2022 | Transportation

Closure of lanes on Little Falls Parkway would create park ‘unlike anything’ in country, officials say

Beginning June 18, road won’t be closed to traffic on weekends during study

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The Montgomery County Parks Department plans to soon begin a study of Little Falls Parkway to determine if the road could remain partially closed permanently.

Shortly after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, the parkway in Bethesda was closed to traffic Fridays through Sundays between Arlington Road and Massachusetts Avenue. That allowed bicyclists and pedestrians more room to exercise while ensuring social distancing.

After Labor Day that year, the county reopened the stretch to vehicles on Fridays, and it was reopened to vehicles seven days a week in December.

The December reopening was due to reduced staffing and fewer park police officers working, caused by rising COVID-19 cases in the county, Trails Master Planner and Trails Program Supervisor Darren Flusche told Bethesda Beat at the time.

More than 1,900 people signed an online petition opposing the decision.
Then, in March of 2021, the parkway was closed to traffic on the weekends.

The Parks Department announced this week that it will begin a study June 18 that will “study the operational effects of reducing the Parkway from four lanes to two.” The two closed lanes would create a “linear park” open to bicyclists and pedestrians full-time, according to a press release from the department.

The study area is from Dorset Avenue to Arlington Road, about 1.3 miles. The study is expected to last through the fall, the press release said, and the weekend road closures will be suspended during that time.

In a statement, Parks Director Mike Riley said the permanent lane closures, if implemented, would be “unlike anything that currently exists in the United States.”

“I see this as a win-win solution that could eliminate traffic impacts caused by weekend road closures while creating a permanent, enhanced open parkway experience for the community to enjoy seven days a week,” Riley said.

The other two roadways that also were closed to vehicle traffic during the pandemic — Sligo Creek Parkway and Beach Drive — are not included in the study. They are closed to vehicle traffic on the weekends.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com