Debate Heats Up
The Common Denominator
By JOHN DeVAULT Staff
Faced with mounting
criticism from the D.C. City Council and the public over his decision to
convert long-closed Klingle Road into a park, Mayor Anthony A. Williams
is expected to take steps soon to end years of controversy over whether
the cross-town shortcut should be reopened to vehicular traffic.
aware of the councils recent action and of the debate in the
community," said Bill Rice, a Department of Transportation
spokesman designated as the mayors spokesman on Klingle Road.
"Were developing our response to the current situation with both
Rice declined to give
details of the mayors planned actions, but said the public "will
see developments on this in the next two to three weeks."
He said the mayors
plans will take into account the fact that, measured by endorsements and
citizen support in neighborhoods, popular and political sentiment in the
city seems to be swinging against the mayors position on the issue.
Last December, citing
high costs and environmental concerns, Williams announced that the city
would not rebuild a long-closed section of Klingle Road, which runs
through Rock Creek Park beneath Connecticut Avenue NW, between Mount
Pleasant and the Cathedral area.
announced that the city would transform the road one road -- one of
the citys few east-west passages across the park before it was closed
in 1991 for never-funded repairs into a biking and walking park
closed to cars.
But a majority of the
city council soon objected, saying the mayors plan amounted to a road
closure an action that council members declared only the council
Last month, the council
voted to deny the mayor funding to turn the road into a park unless he
first puts his plan before the council for a vote by the end of the
Both the mayor and
council are acting against a charged political background, since the
question of whether to reopen Klingle Road has long been one of the
citys hottest, most divisive neighborhood controversies.
It pits anti-road
environmentalists and nature-loving neighbors of upscale Klingle Valley,
in upper Northwest near Cleveland Park, against pro-road cross-town
commuters, especially those from east-of-the-park neighborhoods such as
Mount Pleasant, Shepherd Park and Brookland.
Recently, an aggressive
campaign for endorsements waged by the Coalition to Repair and Reopen
Klingle Road has considerably increased visibility and support for the
pro-road position across the city.
The group has won letters
of support, posted to its Web site, from two key constituencies: local
fire and emergency organizations that want access to Klingle Road, and
the citys elected bodies closest to neighborhood sentiment, the
Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs), along with other local
"It seems that every
week theres somebody else coming out in support of the open-it-up
position," a city council staff member observed last week.
Perhaps as a result,
online postings and debate about Klingle Road on local internet
community boards has recently grown so heavy and the back-and-forth
arguments so repetitive that one of the most popular, email@example.com,
last week banned Klingle Road as a debate topic.
Rice said the mayor is
aware of the recent citywide swing away from his position on the issue.
"There have been a
lot of e-mails recently, and documents that were aware of," Rice
said, "and well be responding to that."
However, he did not
indicate that the mayor was considering changing his basic position.
In April, D.C. Fire Chief
Ronnie Few joined a growing list of city fire, police and emergency
organizations saying they wanted access to Klingle Road as one of the
best of a small number of cross-town routes.
Few penned his letter of
support to the Coalition to Repair and Reopen Klingle Road, the leading
pro-road group, after several senior D.C. fire department officers wrote
memos urging that Klingle be reopened. Few and the officers cited the
roads usefulness as a quick route to Washington Hospital Center, as a
needed cross-town route in case of a major emergency, and as a platform
for enhanced access for fighting brush fires in Rock Creek Park.
After calls from the
mayors office, Few reversed himself, saying he had not realized that
the mayors plan also provides for emergency vehicle access to respond
to nearby fires and other emergencies in the immediate area.
In April the coalition
also won a letter of "strong" support from the union
representing the 325 uniformed U.S. Secret Service officers patrolling
sites in the District.
"What happened on
September 11 was gridlock and made us all more aware of how traffic has
increased in our area," reads the letter of support to the
Coalition from Steven Smith, president of the Secret Service officers
local union chapter.
The union that represents
the citys 420 emergency medical personnel has also publicly stated
its support for pro-road forces, as have at least two local ambulance
about human lives here, and we have patients whose lives depend on
seconds," said Kenneth Lyons, president of the local chapter of the
emergency medical technicians union. "Right now we have a
dwindling infrastructure and number of roads to use, and response time
is an issue."
Councilman Adrian Fenty,
D-Ward 4, an opponent of the mayor on Klingle Road, said last week that
momentum in recent weeks "definitely" has swung to the
"Weve heard from
an overwhelming number of public safety officials who want the road
open," he said.
Fenty is one of three
council members along with Jim Graham, D-Ward 1, and council
Chairman Linda Cropp who publicly support reopening the road.
