Going to the park… how long should it take?

A 90 minute drive to travel from Lake Ridge down to a local park, all within eastern PW County?  That’s what happened to Mr. Charles Gallion, per his letter to the Lane Ranger (Potomac News, August 17, 2008).  Mr. Gallion described his trip to Locust Shade Park on a recent Saturday afternoon:  “A simple 15-mile trip took 90 minutes southbound using a combination of I-95 and U.S.1.  The return 15-mile trip took 60 minutes northbound only because I exited I-95 at Va. 234 and took back roads and residential streets.  What a joke.  All told, that was 150 minutes combined for a total of 30 miles.”

The Lane Ranger responded that he shared Mr. Gallion’s pain, and so do many of the readers who chose to submit comments on the letter.  Obviously there is a transportation issue, but this may point out a park level of service issue as well.

In the Parks, Open Space, and Trails chapter of the PW County comprehesive plan, county parks are catagorized in this way:

Park type Size Service area Level of Service Standard
Neighborhood 5 – 20 acres Up to 2 miles 1 acre / 1000 population
Community 20 – 150 acres 2 – 10 miles 4 acres / 1000
Regional 100 + acres Over 10 miles / entire county 6 acres /1000

While the number of acres per 1000 population is a key standard, another level of service standard mentioned is Service area (i.e., travel time boundaries) (page 19 of the chapter).  The travel times are not specified.  Is 90 minutes of travel to reach a local park an acceptable level of service, by any definition?

Mr. Gallion may not use Locust Shade Park for future company picnics because his recent experience.  Similarly, I used to make frequent trips to Prince William Forest Park for hiking, bicycling and nature watching, but don’t anymore because of the traffic situation on the I-95 corridor.   This highlights the importance of neighborhood and community parks, which should be dispersed within our residential areas, should be within walking and biking distance, and should include natural areas along with other park amenities.  I seek out parks for recreation, because I enjoy nature, and partly for relief from our Northern Virginia congestion.  I’d like to have options for getting to them that don’t involve the congestion.