DDOT’s plan for improving R Street, NE by connecting it to the Met Branch Trail and improving the road for bicyclists, has an important ancillary benefit: the improved route for children attending the numerous schools located in close proximity to the MBT, but not able to reach school via the trail, due to an incomplete trail to street grid connection. The current conditions of this area illustrate the barriers that school children face if they were to come down the MBT: a trash strewn, overgrown, abandoned lot to cross through with concrete barriers and illegal parking blocking the sidewalk on R Street.
McKinley Tech, Ideal Academy PCS, City Lights PCS, and Friendship Academy PCS are schools which draw hundreds of children from beyond a neighborhood boundary, due to the fact that they are a DCPS application only science and technology magnet school (McKinley) or public charter schools, which by definition, have no neighborhood boundary that they serve, drawing instead from the entire city for enrollment. In addition, Langley Education Campus, a DCPS pre-k through 8th grade school, is also located next to McKinley. And while Langley is a DCPS school with a traditional neighborhood boundary from which it draws, they are also a Science and Technology magnet school offering Chinese language instruction which is a very attractive curriculum for out of boundary families.
Many of these students are already taking the Metro to school every day and exiting the Metro system at the New York Avenue station. The connection of R Street to the Metropolitan Branch trail would enable these students the ability to walk up the trail and cross directly onto their school grounds, rather than attempting the extremely dangerous crossing of Florida and New York Avenues from the Metro, which is the current route most students take. This intersection is bad almost any time of day, but at school arrival and dismissal times, when it sits squarely in the middle of rush hour, children and parents are traversing a dangerous path in order to get to school. These R Street improvements would eliminate the need to cross New York and Florida Avenues at street level entirely, since they could walk up the stairs to the MBT and proceed to their schools.
The improvements to R Street and the connectivity of the Met Branch Trail into Northeast Washington are welcome improvements from DDOT. Not only would the R street improvements help pave the way to make it safer for bicyclists to ease off the MBT and onto a cross town route, but it will also make it easier for many hundreds of students get to school without the anxiety and potential harm of a dangerous street crossing.
Gina Arlotto is the DC and regional Safe Routes to School Network Coordinator. Her work focuses on making it safer for children to walk or bike to and from school.