At the beginning of a public meeting last night on a new environmental assessment for the Klingle Valley trail, the moderator warned a small collection of audience members that applause and booing were not allowed, the meeting was not a debate, and personal attacks would not be tolerated.
“You will be asked to leave,” he said.
It was surprising, but perhaps justified, for the next round in a 15-year struggle that has pitted environmentalists against car-lovers and generated more discussion in the City Council than any 1-mile stretch has a right to do. It’s gone on so long that many of the original advocates involved since the road washed out in 1991 have moved to different parts of the city, and the sociopolitical landscape has changed such that it’s hard to cast the debate as wealthy people living west of Rock Creek vs. less wealthy people east of it.
In 2008, the Council reversed its opinion from 2003, voting that the non-functional old road should be turned into a trail for hikers and bicyclists rather than rebuilt as a road for cars. Accordingly, the new environmental assessment outlines three options for a trail, with various widths, kinds of surfaces, and degrees of lighting. The Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth have fought for a narrow trail with no lighting, in order to have least impact on nocturnal wildlife, and advocated for more cross-town bus routes to help ease traffic through the park.
But while the trail idea is popular among cyclists and hikers around the city, several local organizations still want their road back. Last week, the local ANC voted against the conversion of the broken-down road into a trail. Laurie Collins testified on behalf of the Coalition to Repair and Reopen Klingle Road—calling the proposed trail a “three-block hike-bike path to nowhere”—and also came with the backing of the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance, which she previously headed. Fay Armstrong added the weight of Historic Mount Pleasant to the anti-trail forces, invoking the road’s 125-year history as a public highway, and Lewis Baskerville represented the Crestwood Neighborhood League.
Primarily, they argue that it’s actually illegal, since the Council hasn’t officially performed a street closing, which the EA suggests is a necessary step. But considering the 2008 vote, it seems likely that the Council would let it through without much trouble.
The more threatening prospect is a lawsuit from the Tregaron Limited Partnership, which owns several lots on the defunct road. Since the road washed out, the city ruled that the once-contiguous estate could be subdivided, leaving room for five high-end houses that would need the road as a road in order to access their driveways.
“The plan to close Klingle Road and make it into trail makes it a landlocked site, and makes it impossible to access,” said the Partnership’s attorney, Cynthia Giordano. “We will be legally taking action on this matter.”
The District Department of Transportation is still recieving input from other agencies within the D.C. government, and taking comments until July 6th, so the final environmental assessment could look different. Barring a successful lawsuit, though, or another massive change of heart by the City Council, it seems Klingle Trail is headed towards some sort of reality in the coming year.