Housing Complex

Klingle’s Back! Road Fight Enters Realm of Absurdity With Federal Court Battle

The washed-out road, iced over last winter.

Sweet baby Jesus.

We thought this was all over a year ago, when the District Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration decided that Klingle Road through Rock Creek Park—a 0.7-mile stretch behind the Kennedy-Warren apartments in Cleveland Park that has been closed since it washed out two decades ago—should become a hiker-biker trail, rather than reopen to cars. Finally, finally, the most acrimonious fight over the smallest issue in Washington had been resolved.

But the people in favor of restoring the road weren't done fighting. In November, five Ward 4 residents—including Advisory Neighborhood 4A Commissioners Gale Black and Steven Whatley—filed a 59-page complaint in federal court asking for an injunction on construction of the trail. Denying vehicles access to the road, they argue, could put nearby residents in mortal danger. 

The barricading of the right of way is adding to traffic congestion nearby, water pollution with attendant impacts on public health. The proposed action will permanently expose persons who live, attend school or work in areas adjacent to the new trail to unnecessary traffic congestion and airborne pollution, including particulate matter and other mobile source air toxics that cause asthma and other respiratory diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases that contribute to increased medical costs, lost work and school days, and early death.

The suit, which names as defendants seven public officials including federal Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood, makes a number of other arguments regarding jurisdictions, authorities, and procedures.

Last month, the feds responded with a motion to dismiss, arguing that the D.C. Council had passed a law in 2008 prohibiting the former road from being re-opened as a road, and disputing the plaintiff's standing to sue.

And just yesterday, the environmentalists who've been fighting this battle as long as anybody filed their own motion to intervene on behalf of the defendants. Ironically, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth claim standing on the same grounds that the plaintiffs do: That re-opening the road would increase traffic congestion, posing a health risk to their members.

The plaintiffs have another month to respond, and then Judge James Boasberg—son of the Cleveland Park-based former Historic Preservation Board chairman Tersh Boasberg—will decide. Hopefully for the last time.

  • DC Guy

    Actually, your line is a little off, because the western most portion, from the Washington International School to Woodley Road, is open.

    This is absurd, but only a little more absurd than the Wisconsin Avenue Giant. Same neighborhood though. Big surprise.

  • um

    These things are decided, until they aren't. The Council decided in 2008 to make a trail out of it...reversing the Council decision made ~6 years prior to repair the road immediately.

    The environmental issue is bogus. The road was already there and they have to do the exact same infrastructure work (retaining walls, storm water runoff etc) for the trail as they do for the road...literally the same, to the dollar. Thinking that by blocking that cross park route, that traffic just decides not to cross the park is the logic of a child. Of course the same cars still cross the park, it just requires much longer, increasing traffic congestion and increasing pollution due to more car pollution. All the studies, including the ones by the environmentalists illustrated this very clearly.

    The road carried 3000 vehicles per day 20 years ago, providing a critical east/west option across the park, versus the couple hundred people a day (on a sunny weekend day) that will use it as a bike trail.

    The wealthy residents whose property backs up to the road and who have been funding the lawyers and studies to keep it closed, aren't the only ones with access to lawyers.

  • Ward One Resident

    Yeah....things were starting to get a bit boring around D.C.

  • NE John

    Aside from homeowners in proximity to the road, who want a more suburban setting in the city, people against this road likely have never traveled using it. It was a great road, albeit poorly designed and constructed one, but a nice drive that shortened travel time across town.

    Open the road

  • NE John

    at least for motorcycles and bicycles

  • Kary S

    As a non-wealthy resident of the neighborhood I am in favor of keeping the road closed. I cannot imagine that this would cut anyone's commute time and we do not need the increased traffic on our streets.

  • Kevin

    As someone who commutes across the park each day, I have never experienced significant traffic on Porter. It's a shame DDOT has not made further progress on Klingle trail by now, and this lawsuit certainly doesn't help matters.

  • NE John

    Kary, we on the other side already acknowledge your desires. But, hopefully it's not about you any more. I would be saying the same thing if I lived there. In fact, I would like Michigan Avenue closed down, as it would make my neighborhood so quiet and peaceful.

  • Paula Product

    Yes @um, you're right. It will take all the same work to make a bike/hike trail that it would to build and maintain a road capable of handling hundreds or thousands of cars and trucks a day. And we all know bikers and hikers pollute the air in the park, and the water running through the creek next to the road, just as much as cars and trucks do, what with all that chain lube and shoe dirt they track all over the place. Why people can't get their heads around the idea that our first prioroty should be maximizing the number and speed of east-west car trips through the park, I'll never understand.

