Park or not? Activists clash over 150-year-old road between Woodley
Park, Mt. Pleasant
February 20, 2002
Copyright 2002 The American Observer
By Debbie Hodges
D.C. -- Deep in a valley hidden
from the city's main arteries, the half-mile patchwork of asphalt
Pleasant has sparked a
battle as rocky as the road itself.
More than 10 years ago, a
Klingle Road was closed when
a storm eroded away its edges, causing sewer and water run-off
problems which were costly to fix. Asphalt Band-Aids were no longer
sufficient to keep the segment of the road open. Over the years,
the road has worn down further, exposing layer after layer of
cement, chronicling the road's hundred-year history the way trunk
rings record the age of an oak.
This winter, the fallen
trees and erosion of the road give the valley an otherworld aura. An
occasional crow makes a call, and sometimes he gets an answer. Water
trickles back and forth across the disparate road, eventually
finding its way into a creek that runs alongside.
Two primary activist
groups have agreed that something needs to be done to the valley
Klingle Road lies because
the state of the road is worsening and it may be causing
environmental problems. That's the only thing the two groups agree
One group says the road
should be reopened. The other group says that the road's restoration
could cause further environmental damage and wants to turn the
valley into a park.
"It means quality of life
and getting around the city," said Peter McGee, the spokesperson for
the Coalition to Repair and
Reopen Klingle Road. "We
don't have very many options in getting around the valley."
Since the city closed
Klingle Road in 1991, McGee's family and others residents east of
Rock Creek Park have only one way to cross the valley, adding new
traffic on Porter Street. "It increases the travel time at least
four fold," he said.
On an unseasonably warm
winter afternoon, McGee recently walked down the half-mile stretch
of crumbled road to point out what needs to be fixed. His daughter,
Tessa, ran ahead, using the different layers of concrete as an
obstacle course. When she was asked if she played here often, her
parents quickly interjected, "no." Why would she
want, they said. McGee said the park is unsafe at night. There are
no streetlights and no one who regularly patrols the valley.
"Historically, the road
has been there for over 150 years. It predates Rock Creek Park by
decades," he said. "There's really no reason not to reopen it."
There are ways to keep the
road open and address environmental concerns, McGee argues.
However, activist group, Save Klingle Valley, doesn't see it that
Major sewer problems,
combined with the valley's steep slopes and loose soil, make
reopening the road a bad idea, according to Jason Broehm, the chair
Valley, the group that
advocates changing the road into a park.
One reason not to open the
road is the small creek that runs just feet from the road's
surface. Cars leave trails of gasoline and antifreeze. During
heavy rainfall, water rushes in and chemicals left on the road are
washed into the creek, possibly polluting the water, he said.
"That is one of the huge
concerns," Broehm said.
Valley activists have
been characterized as rich people from
Park who don't want
lower-income travelers from
16th Street to drive through
"I am sure people would be
happy to not have the traffic coming through," Broehm said while
arguing that it wasn't the prevailing reason for his cause. "I
haven't heard too many people like that that just want to be
exclusive or want their private dog-walking park. I think that is
really painting it in simplistic, in prejudicial terms."
Broehm, one of
Valley's most visible
supporters, rents an apartment in Adams Morgan, bucking the
stereotype that only the wealthy are interested in keeping the road
In the summer, when leaves form a canopy
over the road, those without private gardens or back yards could
enjoy the valley as a recreation space, he said. "It's just a
really beautiful, quiet, much cooler place, and probably easily 10
degrees cooler than it is on the street on hot summer days,"
A study commissioned by
the city to analyze the situation in
Valley said about 3,000
cars would pass on the street daily if reopened. A negligible number
in traffic relief, Broehm argued. Highlighting the financial
benefits, Broehm said the study reported it would cost about $3
million less to open Klingle Valley as a park rather than rebuild
"There are a lot of people
-- taxpayers -- who don't want to spend exorbitant amounts of money
for a road they wouldn't use," Broehm said.
However, McGee said part
of the repairs can be paid with federal funds -- the extra million
or two to repave the road is insignificant when compared to other
Department of Transportation projects.
Three months after the
study of Klingle was released in September, outlining seven options
for the valley and road, Mayor Anthony Williams said he would likeKlingle
Valley to remain open as
a park for pedestrians and bicycles, but closed to cars. In order
to do this, the mayor must introduce a bill into the city council,
which also is divided on the Klingle issue.
In late January, the
debate continued on the WAMU radio show, "D.C. Traffic and Roads."
The city looked at how
Klingle Road served when it
was open, how much it would cost to repair and the potential
environmental impact of re-opening the road, Dan Tangherlini, D.C.
Department of Transportation acting director, explained on the show.
"We just thought that the
investment would be better spent somewhere else in the city,"
In response to mayor's
decision, McGee said, "The reason I won't vote for Mayor Williams
next time around -- and in fact I may rather vote for Marion Barry
-- is that the mayor wants to close
Wilcoxen occasionally uses
Valley to walk his dog.
He supports reopening the road because it makes it easier to get
across town and may decrease the number of cars using the zoo as a
shortcut, he said.
It's also a good idea to
construct a recreational path on the side of the valley, he added,
supporting the idea of having the park and the road coexist.
Wilcoxen likes to walk through Klingle in the winter, he
said, commenting on the aesthetics. "It's kind of cool because it
looks like the end of the world," he mused.
As dusk comes, it grows a
little too dark for many, with no street lights, rumors of criminal
activity and not a soul in sight.