New Tools Would Help Visitors Find Alternative Ways to Access Region's National Park Sites

Nov 26, 2012

A new website and smartphone application to help visitors of the federally-owned cultural, historic, and recreational attractions in the Washington region find ways other than by car to get to those sites could become a reality if the Transportation Planning Board and the National Park Service receive a federal grant for which they jointly applied earlier this year.

The $410,000 grant would be funded under the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in the Parks Program, which the Federal Transit Administration has used since 2006 to support efforts to reduce congestion and crowding in and around national parks and other federal lands. This is the last year that funding will be available under the program since it was not included in the recent Congressional transportation reauthorization known as MAP-21.

In the past, Transit in the Parks has primarily funded planning for or construction of capital projects like shuttle buses, rail connections, and bicycle trails. The TPB proposal aims to promote alternatives and ease crowding by providing more complete and up-to-date information about options that are available in the region, including transit, bicycling, pedestrian, and ridesharing opportunities.

Currently that information is scattered across many different websites and other sources. Partly that's because the region is home to more National Park Service sites -- including the monuments and memorials on the National Mall and the Civil War battlefields in Virginia and Maryland, among others -- than any other metropolitan area in the country. It's also because several different jurisdictions and agencies are responsible for providing the array of transportation options that are available to visitors at those different sites.

The new web-based tools, which would be developed and maintained by Commuter Connections, the TPB program that promotes alternative modes to the region's commuters, would bring all of that information together into a single, integrated source and include an interactive mapping feature for finding customized routes and available options.

In addition to helping visitors to the region, the new web-based tools would also provide information to low-income residents who do not own a car and who may feel unable to take advantage of nearby cultural, historic, and recreational opportunities. According to the grant applicants, avid cyclists and other users of "active transportation" modes would also benefit from the tools.

Growing numbers of visitors to the region, from around 16 million last year, and an increasing local population will only add more demand and more pressure in the future to sites that are already becoming crowded.

An expanding network of shared-use bicycle and pedestrian trails linking several other parks and sites in the area, as well as new and changing bus routes and opportunities for ridesharing, especially to major events, means that park visitors will have more and more options for reaching their destination.

Recently, the Capital Bikeshare program -- a joint venture of the District of Columbia, Arlington County, and the City of Alexandria to provide short-term bicycle rentals within the three jurisdictions -- expanded to include docking stations at several of the monuments and memorials on the National Mall. Additional expansion is expected to occur.

If the new web-based tools proposed by the Transportation Planning Board and the National Park Service are developed, it will be easier for visitors to the federally-owned parks and sites in the region to find the most up-to-date information on ways other than by car to access those attractions. This could ease crowding and provide new opportunities for visitors and current residents to take greater advantage of the region's cultural, historic, and recreational assets.

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