Sorry Dave Eckert, I Drove My Car to See Your Ecology Film

Concrete section of Tripps Run near former home of Dave Eckert and Annette Mills. . .

Concrete section of Tripps Run near former home of Dave Eckert and Annette Mills. . .

I barely got to know Dave Eckert and his wife, Annette Mills, before they moved away to Oregon in 2006. Dave and Annette were a Falls Church legend and worked tirelessly to make this City a better place to live.

I remember one fine Saturday when Dave led a bicycle tour around Falls Church, pointing out the travesties committed in the name of Development to the two streams that flow through the City: Tripps Run and Four Mile Run. The most memorable moment was stopping at a manhole cover and smelling the putrid odor emitting from it. This was an area where Tripps Run had been piped underground. Deprived of air and sunlight, the organic material in stagnant water simply rots, Dave explained. During rainstorms the gunk washes downstream into Lake Barcroft, where I used to swim before moving to Falls Church. (I remember once swimming through a thick green sea of algae, like an ice cutter in the Arctic.)

So I was delighted to read in the Falls Church Times that Dave was back in town this week for the Environmental Film Festival, where he premiered his latest film, “RiverSmart.” I missed the Monday showing at the E Street Theater, and just as well. Far more folks showed up than could be admitted, and there was “a near riot,” Dave told me. The final showing was Wednesday at the University of the District of Columbia, and I determined not to miss it. But how to get there?

Dave and Annette’s lives are centered around ecology and sustainable living. Their Falls Church home on W. Westmoreland Road had a huge cistern, for example. Annette was the City’s environmental specialist, and she commuted to work by bike. When they moved away they drove their 1986 vehicle to Oregon and then sold it. They’ve functioned without a car ever since.

So, in that spirit, I checked the Metro website to learn how to get to UDC. The show started at 5 p.m. I could catch the GEORGE bus at 3:45, arrive at WFC Metro in 10 minutes, depart at 4 p.m., arrive at Metro Center at 4:23, change to the Red line, and get to the Van Ness-UDC station at 4:37 (if everything worked). The cost: $7.65 round-trip (or more, if I used Metrobus instead of GEORGE).

“Why not just drive and save time & money?”

Hmmm. That seemed like a long commute to see an hour-long film. If it were at the E-Street Theater I would definitely take the Metro, but UDC is way up Connecticut Avenue. There’s bound to be parking up there, especially at the end of the day. Why not just drive? I’d save both time and money.

So, at 4:10 I set out in my car. In five minutes I’m on I-66. Traffic is heavy at first but soon speeds up, and I cross the Potomac about 4:20. This is great! Nothing beats the freedom of personal transportation.

Now, it’s always been a little tricky to get on Rock Creek Parkway. Stay left after Roosevelt Bridge, DON’T get on Whitehurst Freeway – left again. All goes well until the intersection with 27th Street. Nuts! I’m in the right lane and I need to turn left. I wait until there’s no traffic on 27th, then make a left turn, angering a driver in a black Lincoln Town Car waiting on my left. He holds the horn down while my heart rate rises and blood boils. As we merge onto Rock Creek, he accelerates on my left and I speed up on the right in a match of cojones. Is he going to cut me off? Fortunately, neither of us is carrying a gun. Eventually he speeds away.

Now – don’t mess up again. Rock Creek can be tricky with the reversible lanes. OK, good – I didn’t get shunted onto Massachusetts Avenue. Wait, what now? There’s a roadblock. I have to cross over into the oncoming lane. Which way to go? Not where it says “Do Not Enter.” OK, this looks right. I’m going the wrong way on a one-way, but it’s set up this way for the afternoon traffic. Soon I turn left onto Connecticut Avenue, and then Van Ness Street – home of UDC.

UDC is on the left, but I turn right, hoping to find on-street parking. I figure I can pay for two hours, after which it will be free. Wrong: parking meters here are active until 8:30 p.m. But no matter – there are no spaces anyway.

I cross Connecticut, into UDC, where there’s a central parking garage. Since I have a little extra time I drive around looking for a spot on the street. Nothing, so I enter the garage. The sign says “Daily Parking $8.” It’s 4:45 p.m. “I’ll just be here about an hour and a half,” I say with a smile to the attendant. “That’s $8,” she replies. So much for saving money by driving. But I did save time, even if my hair is a little greyer for it.

