Zoo Neighborhood Council Meeting: Sept. 4, 2019

WHAT: On Sept. 4, 2019, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo held its inaugural meeting with the Zoo Neighborhood Council (ZNC). The ZNC provides a clear and consistent forum for the Zoo to share relevant news, upcoming events and operations with local community leaders and stakeholders. These meetings serve as a soundboard where all parties can pinpoint areas that need improvement and work together to address those areas.

WHO: Representatives from Ward 1, Ward 3, ANC3C01 and Woodley Park Community Association and Kalorama Citizens association accepted invitations to serve on the ZNC. Invitations extended to ANC1C03, ANC1D01, Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Association and Cleveland Park Community Association were met with no response.

A representative from Councilmember Mary Cheh’s office, ANC3C01 Commissioner and the president of the Woodley Park Community Association attended this meeting. Members unable to attend this meeting included a representative from Councilmember Brienne Nadeau’s office, ANC3C09 Chair and a representative from the Kalorama Citizens Association.

In this meeting, the Zoo Neighborhood Council discussed: Zoo perimeter fencing and visitor entry points; animal news, Zoo Circulator bus, ride share pick-up/drop-off zones, Big Bus Tour shuttles during events; pedestrian/vehicle traffic during events; bike racks; bike path repair; parking; Dino Summer; Zoo education outreach in 2020; hosting private events at the Zoo, and upcoming fall/winter events.

Detailed minutes of the meeting follow below.

Perimeter Fence + Visitor Entry Points

  • Three main entrances used by the majority of visitors will be unchanged:
    • Connecticut Avenue
    • Lower Zoo (Harvard Street)
    • Bus parking area near the giant panda habitat, although there will be a new visitor entry gate
  • In 2019, the Zoo plans to make the following adjustments at existing pedestrian entry points.
    • Four pathways from Lot B will be consolidated into one.
    • Two pathways from Lot A will be consolidated into one.
    • The entrance to the Zoo from Lot C will remain unchanged.
    • The two service entrances near Amazonia will be made accessible only to staff. 
    • One Visitor Center staff-only entrance which is currently accessible to pedestrians will become only accessible to staff.
  • These new entry points will enhance visitor experience and improve wayfinding, both within the Zoo and from its parking/bus lots. These entrances will also allow the Zoo to more accurately assess attendance.
  • Note: The closure of these entrances will not impact the Rock Creek bike path that crosses the Zoo’s property. Joggers and cyclists will be able to continue on the protected path along Rock Creek and enter the Zoo at the Beach Drive Gate.
  • NEXT STEPS: The Architect-Engineer will soon provide updated documents.
    • The Zoo will send the revised documents to the Council of Fine Arts staff for a follow-up preliminary review.  
    • Depending on the staff’s feedback, the Zoo could submit plans to the Council of Fine Arts possibly in October 2019.
    • Phase one of the project will begin later this year and the Zoo will circle back to neighbors and share the documents.
  • UPDATE (Oct. 4, 2019): The Smithsonian and its design consultants will present the concept design to the Council of Fine Arts on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. View the concepts for the enhancements to the perimeter fence here
  • Blue light emergency stations have been installed throughout the Zoo. They are outfitted with speakers and lights to issue emergency/weather alerts, lost children notifications and other important announcements. Testing will take place in the next couple of weeks.

Animal News

  • New animals at Zoo and updates
    • Sea lion pup born June 23 at American Trail
    • Titi monkey Kingston (right) arrived at Amazonia
    • Three Home’s hinge-back tortoises arrived at Reptile Discovery Center
    • Hereford calf Willow debuted at Kids’ Farm
    • Abyssinian ground hornbill Karoline is on exhibit at Cheetah Conservation Station.
    • Bornean orangutan Redd turns 3 Sept. 12.
    • Clouded leopard cubs Jilian and Paitoon debuted on Asia Trail Sept. 10.
    • Giant panda Bei Bei will depart for China in the coming months, per our agreement.
      • Bei Bei’s departure date is TBD.
      • There will be a week-long celebration both at the Zoo and on the Zoo’s website prior to Bei Bei’s departure.
      • The Zoo is coordinating with MPD to ensure a safe, swift transport to the airport.
  • New animals at SCBI
    • Red panda cub born June 12
    • Five scimitar-horned oryx calves born between June 23 and July 1
    • Four Persian onager foals born between Aug. 1 and 29

