Kennedy Center officials say patrons tell them they are increasingly skittish about walking the nearby streets at night, so the center wants to provide electric carts to transport ticketholders from a nearby commercial parking lot.

Under the proposal, the carts would shuttle patrons from the 600-space Columbia Plaza garage at 24th Street and Virginia Avenue NW, replacing free shuttle buses the center has provided from there for years. They say the carts, which will cost $32,000, would be faster than the buses, which often are delayed in traffic backups.

But the new service also would require the center to build a $24,000 asphalt pathway through a stretch of parkland between the center and Virginia Avenue, a plan that has angered Foggy Bottom residents, who say it would destroy one of their area's few green spaces.

Kennedy Center officials say the path and carts, which can hold up to 11 people, would be temporary until they could enlarge their parking facilities or get the city to refigure traffic lanes to avoid the backups on nearby roads around curtain time. They hope to get one of these things done within three years.

Because the project is labeled "temporary," neither the city nor the federal government has required neighborhood input.

"Nobody asked if anybody minded if this little park were ripped up," said Elayne DeVito, president of the Foggy Bottom Association.

"It makes absolutely no sense," said Maria Tyler, a member of the Foggy Bottom advisory neighborhood commission, which has asked the city to rescind its permit for the project.

Tomorrow, the National Capital Planning Commission, the only federal agency that must review the project, will rule on it. Some neighbors say they will be there in force.

The proposal is part of a three-year, $3 million plan to renovate the Kennedy Center's underground, 1,470-space garage. The repair project underway, which will add no spaces, will complete a 200-car section at a time.

In the interim, two makeshift parking lots have been set up near the center. But center officials say many people will park at Columbia Plaza and walk.

They also say patrons are complaining, even turning in their season tickets, because they have to park so far away. They say the shuttle bus from Columbia Plaza can take up to 15 minutes to reach the center because of traffic. The carts would take less than five.

"We have heard it loud and clear from our patrons," said Geraldine M. Otremba, Kennedy Center director of operations.

The carts would begin operating a half-hour before the first evening and weekend matinee performances and continue until a half-hour after the final curtain. The plan also calls for installing lighting and landscaping along the pathway and benches.

But many residents say they are wary. "I think it's going to desecrate an area that otherwise is quite beautiful," said James Reid, 75, who lives at the nearby Watergate.

Others are critical of the proposal by the center, which receives federal support, to spend $56,000 on the project during tight budget times..

"I think it's absolutely ludicrous for the Kennedy Center to expend public funds that need to be used for other purposes," said Beverly Sklover, another commissioner.

Still other residents said they worry the carts and path will become permanent. "We know that there's not going to {be} any money . . . to repair it back to where it was," said commissioner Sue Schumacher.