Best Place to Ride Your Bike During a Government Shutdown

Rock Creek Park
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

Bikers scored big in last year’s federal shutdown. While the District was able to use its reserve funds to keep the local government open, there are some things money just can’t buy—like forcing the federal government to keep the many streets and parks it owns around town open. These sort of closures were real downers for drivers and people who, say, had their weddings scheduled to take place on the National Mall during the shutdown. But for people on two wheels, it meant free reign on federal streets that were closed to all traffic by gates that bikes could easily squeeze through.

One road in particular was a big hit among cyclists: Beach Drive NW in Rock Creek Park, which is typically open to cars during the week but closed on weekends and holidays so bikers can use it. (Rock Creek Park, which is run by the National Park Service was, in theory, entirely closed while the government was shut down.) During the shutdown, however, cyclists cruised past the flimsy and seemingly ubiquitous signs that read “Because of the federal government shutdown, this National Park Service facility is closed.” They took over the leafy street smack in the middle of the work week, recklessly speeding down the wrong way of Beach Drive and biking in the middle of it, blissfully free of the risk that a car would come along. In numbers, it seemed, no one felt as if the Park Police was likely to intervene and end the fun.

Ultimately, the shutdown highlighted the tenuous, and unjust, relationship between the federal government and the District: The local government generates more than $5 billion in local taxes and fees, but that all has to be turned over to the feds and appropriated back to D.C. by an often oblivious—and sometimes malicious—Congress. So when the federal government closed, the voteless residents of D.C. got screwed. But the bikers had the last laugh: Mess with our city, and we will wreak peaceful, two-wheeled havoc on your streets.