2020 | Coronavirus

UPDATED: County to close additional parkways on weekends for pedestrians, cyclists

More options for people getting exercise, without crowding

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Montgomery Parks is closing segments of Sligo Creek Parkway, Beach Drive and Little Falls Parkway from 9 a.m. on Fridays to 6 p.m. on Sundays during the public health emergency. Pictured are pedestrians and cyclists using a closed segment of Sligo Creek Parkway.

Photo from Montgomery Parks

This story and headline were updated at 1:45 p.m. April 14, 2020, to clarify that the closures are of parkways, which the parks department manages.

After people crowded trails to get exercise, Montgomery County began closing parkways to provide more space for people to walk, run and bike while maintaining social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic.

The county has closed segments of Sligo Creek Parkway in Silver Spring for two weekends and plans to the same this weekend with parts of Little Falls Parkway in Bethesda and Beach Drive in Kensington.

Casey Anderson, vice president of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, said Montgomery Parks has received many requests from the community to close parkways for pedestrians and cyclists.

Parts of Sligo Creek Parkway are regularly closed during the summer for people to use, but the county began closing the segments earlier because of the requests.

“We heard a lot of people really pressing for some other options and we’ve also heard a lot of concerns from people about Sligo Trail and CCT (Capital Crescent Trail) in particular about people bunching up and not maintaining a social distance,” Anderson said. “We generally found that people were complying, but there was heavier use on the trails.”

He said more people might be on the trails because park employees had to take down basketball hoops and close playgrounds to discourage people gathering in one place.

In addition to the new stretches that will be closed to vehicles, Montgomery Parks is expanding the closures to Fridays and extending the hours.

The closures can be found at:

● Beach Drive from Connecticut Avenue to Knowles Avenue (2.7 miles)
● Little Falls Parkway from Massachusetts Avenue to Arlington Road (1.3 miles)
● Forest Glen Road to University Boulevard West (1.5 miles)
● Old Carroll Avenue to Piney Branch Road (1.1 miles)

The parkways will be closed to vehicles from 9 a.m. on Fridays to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

Anderson said park staff members have assessed how to create more space for people to spread out and for recreation while still maintaining six feet from others and keep groups to fewer than 10.

“I don’t see us adding any segments or roads in the near term,” he said. “It effectively creates a whole lot of new space for moving around that is right next to the place where people are wanting to use the trails.”

Anderson said planning for the closures is complicated because of the need to assess traffic flow, emergency vehicle access, neighborhood access, public transit routes, and pedestrian safety.

Barrel barriers and electronic signs will be placed to close areas during the weekends.

Council Member Evan Glass said he gets multiple emails a day from people who want more space for exercising outdoors. He said he has worked with communities and the parks staff to help open up parkways to pedestrians.

“People want to be able to get outside of their home and get some fresh air and find some mental clarity,” he said. “We’re all cooped in our homes with family and video calls and homeschooling, and we all need a little release.”

Glass said the closures aren’t an invitation for people to form crowds.

“This is an exercise in trust with the public that we can accommodate the need for residents to get outside and get some fresh air,” he said, “but they have to demonstrate an adherence to health care guidelines to protect us all from the spread of the coronavirus.”

If the closures run smoothly, Anderson said, there might be more on weekdays. The closures will keep happening as long as people need them, he said.

“I don’t think it’s just about getting some fresh air. People want to see other people, even strangers in public,” he said. “Going out into the parks is one of the few ways [right now] that you can really see other people living their lives in a way that’s pretty close to what we’re all used to. I think we all want as much of that as we can get at this point.”

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.