Though the comment period has come and gone, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) is working on a new version of the policies for the Parks & Open Space Element Update of the Comprehensive Plan for the National Capital, one that is strongly influenced by the recent NPS Paved Trails Study.
Since the federal government’s goal is to protect and enhance the National Capital Region’s parks and open space system while providing recreational, ecological, social, and educational benefits for visitors, residents, workers, and future generations, it would make sense that this plan would have some impact on cycling and trails. And so it does. One of the key guiding principals is that the government should "Provide Access to and Connections between Parks and Open Space" and trails are one of the main ways they plan to do that.
Improving access and enhancing connections includes improving physical and visual connectivity and filling the gaps in the existing system. It also requires a shift from thinking of parks and open space as isolated spaces to planning how the park network functions as a whole and rethinking how streets, sidewalks, trails, and plazas, complement and connect parks and open space and facilitate movement within the network.
Furthermore, trails, parkways and greenways are specifically mentioned as they types of facilities they want to connect.
Similar to parkways, trails create an integrated, inter-jurisdictional network for recreation, multimodal transportation, and education. Trails often follow scenic routes, linking destinations including significant cultural properties and natural resource areas. However, these areas can sometimes be vulnerable to ecological or development changes, and trail development in or near sensitive areas and habitats must be planned with thorough research and careful design.
And trails can help connect people to and along the Waterfront
For example, the recently completed Kenilworth Segment of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail connects Anacostia Park in Washington, DC with Bladensburg Waterfront Park in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The recently completed threemile connection made it possible to link Washington, Maryland and Virginia through a 16-mile long trail. This segment of trail provides a pleasant, accessible, and safe route for cyclists who commute between Prince George’s County and Washington, and offers convenient access to the river and its natural resources.
Several policies identified in the plan call for trails to be used to create connectivity
POS.C.1 Plan and maintain connections between parks and open space through streets, sidewalks, plazas, and trails to create a unified and accessible park system for the national capital region.
POS.C.2 Improve public access to parks and open space, including removing barriers that limit physical or visual connectivity.
POS.C.3 Create access points to the region’s park system from adjacent communities where impacts on natural and cultural resources will be minimal
POS.C.4 Link open space along the Potomac and Anacostia shorelines to provide a continuous public open space system.
POS.C.5 Promote access to waterfront parks by encouraging improved pedestrian and other multimodal connections, and wayfinding signage from adjacent communities.
POS.C.6 Promote public access along the region’s shorelines, including on federal properties when security considerations will permit.
POS.C.7 Develop, improve, and maintain a regional trail system that serves recreational and commuter needs by closing gaps and connecting parks and open space, natural areas, and destinations. Ensure that regional trails connect with the national trail network.
POS.C.8 Consider opportunities to develop trails or connect trail systems when planning anddesigning projects throughout the region. Ensure that new development do notpreclude future improvements to trail connections.
POS.C.9 Improve access to the Civil War Defenses of Washington historic fort sites by linking them to surrounding communities using the existing street rights-of-way, sidewalks, and trails where possible.
POS.C.10 Provide public access to open space on or adjacent to federal properties as mission and security considerations permit, while minimizing impacts on natural and cultural resources. Where security is an issue, encourage limited access through coordinated programs and events.
Furthermore, trail maintenance should be an opportunity to engage with and educated the public
POS.B.21 - Consider opportunities to educate and engage communities in the cleanup, planting, removal of invasive species, and maintenance of the region’s rivers, trails, parks, and open space.
But since another principle is that they should balance interests, it means trails have to build in low impact ways, especially in the sensitive Capper-Cramton Parks
POS.D.4 Ensure that proposed improvements and maintenance projects along trails and parkways minimize impacts to viewsheds and are sensitive to their natural and historic qualities that make them significant.
POS.D.5 Minimize impacts from development adjacent to parks and open space, including trails and parkways, to protect their natural and historic features.
The plan also calls for collaboration between agencies and jurisdictions
As an example, portions of the trail system cross multiple jurisdictions, and there may be opportunities to collaborate on maintenance or improvement projects with other stakeholders to ensure that trails continue to serve both recreational and transportation functions. The federal government can provide leadership and assist in linking new and existing trail networks with parkland or trails on federal properties to create an integrated parks and open space network serving the residents of and visitors to the region.
POS.F.2 Develop partnerships and build coalitions among local agencies, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, foundations, and other stakeholders to create, manage, maintain, and connect a cohesive open space system.
If you missed the last comment period, you'll get another chance. NCPC staff will revise the Parks & Open Space Element based on public comments and stakeholder feedback recieved through May 7, 2018. At a Commission meeting in the winter, staff will present the revised element for the Commission's approval and adoption. The public will have the opportunity to comment on the revised element in the weeks leading up to this Commission meeting.