What does the Monroe Street Bridge rehabilitation mean for the Metropolitan Branch Trail?

The Monroe Street Bridge in Brookland is in bad shape. Planning for the rehabilitation began a year and a half ago, and has been fast-tracked due to its crumbling condition. Emergency repairs have given the bridge a little more time but rehabilitation can’t wait any longer.

Monroe Street Bridge. Photo courtesy of Flickr user dbking (creative commons).

Monroe Street Bridge. Creative Commons usage, Flickr user dbking.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT), a partially completed trail which will eventually connect Union Station to Silver Spring Maryland, is connected with this project. Or so we thought.

For years, advocates were told that the time for routing the trail under the bridge, through a tunnel behind the west abutment, would be when the Monroe Street Bridge was ready to be rehabilitated. The time for bridge rehabilitation has come. But the tunnel for the trail is off the table.

We’re disappointed that this alignment is not moving forward. Let’s take a look at what happened.

DDOT engineer Ali Shakeri, P.E. reported that the team looked at several different options, including initial exploration into a tunnel for the MBT behind the bridge abutment. That option, which is defined as A1 and presented at the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Brookland Alignment Options Public Meeting in 2004, is now off the table.

The DDOT engineering team assigned to the bridge rehabilitation says it’s because of the lack of right of way on the south side of the bridge. When design option A1 was presented in 2004, the lot at the corner of 8th Street and Monroe Street NE on the south side of the bridge was a “wooded lot.” Since then, it has been developed, and the trail right of way was not secured beforehand. The engineering lead says that if the right of way was secured before that building was constructed, then the tunnel beneath the Monroe Street Bridge would have been a possible option. But with the current set up, the trail alignment beneath the bridge is not going to happen because there is not enough space between the buildings and tracks.

As long as the building is within their property line, DDOT should have asked for the easement before the construction happened. That didn’t happen. Now the buildings are built and the alignment is much more difficult.

Another challenge to aligning the trail under the bridge is the west abutment. It isn’t going to be replaced (they will fix the piers, but the abutments will not be improved). The engineering team determined that the abutment is still in fine shape and leaving the abutment will save a significant amount of money. The engineering team also clarified that when the A1 alignment was presented, it was simply an idea, and that full engineering was not completed on it.

But the abutment is in the way of the proposed alignment, and its presence, along with the lack of right of way on the south end of the bridge, means that DDOT has ruled out a tunnel beneath the bridge as a viable option.

While DDOT has taken advantage of opportunities to close the gaps in the trail by working with developers to follow the plan and build trail segments on either side of the Monroe Street Bridge, the decision to nix option A1 is hugely frustrating to many trail advocates. The bridge rehabilitation seemed like a golden opportunity for a grade separated crossing. Now, after all these years of waiting, the bridge is finally getting its due attention, the trail is not included, and we are stuck with an at-grade crossing of Monroe Street.

We’re disappointed that option A1- the is not moving forward. This represents a loss for the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

So what’s the proposed solution? The scope of the bridge rehabilitation does include the installation of a traffic signal at 8th and Monroe Streets. In its current condition, this intersection is unsafe for trail users. When waiting to cross Monroe Street at 8th Street, it is difficult to see westbound traffic coming over the Monroe Street Bridge. Left-turning (southbound) vehicles make many bicyclists waiting on 8th Street to cross Monroe Street feel unsafe. Additionally, the crosswalk is not aligned with the northbound lane on 8th Street, presenting cyclists with a less-than-ideal choice about where to situate themselves to cross Monroe Street.

Clearly the intersection needs major help, and in light of the tunnel being off the table, we know that trail users need a well-engineered intersection that puts the safety of the most vulnerable users (including bicyclists) first.

What does that look like on the ground? Features like:

Dedicated bike signals
Bike Boxes on 8th St. NE
Separated green lanes through the intersection
Raised crosswalks
Design features to slow westbound traffic on Monroe, coming over the bridge
Signal Detection and Actuation
Addition of an ADA compliant ramp

(Many of these design elements are also included in a protected intersection.)

Blueprint of a protected intersection

Blueprint of a protected intersection, courtesy of Nick Falbo.

We are still waiting for the intersection designs, but we want to hear from you- What would it take for you to feel completely safe at the intersection of 8th and Monroe Streets NE? What have you seen work in other places? Take this quick survey and share your ideas with us.