Hike service

Reviews | The National Park Service’s absurd reason to reopen Beach Drive to cars


Paul Basken is a lifelong cyclist and motorist.

It’s no surprise that the federal government intends to end the recreational use of Upper Beach Drive.

After all, the auto lobby is about as powerful as it gets, and just a look around our nation of pavement-choked communities makes that clear.

Yet when the National Park Service finally announced this week that, yes, it plans to reopen the upper portion of Beach Drive to motorists this fall, it was the reasoning that at least managed to amaze.

Speaking bluntly to an online gathering of residents, Rock Creek Park Superintendent Julia Washburn actually said that top Park Service analysts have concluded that automobile living is good for the environment.

Their reasoning: Over the past two years, without cars running the full length of our capital’s beloved national park, too many people have been out for a walk in the woods. And the problem with people walking in the woods is that it disturbs the wildlife and the vegetation.

Therefore, Washburn and his colleagues at the Park Service concluded that the restoration of cars in the park may be something like the Chernobyl disaster – an unfortunate event, of course, but a useful expulsion of human life only in Ukraine (at least before it was hit by another oil-enabled cycle of war) has proven wonderful for the revival of bears, wolves, moose, foxes and so many other wildlife.

On the scale at which Washburn and the Park Service are looking at the matter, there’s no doubt that some sort of Chernobyl-style argument could be made for DC After all, Beach Drive was closed to motorized traffic at the start of the pandemic, and the pandemic has shown offers us many ways in which we and the rest of the natural environment benefit from limiting the human tendency to overconsume whatever is at hand.

What Washburn and his ostensibly nature-focused colleagues might miss, however, is what’s called The Bigger Picture.

For more than a century, the US government has massively subsidized motor vehicles, providing drivers with roads and gasoline at rates well below their true costs and requiring no compensation for noise, pollution, loss of home values, human stress, societal aggression, conflict and more.

The Park Service has now decided to find a tiny fraction of these overall effects – fewer people walking in nature – and suggests that what our society needs most right now is even more cars!

It might appear to us as another mad but inevitable assault on humanity and rationality if it happened under the previous administration. But on reflection, we really shouldn’t be too surprised to see it happening under a Democrat.

After all, an entire century of heavily subsidized motor vehicles has given us a society in which people, regardless of political affiliation, accept as normal such things as roads without sidewalks, jobs, schools and only parks. accessible by car, deadly fires and droughts, widespread extinctions, bridges and highways that suck billions of taxpayer dollars from our wallets but still cannot be maintained, and wars and dictatorships based on oil that seem unstoppable. And, of course, 40,000 road deaths in the United States a year.

Even Beach Drive has spots with no pedestrian paths along its main road. Most shocking is probably this location, Boulder Bridge, just north of the Broad Branch Road intersection, where both lanes of traffic span the full width. There, anyone who dares to use the park without bringing a motor has the choice between fording the creek or being squealed by a Ford.

Or maybe people should do a tightrope walk at the top of one of the bridge’s stone railings. This is apparently what Washburn and the Park Service consider a “balance” at Rock Creek Park.