Dave Eckert

Dave Eckert

The film is superbly done. Nominally, it’s a training/documentary to show folks how to keep storm water runoff from overflowing the sewer system. But the information comes in entertaining 10-second bites, matching today’s typical attention span, while a first-rate harmonica player harps the blues. I learn to my horror that the District’s modern sewage-treatment facilities don’t work during heavy storms. That’s because the same pipes that carry raw sewage also carry all the storm water runoff from streets, sidewalks, and rooftops. During heavy rains the whole mess bypasses the treatment plants and flows straight into the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. How much overflows? Roughly 2 billion gallons a year. Yuck. In my ignorance I used to water-ski on the Potomac.

The solution is to control storm runoff by allowing water to soak into the ground instead of running into the sewer system. Parking lots, for example, can use open-face paving stones. Falls Church City Hall has a small demonstration area with this technique. Too bad none of the big new projects in town have followed suit, although I’ve read that both the Read Building and the Spectrum have “green roofs” with vegetation to soak up rainwater.

Another solution is a cistern, like Dave and Annette had. Both your garden and your water bill benefit. The D.C. government gives grants to homeowners to reduce the cost of making these kinds of improvements.

At the end of the film I suddenly see the Falls Church City seal, with a “thanks” for the City’s cooperation. Too bad we’re too small and too poor to mount the kind of program D.C. has. Here in Falls Church, homes seem to be doubling in size, creating twice the roof runoff on the same amount of green space. It’s even worse in the townhouse complex where I live, where storm runoff makes the lower third of Big Chimneys Park unusable. It’s just a mud hole. I wish my neighbors had seen “RiverSmart” before they paved their entire back yard with ornamental concrete.

Should we have more regulation? Should you have to get a permit before increasing your roof area, making a double-wide driveway, or adding an impermeable patio? All these things, I’m realizing, are crimes against nature – unless they’re compensated for. “RiverSmart” explains how homeowners can contain the runoff their developments cause. It should soon be available on the Internet.

The film’s over and I head home. As I drive through the underground parking lot a woman in a little Nissan zips out from a side lane right in front of me. She never sees me; fortunately I’m going a lot more slowly than she is. I’m not mad, just grateful to avoid a smash-up. I know someone whose car was totaled in a parking lot. Now, the trick is to find my way back onto Rock Creek Parkway. It’s not well marked, and I’m not even sure you can go that way during evening rush hour. With dumb luck, seeing no signs, I turn on 24th Street and the next thing I know I’m on Rock Creek. My little car knows the way home from here.

But wait – can I drive on I-66 or must I take Route 50? More luck: it’s 6:37, minutes after the HOV restriction ends. Hopefully the traffic hasn’t had a chance to build up. And indeed, I make it past Glebe Road to George Mason Drive before things bog down. I’m in the right lane, moving 10 mph, with an empty entrance ramp on my right. In my mirror I see a black Lincoln Town Car cut over to the right and accelerate, hoping to gain a few lengths. Could this be the same guy? Impossible. A woman in a BMW follows his example. But their lane is giving out, and there’s a wall of cars on their left. I speed up to link with the vehicle ahead of me to form an impermeable barrier. Give me liberty or give me death! Success – I roll ahead while they wait for a more laid-back chump to cut in front of.

I arrive home after about 50 minutes’ drive time. According to the Internet, a Metro commute would take 48 minutes, plus walking time at each end.

Sorry, Dave — I hardly knew you.

(Top Photo: Falls Church Times: George Southern)

(Bottom Photo: Willamette Watershed Productions)

Preview earlier films by Dave Eckert

Read “Gasp! Roanoke Suburb Beats Falls Church As Top Recycler”

March 19, 2009 


2 Responses to “Sorry Dave Eckert, I Drove My Car to See Your Ecology Film”

  1. Peggy Monahan on March 24th, 2009 9:47 am

    Haven’t seen the movie, but loved the article, George! An enjoyable (and convicting) read.

  2. Https:// on September 5th, 2018 4:21 am


    Sorry Dave Eckert, I Drove My Car to See Your Ecology Film : Falls Church Times

Feel free to leave a comment. Please increase the credibility of your post by including your FULL NAME and CITY. All comments are subject to editing for courtesy and content.