  • Celine

    Well who would have thunk! Seems both attorney's who signed the document on behalf of the Friends of the Earth seem to both live together right on Klingle Road. Guess you'd call them NIMBY attorneys. Guess they gotta protect their property values and traffic in front of their house!

  • NE John

    Can't blame them (FOE). I would be doing the same thing if I lived there. However, this IS a city, and I find it highly inequitable that these select few should receive special treatment and advantage at the cost of others. In other words, it is an unholy inequitable arrangement.

  • NE John

    How about the city jack up the property taxes of each home within 1/4 mile of this closed portion of the road by, say, one thousand dollars each per year. That sounds fair for the rest of us.

  • Wrack

    How about the whiny babies who keep fighting for an unnecessary road get a life and find something productive to do with their time?

  • NE John

    No road is necessary, so I want the one near my house closed down.

  • John

    We need the road open as all roads in the city should be repaired and made usable. This is three blocks IN THE MIDDLE of a road, and it makes no sense for its use to be changed to a hike/bike path. What road will be next? These same environmentalist ignore the 13 acre tax free park that runs beside Klingle Road for hiking and bird watching. And let us ignore Rock Creek Park 26 acres and a long bike trail. In 2003 the legislation called for a road and a hike/bike path, now that would make everyone happy, except for the selfish few in Cleveland Park.

  • um


    When it has been decided by the Council to rebuild the road, the nimby and environmentalists spending ~10 years in court holding up construction is a "good" thing.

    Yet when the shoe is on the other foot and folks use every legal tool at their disposal to get the road fixed, their effort becomes "absurd".

    The level of self obsessedness in this town is epic. Only in DC (and MD) does the removal of an existing public road that had been there for 152 years before it was washed out, and that was used by 3000 vehicles per day, to be given over to the exclusive use (at the cost of millions to rebuild) of a couple hundred walker / bikers per day (on nice weekeds)...constitute "normal".

    And again, I will type slower for those of you who don't get it. Closing that road didn't make traffic across Rock Creek Park magically disappear, it simply displaced it North and South and INCREASED air pollution with it with the additional congestion caused in the neighboring road network. The cognitive dissonace by the environmentalists in this regard is shocking.

  • http://dcjack.org Jack

    In 2003, the "roadies" won the entire battle, with the Council measure calling for the road to be rebuilt, period. Then a funny thing happened -- the Environmental Impact Statement could never achieve Federal approval. After five years of frustration, the Council recognized that the Feds would never approve the road, and decided to go with the bike/hike path instead.

    Now, just suppose that the current debate resulted in, once again, a decision by the Council to rebuild the road, returning us to the state of affairs in 2003. Why does anyone imagine that the outcome would be any different? It's not local environmentalists who are preventing the automobile road, but, behind the scenes, the National Park Service. Waging this battle yet again, and perhaps winning another decision to rebuild the road, will not change that opposition, and that outcome.

    Give it up already. It's the bike/hike trail or nothing.

  • RT

    It's better to build the road. But it won't happen. The road was a fantastic east-west connection in the city. The folks west of the park didn't want the riff raff coming across, period. That's why the road wasn't rebuilt. Don't be fooled, Lydia!

  • Celine

    Jack, it's not "the bike/hike trail or nothing", it more than likely will be nothing. Criminal activity and unhealthy raw sewage continues to flourish along the road. And why would a road, that has been a road for over 100 "not" get Federal approval? It's not "funny", it's because the atmosphere of corruption within our governments continue to also flourish. That's the sadness in why Klingle ROAD (it is a ROAD) will never be a hike path either.

    And I'm with RT, Lydia is clueless and obviously sees that its ok for the NIMBYs West of the Park to continue to hold up and use their so-called influence to block a repair of a good road, while the rest of us who don't have influence, get the shaft.

  • Axel

    Selfish few? Give me a break. Building Klingle as a road has always been DC's equivalent of Alaska's bridge to nowhere. The right of way is too narrow for a stable, safe road. The US Park Service is against a road. It would be extraordinarily expensive to build and mantain. There are huge EIS issues. And for what? For a "select few", to use your phrase, to save a couple of minutes to zip their kids to private schools west of the Park?

    Klingle Rd. is dead. It's not coming back. Give it up, folks. Spend your time working for better bus service, or better schools or a better Arbor Day. Or something.

  • oboe

    I think it's a delusion to believe that DC voters are more likely to (re-)build roads through RCP in the coming years, rather than look back and wonder why it was ever built in the first place. The late 90s were the high-water mark for this stuff. And it's been all downhill from there. Proponents can file as many lawsuits as they like, but the odds of Klingle being re-opened to auto-traffic are about as likely as the odds of an elevated highway to link the SE/SW Freeway and New York Ave/US-50 being constructed through Captiol Hill.

    In other words, zero. Sorry guys, you missed your window of opportunity.

