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Face on Klingle.
Park or not? Activists clash over 150-year-old road between Woodley Park, Mt. Pleasant

The American Observer


February 20, 2002
Copyright 2002 The American Observer
By Debbie Hodges

Klingle RoadWASHINGTON, D.C. -- Deep in a valley hidden from the city's main arteries, the half-mile patchwork of asphalt connecting Woodley Park to Mt. Pleasant has sparked a battle as rocky as the road itself.

More than 10 years ago, a part of 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 where 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 on.

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 way.

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 of Save Klingle 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.

The Save Klingle Valley activists have been characterized as rich people from Woodley Park who don't want lower-income travelers from Mt. Pleasant and 16th Street to drive through their neighborhood.

"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 Save Klingle Valley's most visible supporters, rents an apartment in Adams Morgan, bucking the stereotype that only the wealthy are interested in keeping the road closed.

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," Broehm said.

A study commissioned by the city to analyze the situation in Klingle 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 the road.

"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 many people 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," Tangherlini said.

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 Klingle Road."

Michael Wilcoxen occasionally uses Klingle 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. 

For additional information, please email support@repairklingleroad.org