The West End Library was packed with concerned citizens and stakeholders on Thursday evening, Oct. 18, to discuss traffic projects along Rock Creek Parkway and around the Kennedy Center. Power players attending included D.C.’s congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans and officials from the National Park Service and the advisory neighborhood commissions of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.
Speakers from the Department of Transportation and the Georgetown Business Improvement District presented proposals to widen bike and pedestrian pathways along the Potomac River, as well as to reconfigure roads at frequently congested points along the parkway, such as Virginia Avenue, K Street and Memorial Bridge.
There was also lively discussion around a controversial proposal to close off the parkway to motor vehicles under the Kennedy Center River Terrace — reserving that stretch for pedestrian and bicycle use and detouring traffic up and behind the expanding performing arts complex.
“Our early morning walking group often encounters dangerous situations along the Potomac as the flow of bike commuters become ensnarled with us on the pathway,” said a Foggy Bottom resident.
“Funds for a project to widen the pathway to better accommodate walkway traffic, as well as people sitting on the inset benches and standing along the river-edge railings, are now available,” announced DDOT Director Jeff Marootian. The project, which could begin next year, would also include widening the extremely narrow passageways for bikes and pedestrians through the road and bridge ramps along the parkway.
More controversial were potential plans to change the configuration of the at times highly congested junction where the parkway branches south to Memorial Bridge and slightly west to the National Mall. Similarly, the BID presented its plans to open the parkway on-ramp from K Street, enabling traffic to make a sharp left turn onto the parkway and lessening the four-way gridlock at the end of the Whitehurst Freeway.
The most controversial idea was to detour traffic from under the Kennedy Center’s terrace. That idea is so hot that ANC 2A’s William Kennedy Smith said he would not allow any other “poison pill” proposal, such as the dismantling of the Whitehurst Freeway, on the table. Parking was another unmentionable issue — deemed irrelevant unless it could be proved to cause severe congestion.
A DDOT-funded project to update engineering and environmental impact studies conducted in 2003 by the Federal Highway Administration was also announced. According to officials, the project’s goal is to create more efficient connections between Rock Creek Parkway and the eight lanes of traffic remaining from the aborted Potomac River Freeway project that links to Route 66. That could perhaps decrease transit times and facilitate traffic diversion away from the Potomac riverfront, permitting the creation of a waterfront park linking Georgetown, the Kennedy Center and the National Mall.