One of the many items of unfinished business I left behind me when I went off to the hospital was a suggestion to alleviate traffic congestion on Connecticut Avenue as Metro subway construction makes its way toward the suburbs.
At present, only a short section of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway (the part nearest the downtown terminus) is designated to carry one-way traffic during rush hours. This does little good because for most of its length the Parkway carries only one lane of traffic in each direction.
The District's traffic engineers therefore suggested that the one-way rush hour plan be extended to more of the Parkway and to Beach Drive. Studies were conducted to demonstrate to the National Park Service (which has jurisdiction over the Parkway) that the idea would work well and could be implemented with ease. The District's engineers suggested that the extended one-way plan be tried temporarily during construction delays on Connecticut Avenue, with a permanent decision on it deferred until the end of the experiment.
The Park Service studied the plan, suggested some changes, studied it some more, and then gave private indication that approval might be forthcoming - despite the Park Service's traditional opposition to turning parklands into commuter shortcuts.
But in the end, the Park Service said "No." In the mountains of mail that awaited my return to work, I found a copy of a letter sent two months ago from the Park Service to Douglas N. Schneider Jr., the District's Director of Transportation. The letter said:
"We have evaluated your request to extend one-way rush hour traffic on portions of Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway and Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park. We understand that this request is one of the alternatives being considered to detour traffic as a reduction from six to four lanes occurs on Connecticut Avenue during repairs to the bridge over Klingle Road.
"Although we certainly wish to cooperate with the D. C. Department of Transportation in every possible way, we do not feel that the best interests of the National Park Service and, indeed, the public would be served by granting this request. In disapproving the proposal, our basic concern is for the protection of park resources and the pleasures they afford the visiting public. We cannot encourage increased commuting which detracts from the integrity of the park and its enjoyment by our visitors."
The copy of the Park Service letter to Schneider was sent to me by Jack Fish, director of the National Capital Region, who wrote it. On the bottom of the photostat, Fish penned a note to me that said: "Bill, you'll probably disagree, but I wanted you to get this copy because of your interest."
Jack, I don't know whether I agree or disagree, and it wouldn't matter much even if I had a strong view one way or the other. I don't commute on either Connecticut Avenue or through the Park, and am not a party at interest. I publicized the suggestion only because I thought it might help alleviate the traffic delays that thousands of people endure each day, and was therefore worth some thought.
There is a tendency for those of us who are paid to make profound judgments to take ourselves much too seriously. We're always so sure we know what's best for the public. But very often when the public is given a chance to make its views known, it turns out to be solidly opposed to decisions made in ivory towers.
I take no sides in this rather evenly balanced controversy, but I do think it would be useful if people who do use the parks and/or Connecticut Avenue would write to Jack Fish (1100 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, D.C. 20242) and tell him whether they like or dislike his decision. The only way a columnist or any other public servant can know what the public supports or opposes is if the public takes the trouble to speak up.