Car-free Beach Drive extended through Labor Day as study continues

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The National Park Service said a nearly three-mile stretch of Beach Drive through Rock Creek Park will remain car-free this summer as the agency continues an environmental review and assesses the long-term status of the scenic drive.

The vehicle closure was scheduled to be lifted on Saturday, but has been extended through Sept. 5 to “ensure we maintain recreational opportunities … through Labor Day,” according to a Park Service statement. “The NPS will continue to limit driver access to this section of Beach Drive until a final decision is made.”

Part of the northern section of Beach Drive was closed to cars on weekdays beginning in April 2020, around the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Before that, it was closed to vehicles on weekends and holidays. The extension of the vehicle closure was first reported by DCist.

The Park Service has considered the environmental effects and weighed public feedback as it decides whether to make the closure permanent, return to the weekend-only configuration, or come up with an alternate plan. The agency said it expects its environmental assessment to be ready for public review this summer.

Closings begin at Broad Branch Road NW and also cover an area near the Maryland border. The car-free sections are separated by areas allowing drivers to cross the park or reach the picnic areas.

The vehicle-free section of Beach Drive has become a popular destination for cyclists, joggers and families with children and dogs. The DC Council and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) have called for making the closure permanent.

The gated area includes the Boulder Bridge, which was built at the turn of the 20th century in a scenic area once frequented by President Theodore Roosevelt. Those who live nearby expressed a variety of opinions, with some supporting the closure and others opposing it. Some who commute by car objected, while others who cycle to work welcomed the closure.

The Park Service previously said 5,500 to 8,000 cars per day would drive on the closed stretch. The Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, the main commuter thoroughfare through the park, remains open and averaged about 50,000 vehicles per day before the pandemic, according to the Park Service.

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