When Did Rock Creek Parkway Become One-Way?

If you drive to work downtown and live somewhere up in Northwest D.C., you might be one of the thousands of people who drive down the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway (the formal name), one of the most pleasant (and fastest) commutes in the city.

The zippy commute can be attributed to the one-way rules in place during both morning and evening rush hours, though the latter gets a little nasty with the choke point going into the tunnel past the Duke Ellington Bridge.

Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway one-way hours (Wikipedia)
Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway one-way hours (Wikipedia)

Have you ever wondered when those rules were put in place? We did. So, we dug around the archives to see what we could find.

Below is the earliest reference we could uncover in the Washington Post, from February 13th, 1938.

Beginning tomorrow, the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway will be placed on a one-way rush-hour basis between Lincoln Memorial and Calvert street bridge. Extension of the single-direct zone was necessitated by construction in replacing a bridge below the Shoreham Hotel.

From 8 a.m. to 9 a. m. only southbound traffic will be permitted between the two points mentioned, and from 4 p. m. to 5 p. m. only northbound traffic.

Happy Valentine’s Day 1938. Enjoy your faster commute.

In July 1939, the one-way rules were extended to 7:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. going southbound and 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. heading northbound. These summer hours were necessitated by the earlier opening and closing hours of the government during the hotter, summer months.

Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway in 1939 (Library of Congress)
Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway in 1939 (Library of Congress)

Another interesting thing to note … according to an old article in the Washington Post, it takes nine policemen to change the parkway from two-way to one-way during each rush hour. And, while this is underway, 25 more policemen block off intersections leading onto the Parkway.

Now, since this article was from 1975, I suspect (or hope) that it’s a little more efficient today.

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • Interesting. Any idea where that photo was taken? I can’t tell what part of the parkway it is.

    I’m curious as to how many officers it takes today to make the switches – we commute this way from Adams Morgan to McLean every day. Some of the officers are damn near invisible in the waning sunset because they don’t wear any reflective gear. I think we almost hit one the other day.

    I’m also curious as to why there hasn’t been any thought toward automating the process of lane switches by using gates on the entrances and other things.

    • mdrohan

      I would guess that since its NPS land, they don’t want to “clutter it up,” or something, with things like automated lane signals.

      Good post, this is my favorite road in the DC area, and I’m happy to have it for my commute from Woodley Park to Tysons. The one thing that could improve though is the inbound exit from the roosevelt bridge, on the right, down towards the lincoln memorial– if they made that lane just a little bit wider, people lining up to cross over and go south on Potomac Pkwy (passing by the memorial) wouldn’t unnecessarily slow those of us down turning right and heading North (under the Kennedy Center) on the pkwy. Not an issue if you hit it during Rush hour, but if you’re there after 6:30, your annoyingly long evening commute just got held up by 20 minutes.

      • Herschel

        That’s why you should take the left exit at the end of the bridge onto the Potomac River Freeway. Stay to the left and you come out across from the Watergate near the Virginia Avenue entrance to the parkway.

      • Michael Cunningham

        If they don’t want to “clutter it up” with lane signals, then why do they currently clutter it up with construction barrels and sawhorses?

        This is a city founded on bollards. I’m sure they could spare a couple around Cap Hill for that.

    • boybert

      That sign was on southbound Beach Drive, just approaching the Parkway. It was replaced within the last year or so.

    • It looks like the picture was taken from the Pennsylvania Avenue overpass looking south; the heating plant would later be constructed across the creek on the right. Here is the location today: https://www.google.com/maps?cbp=12,193.46,,1,-4&layer=c&panoid=_QCjvlXV7GSPzJgJFPoSEg&cbll=38.904283,-77.05649&dg=opt&ie=UTF8&ll=38.872325,-77.145996&spn=0.351757,0.690079&t=m&z=11&vpsrc=0

      Note all the industrial activity in Georgetown by the waterfront, and the smoke-spewing plant up ahead — perhaps the Heurich brewery?

  • It takes at least 9 to open and close the parkway, I see them often on my way home. But I don’t think they are blocking the intersections anymore with officers. Any idea how many accidents have been attributed to this switch?

  • Peoples Hernandez

    I remember only a few years ago when the intersection of Independence and Maine Avenues and 17th Street, NW was controlled by a policeman. Now we have lights. And they’ve definitely slowed down the paced. Separately, how about the 3 lanes to 4 lanes southbound on Connecticut Avenue during morning rush hour? I can’t tell you how many times there have been near-head on collisions in the far left lane.

  • nice article…………..