  • NE John

    quite the stretch oboe, lol

  • NE John

    "The right of way is too narrow for a stable, safe road."

    As an engineer, I would like to see specifics to back up this assertion.

  • NE John

    Any of the above lame arguments against the road can be used as a reason to close ANY road in DC. My beef is that this is being done simply for the advantage of the people of that neighborhood. It is inequitable to other taxpayers in the city. I want the road near my house closed too, so that more trees can grow, less localized pollution etc. etc. etc.!

  • Celine

    Hey Axel, Klingle Road is the equivalent to and is no different than any collector in RCP. When Broad Branch collapsed with the very same reason Klingle collapsed you saw what happened. No rich people close enough by to block it's repairs. And neither did the Sierra Club come in either to stop the repairs. Why not?

  • Yep

    NE John,

    You are acting like NIMBYs are using their clout to shut down an existing road. The road has been closed for decades. The question is not whether a road should be "closed," the question is whether a new road should be built on a parcel of unused land.

  • NE John

    You got it wrong Yep. How that hell am I acting like a NIMBY? If this is permissible, I would like to shut down Michigan Avenue permanently, for all the same reasons.

  • NE John

    You guys are pretty good bullshitters though, I have to admit.

  • TB

    This is a waste of the court's time. This road was built in the wrong place; it cannot be stabilized, it is not essential and it certainly is not worth the major investment that would be needed to rebuild it. Steep slopes, underground and surface water flows, and other unique hydro-geologic aspects distinguish this area from other RCP access roads. There is a reason why this road kept washing out. There are a dozen other ways for drivers to get to and from where they want to go. DC doesn't need to spend 10 of million plus to try and force a road where nature doesn't want one. Sorry asphalt lovers, you lost this one. Save Klingle Valley (you'll like it when it's done.)

  • John

    The road is barracaded but not closed, because Ddot has not done its job since 1991 and rebuilt the existing road. Somehow that incompetance should be rewarded and the "open and necessary road" according to the Environmental Assessment should then be used for whatever anyone wants? What kind of precident does this start, close a road and turn it into a bike path in any part of the city because a few folks who live nearby want a bike path?

  • Axel

    I love the argument of the Roadies that Klingle should be rebuilt at an eight-figure price tag because Klingle was given to the government as a "highway" back in 18-whatever, when horses had to ford Rock Creek Park. By that logic, Kligle should be a horse and buggy trail!

  • Celine

    The only waste has been from the Sierra Club and the influential Woodley Park neighbors who have stalled the repair of the road and kept it in limbo and them (the neighbors) filling Kwame Brown's coffers during his election to make sure they continue to get their way. It's obvious that "TB" is clueless about Klingle Road because all the roads leading into RCP are as he describes. But I suppose he wants them all closed too.......(eyes rolling).

    The road is actually in pretty good shape and is used by Government/WASA/Pepco employees all the time. They drive right up from the Porter Street side all the way up to the Connecticut Ave Bridge to do maintenance. So if you think there will ever be a bike/hike path, it will also continue to be road for those utilities to be accessed.

    As to the term "Save Klingle Valley" I believe only the Roadies are the only ones who have wanted the City to clean up the environmental issues and human health hazards that have plagued that valley for decades. Something I've never seen the so-called environmentalist do at all.

    I agree with NE John, you guys are pretty good bullshitters.

  • NE John

    Michigan Avenue was built in the wrong place too. It attracts undesirable elements from PG County that travel the road and cause major damage over time. It resides in a flood plain and often backs up during heavy rains. Needless to say, all the pollution covering the roadway washes into the storm drain and into the Chesapeake Bay, and our children suffer from the excess exhaust.

    Michigan Avenue originally was one of two roads leading from Bladensburg MD into DC. During the War of 1812 (but in 1814), British troops and American Militia used the road, presumably on horseback or foot. Later, during the Civil War, the Road was named Bunker Hill Road, and was traveled on by persons on horseback, wagons and foot.

    It was never intended for motorized vehicles!

    Close this road!

  • Mona

    But I thought that urbanism meant creating disincentives for cars. Klingle's just the beginning -- We have a much broader agenda west of the Park. Get more traffic off of Reno Road. More speed cameras, especially in school zones, too. Lots and lots of speed humps in Woodley Park and Cleveland Park. Much more traffic calming. Keep the through traffic on the main avenues where it was designed to go. Make your pavement-loving heads spin (and cars shake, if they don't slow down).

  • NE John

    Thanks Mona, you are the first to promote urbanism, which I also ascribe to. For a practical solution, not ALL internal combustion engines should be banned from this road. Small engined vehicles, such as motorcycles and small cars, should be allowed access. Practicality, realistic evolving solutions.

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