleared of cars for the duration
of the virus emergency.
On a normal Tuesday evening
prior to the pandemic, the number
of human users along that roadway
would have been approximately zero.
Before COVID-19, Upper Beach
Drive was a commuter thoroughfare
on weekdays, and even strong cyclists
were reluctant to risk the traffic on
the narrow, winding road, and others
didn't even consider it.
At nearly 2,000 acres, Rock Creek
Park is the nation capital's largest
park. It is used nearly 12 million
times every year. Unfortunately,
according to a 1997 National Park
Service (NPS) analysis, those visits
consist of 2 million for recreation
and more than 9 million for nonrecreation, defined as " visits primarily [involving] the use of park roads
to travel between destinations outside the park. " Because of this, for
more than a half-century, the park
has been the scene of a struggle over
the appropriate level of auto traffic
10	 Parks & Recreation

among the trees, fields and streams.
The COVID-19 shutdown was
the impetus for NPS' experimental weekday traffic limits on Upper
Beach Drive.
" We pointed out that this was an
unprecedented opportunity to measure what happens there without
cars, " says Jim McCarthy, one of
the leaders of the People's Alliance
for Rock Creek (PARC), a recreation
and conservation advocacy group.
" [NPS] said they liked the idea but
didn't have enough staff to do it
themselves. We said, 'How about if
we do the count?' They said, 'Sure!' "
After getting advice from transportation modelers, PARC designed a counting protocol to take
place at three locations during five
time slots, three days of the week
and four weeks of the year, and put
out a call for volunteers.
" I was the pessimist, " Rick Morgan, another PARC leader, reminisces. " I figured that three of us would
have to do the whole job. " But within
a couple of days, 72 people had signed
up. " Washingtonians really love our
park! " laughs a relieved Morgan.
Most of the volunteers signed up
for one or two hours. Some took a
once-a-week slot. The most enthusiastic, a retiree from bike-friendly
Netherlands, sat with his pen and
pad (and mask) for a remarkable 20
hours during the four-week test.

| M A R C H 2 02 1 | PA R K S A N D R E C R E AT I O N .O R G

The results were astounding,
with more than 28,000 persons
counted over 163 hours. Almost
two-thirds of them were bicyclists,
the rest split between walkers,
runners, a generous smattering of
dogs, and even one cat and one
bird (riding on a shoulder).
" To say there is pent-up demand
is an understatement, " says McCarthy. " We even counted the mayor
going by on her bike. "
Other cities also have tried removing vehicle traffic from parks to create safe spaces for people to recreate
during the pandemic. Philadelphia
banned cars on four miles of Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway in West
Fairmount Park. New York, famous
for car-free Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn,
expanded the program to Queens
with Forest Park and Astoria Park.
Parks in Berkeley, California, and
Denver, also have closed to traffic.
" For us, it's more than just banning cars to get extra roadway
space, " explains Scott Gilmore,
deputy executive director of Denver
Parks and Recreation Department.
" Since our city message right now
is 'It's Safer at Home,' we've also
closed many parking lots in our destination parks. We want to discourage people from driving across town
to the big parks and mingling too
closely. Nearly everyone in Denver
lives close to a neighborhood park,
so our road and parking lot closures
are aimed at promoting local use. "
In New York, Forest Park Administrator Portia Dyrenforth



March 2021 - Parks & Recreation

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of March 2021 - Parks & Recreation

March 2021 - Parks & Recreation - Cover1
March 2021 - Parks & Recreation - Cover2
March 2021 - Parks & Recreation - 1
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March 2021 - Parks & Recreation - Cover3
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https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/july-2022
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/june-2022
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/may-2022
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/april-2022
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/march-2022
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/february-2022
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/january-2022
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/december-2021
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/november-2021
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/october-2021
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/september-2021
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/august-2021
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/july-2021
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/june-2021
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/may-2021
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/april-2021
https://ezine.nrpa.org/nrpa/ParksRecreationMagazine/march-2021
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