"If you take the
neighborhoods that surround the park, east and west, I think a majority
of the residents support getting it reopened," Fenty added.
"The sentiment for
repairing the road is huge probably over 90 percent in my ward," he
Two Ward 4 ANCs 4A
and 4C, both of which abut Rock Creek Park have voiced support for
opening Klingle Road to cars.
Even a staff member to
Councilman Phil Mendelson, D-At Large, who opposes opening up the road
to motor traffic, acknowledged the shift in popular support.
"Those who want to
build the road have the momentum right now," said senior Mendelson
staffer Alec Evans, noting that Mendelson nonetheless believes that the
city is still fairly evenly divided on the issue.
Besides those Ward 4
ANCs, leaders of the pro-road coalition say they received votes of
support from ANC 5C in March and ANC 1B last month. They say they now
have the backing of a total of nine ANCs in Wards 1, 3, 4 and 5.
virtually all of Ward 1," said coalition leader Laurie Collins, a
Mount Pleasant resident and ANC 1E commissioner.
Besides ANC 1Es, the
coalition has the support of ANC 1A, covering the U Street-Cardozo area,
and 1B, covering Columbia Heights.
The coalition recently
lost the support of ANC 1C, based in Adams Morgan, which with a largely
new slate of commissioners recently voted to reverse a 2000 pro-road
ANC 1C was the first and
so far only ANC won by pro-park allies of the mayor.
ambushed a bit on the ANC issue," acknowledged Jason Broehm, a
leader of the pro-park side. He complained that park advocates hadnt
been invited to present their case before at least some of the ANC
Judith Anderson, an ANC
4A commissioner who voted to support the pro-road coalition, said the
main issue in her neighborhood was east-west access.
"We have a number of
older residents and commissioners who remember the road when it was
open," she said. "And if you were going to Georgetown or the
Cathedral area, it took you there faster. Klingle Road was the way to
get where you wanted to go. And I dont think anybody has the right to
tell you where you can go."
There is also a sense
among some east-of-the-park residents that the anti-road position
reinforces the residential, occupational and social patterns of a city
still divided by race and class.
"People have been
locked into their little neighborhoods," said Toni Ritzenberg, a
life-long Washingtonian who led the effort in ANC 3B to support the
"That was my reason
for bringing it up," she said. "When I was younger, if you
were black, you didnt cross 14th Street. Im Jewish you
couldnt go across town from the Gold Coast," east of upper 16th
"Im all for
bikers and dog walkers," she said. "But if you want to live in
an integrated city, you have to make some little concessions."
Mendelson, who last month
led the failed effort, supported by Williams, to block the council from
requiring council approval for his Klingle Road plan, said last week he
recently received "informal" assurances from Williams that the
mayor would accede to the councils wishes and submit a Klingle Road
proposal later this year.
"Yes, we will
comply," Mendelson characterized the mayors response.
Other council members
said they had no idea of the mayors next move.
"I am in the
dark," said Graham, whose ward contains part of Klingle Road.
"I dont know where things stand with the mayor."
A spokesman for
Councilwoman Kathy Patterson, D-Ward 3, whose ward contains the other
main section of the road, said Patterson had heard nothing from the
mayor about his plans following the council vote.
And Carol Schwartz, R-At
Large, who heads a council oversight committee on city roads, said both
she and Cropp sent letters to the mayor after last months vote,
asking him to respect the councils prerogative on approving road
"But he didnt
respond at all," she said. "Now its like a stalemate. I
hope he wont be stubborn about this."
If the mayor does decide
to present his plan to transform the road to parkland to the council,
there were signs last week that some council members, like their
constituents, are moving away from him and toward the pro-road position.
To date, only three
members Graham, Fenty and Cropp have publicly opposed the
mayors public position.
But Schwartz indicated
she was leaning toward the pro-road option. "I know our traffic
problems are immense," she said. "Repairing Klingle Road for
continued use" could be a partial solution, she said. "And
Im very aware that there are so few cross-town routes."
Councilman Kevin Chavous,
D-Ward 7, also indicated he might be moving in the pro-road direction.
"Early on in this
issue, I took a position to keep the road closed" because of
environmental concerns, he said. "But there is also an argument
that the environment will be better off by diverting traffic off of some
of these heavily traveled routes like Connecticut Avenue."
"Im still where I
am," he said. "But I think the issue is not as clear-cut as it
looked at first."
And a senior staffer in
the office of Councilman Harold Brazil, D-At Large, said that staff
members there were very aware of growing support citywide for reopening
However, she said there
was no indication now that Brazil was leaning toward supporting car
traffic on the road. "Hes already changed his position once on
this issue," she said.
2002, The Common Denominator