Transportation and Parking

  • Zoo Circulator update
    • Circulator will be in operation until Sept. 29 for the pilot program.
    • Hours:
      • 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. M-F
      • 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday + Sunday
    • Zoo Park Management will meet with DDOT at the conclusion of the pilot to assess the success of the program.
  • Zoo Neighborhood Council members expressed support for the circulator and offered support at the ANC-level to continue this program. ANC members have heard from their constituents that this transportations system helps ease traffic. ANC301C is hoping to establish a circulator that runs between Dupont Circle and Chevy Chase Circle.
  • Ride-share pick-up/drop-off zones
    • Established on:
      • Connecticut Avenue northbound
      • Lower entrance
  • Zoo Neighborhood Council members expressed support for ride share pick-up/drop-off locations, but are still concerned with passengers being dropped off in the crosswalks.
    • Suggestion: Can DDOT increase size of ride share signage? As it stands, the sign is quite small and difficult to read from afar.
    • Suggestion: Can we create a dedicated ride share zone?
    • Suggestion: Can we paint the curb to indicate that it is a ride share zone?
    • Suggestion: Can the Zoo add signage within (at Bus Lot, Crossroads, and Gates) alerting visitors to where designated ride share “stations” are located?
    • Suggestion: DDOT works directly with Uber and Lyft. Can they also add a dedicated ride share zone pick-up/drop-off on the southbound lane on Connecticut Ave.?
  • Next Steps: Ward 3 representative will follow up with DDOT to see if modifications (signage/road painting) can be made to the designated ride share drop off areas outside the Zoo on Connecticut Avenue.
  • Next Steps: The Zoo will look into making signage for ride share locations within the park.
  • Big Bus Tours shuttle will run during:
    • Zoo Uncorked
    • Boo at the Zoo
    • Night of the Living Zoo
    • ZooLights
    • Details included in Fall Events Calendar Listings that were distributed to Media Aug. 30.
  • NOTE: Now that the Circulator is free, and to avoid a conflict of interest with our Sponsor, Big Bus, there is not a plan to run these two operations in conjunction at this time.
  • Pedestrian Traffic During Events
    • The Zoo is willing to invest in hiring traffic aides to help direct vehicle/pedestrian traffic during busy evening events, particularly Boo at the Zoo and ZooLights. The Zoo made a good faith effort to hire aides for these events in 2018; unfortunately, the Zoo has no authority over hiring/managing these traffic controllers and they proved to be not up to par. The Zoo is very concerned about this, as safety of visitors is our number 1 priority.
    • The Zoo Neighborhood Council agreed traffic controllers should be providing better quality service than they have been. ANC3C01 representative suggested the Councilmember’s office may be a good source, as there are excellent traffic aides in Georgetown and elsewhere in the area that are vigilant and competent in their duties.
  • Follow-Up: The Zoo and Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) will discuss where/in what capacity support is needed from the Zoo Neighborhood Council to address the traffic aide issues. 
  • Bike racks
    • The Zoo is currently looking into adding more bike racks.
    • This project will have to go out for bid.
    • We are waiting to secure funding before we can solicit proposals.
  • Bike path repair
    • The bike path within the Zoo remains unsafe for visitor use.
    • DDOT informed our Park Management Team that the bids came in higher than expected, so they will be re-advertising. 
    • Once construction starts, they will be asking the contractor to start the Zoo segment first. 
    • Construction however, will not begin in late October as originally forecasted.
    • Zahra Dorriz is our contact at DDOT.
  • Parking
    • Starting in FY21, the Zoo will have funding ($2.5 million) set aside for a transport management plan. However, expect any movement on parking projects to take place 5+ years down the road. The Zoo acknowledges that the demand for parking is still high; the Zoo anticipates for 1.9 million visitors came to the Zoo in FY19.

Next Steps: The Zoo will examine how many days and length of time the gates close due to parking lots being full.

Dino Summer + Dino Roars 

  • Recap success of Dino Summer 2019 (Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live + DinoRoars)
    • We’re excited to have something special during the summer
    • Great feedback on the show from visitors
    • Great feedback from local businesses that they received a “bump” in business from Zoo visitation
  • Look ahead to plans for summer 2020:
    • We will bring another spectacular theater performance to the Visitor Center Theater
    • The show will be for audiences of all ages
  • The Zoo’s revised Strategic Plan places an emphasis on education efforts around the Zoo.
    • The Zoo currently offers camps and classes; volunteer docents; and animal encounters, keeper talks, and feeding/research/training demonstrations.
    •  The Zoo wants to enhance guest experience while simultaneously increasing its educational outreach. A visit to the Zoo should prompt a visitor to have empathy for/care about our ambassador animals and inspire them to make an effort to conserve the animals’ counterparts in the wild.
    • The Zoo’s “Education Summit” will begin Jan. 1, 2020 (details will be forthcoming).
    • This will be particularly exciting for local schools (grades K through 12).

Rental Space Available

  • You can now host your own social event at the Zoo!
  • Details are available on the Zoo’s website: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/support/host-event-zoo.
    • Permitted:
      • wedding receptions
      • birthdays or other milestone parties
      • corporate events, like company picnics and networking receptions
    • Not Permitted
      • fundraising events
      • ticketed events
      • product sales
      • political functions
      • Facilities cannot be rented for events that are open to the public.

Upcoming Events

  • Sept. 7                                  Wildlife Migration Day
  • Sept. 7, 8, 14, 15               Birds in Flight
  • Sept. 12                                Zoo Uncorked
  • Sept. 14                                The Fast & the Fierce 5K
  • Sept. 21                                ZooFiesta
  • Oct. 5                                    Conservation Discovery Day
  • Oct. 20                                  Sloth Day (Small Mammal House)
  • Oct 25                                   Night of the Living Zoo
  • Nov. 14                                 Orangutan Caring Day (Primates)
  • Nov. 29                                 ZooLights
  • Dec. 4                                    International Cheetah Day (Cheetah Conservation Station)
  • Dec. 6,7 8                            GRUMP at ZooLights
  • Dec. 12                                 Brewlights