What Makes a Trail Great? The Ride

On Oct. 28, Women & Bicycles took to the trails to explore trail design and learn what makes a great trail a great place to ride. Trails expert and DC Trail Ranger Coordinator Ursula Sandstrom joined us as our expert speaker.


The group on the Anacostia River Trail


The ride started with a quick downhill from Congress Heights and across the busy, multi-lane Suitland Parkway road to our first stop on the Suitland Parkway trail.


Lesson #1: Connectivity!

Great trails connect to each other, and to amenities we need in the city. The Suitland Parkway Trail follows the bottom of a ravine, but while it is near multiple Metro stations it fails to connect any of them- they are all out of reach beyond steep hills, or across wide and busy roads, or both. It just doesn’t connect to much- it doesn’t go all the way to the large employment centers just a few miles away in Maryland on the Parkway; there are only three spots along the entire mile length that folks can get onto the trail; and only two spots are accessible from the east and those are of dubious quality for pedestrian or bicyclist safety. It doesn’t directly connect to the other nearby trails, as we would find out as we crossed ramps, took the lane on a busy street, and rode small dirt stretches.

Narrow curvy trail with poor sightlines around the trees

Once we got to the Anacostia river trail, connectivity was a different story. The trail connects to the Maryland Anacostia Tributary Trails, has clear direction signs, is easily accessible from many trail adjacent neighborhoods and makes amenities like the ballpark and the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens easy to find and easy to ride to.


Easy, smooth rolling.


Lesson #2: Situation!

In our first stop, we noticed that the Suitland Parkway Trail was separated from the busy road by mere feet at its furthest. Traffic exposes riders to heat, vehicle exhaust, and noise pollution. Additionally, without a buffer, a trail user immediately next to a fast road faces significant dangers in the event that a driver loses control of their vehicle, with no other protections between cyclists and cars. Great trail construction plans for buffers between cars and trail users. A wide, safe, green buffer with physical impediments between cars and bikes shields riders-and their cargo – from unnecessary exposure.  

No buffer and a short curb isn’t ideal construction.

The flip side of that coin was the wide trail with huge buffers on the National Park Service Anacostia Park. The heavily used multiuse trail is a great destination ride for families with kids (playgrounds), adventurous people (there’s a roller rink!), sports fans (with access to community sports such as track workouts in the Kenilworth neighbor tracks, and professional sports like the baseball and soccer teams of DC), and pet owners (with wide fields for dogs to run in).

This wide buffer and thick curb accommodated the entire group during a short educational break.


Lesson #3: Maintenance!

As the adventure continued on the Suitland Parkway, we stopped in an area near a number of homes. We discovered the trail marker sign down, and a trail exit point which curved around some trees effectively hiding it from view (and also startling a jogger).  There were many leaves and debris scattered over the trail.

A downed trail sign on Suitland Parkway

The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail was pristine in comparison. Trail maintenance goes a long way towards helping a rider feel like the city knows about what trail amenities can do.  One super fact is that the Anacostia river trail is constructed with mixed materials and with the intention of allowing flooding. The trail rangers go out in the summer after flooding rains to sluice the sludge off the trail surface in the NY Ave area.

Discussing trail design and flood planning near NY Ave.

Overall, we have a lot of great trails in the DC area, and we also have some trails that were good starts which would benefit from upgrades and connectivity.

Interested in learning more about advocacy with the trail network? Follow the Capital Trails Coalition for the latest news.

More information about the Trail Rangers program can be found here.

Support Women & Bicycles with a donation. Your support helps fund programs like these.

Interested in more educational rides with Women & Bicycles? Join our mailing list.
Sign up

Tips for Bike Light Season

It’s bike light season again!

Lights are one of the most important safety features on your bike. If you don’t have lights, get some lights! You can buy a good set of front and rear lights at any bike shop, most hardware stores, or your preferred online retailer. If you can’t afford lights, let us know and we’ll help.


Light tips

  • Keep a spare battery or a charger at work or in a little bag on your bike.
  • Make sure you have lights that meet your needs:
    • If you’re likely to be riding on an unlit road trail, make sure you have a light that’s bright enough to let you see where you’re going.
    • If you’re just riding on city streets, a small blinking light is probably enough.
  • When you’re riding on a trail, be aware of the angle of your front light. Modern LEDs can be quite bright, and you don’t want to blind on coming trail users.



Note: WABA gives away thousands of bike lights every year. We’ve found that we can get more lights into the hands of folks who don’t already have them if we do not announce times or locations in advance. Instead, we seek out places where we see lots of people riding without lights. If you see us out there, say hello! Pick up a set of lights only if you need them.


Our best Trail Ranger season yet!

The DC Trail Ranger program went into its annual winter reduced operations in October. The team did important work this summer and we had so much fun.

Huge thanks to Daniel, Gabriel, Harum, Kemi, Kevin, Seth, Shira, Tom and Trey for being the greatest 2017 Trail Ranger team we could imagine.

  • 3,173 miles covered
  • 232 hours of outreach
  • conversations with 3,747 people
  • 1,000 bike bells distributed
  • 385 hours of cleanup
  • 113 issues reported to the city
  • 2,617 DC bike maps distributed

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Interested in being a trail ranger? Sign up to hear about future job openings Yes!

Want to volunteer with the team next year? Yes!

Contract Awarded for the Met Branch Trail Extension to Fort Totten

A bird’s eye rendering of the Met Branch Trail around the Fort Totten Metro (Source DDOT)

This morning, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced a key milestone for the extension of the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) from Brookland to Fort Totten. After a long procurement process, DDOT awarded the contract to complete the design and construct the next phase of the popular multi-use trail!

This new trail will extend the sidepath on the east side of John McCormack Dr to the base of the hill across from the Fort Totten waste transfer station. Instead of turning up the hill, as it does today, the trail will continue north alongside the train tracks. At the Fort Totten Metro, the trail will climb up and over the Green Line tunnel portal, descend to street level and continue on First Pl NE towards Riggs Rd.

Existing MBT in green, new segment in blue, interim on street route in red (Source Google Maps)

This phase of construction will add nearly a mile of new trail, improving walking and biking access to the Fort Totten transit hub and the new development surrounding it. The project will include stairs for a direct route down to the Metro entrance and an improved trail through Fort Totten Park westward to Gallatin St, where the interim MBT route continues to Silver Spring. The new 10-12 foot wide trail will include lights and a relatively gradual grade compared to the steep climb up Fort Totten Dr. For more renderings and detailed design drawings, go to metbranchtrail.com/resources/.

When complete, the Met Branch Trail will span more than 8 miles between Union Station and the Silver Spring Metro Station. So far, the southern 5.5 miles are a mix of off-street trail, protected bike lane, and low traffic streets. Once built out from Bates Rd to Fort Totten, about 2 miles will remain to be built through Ward 4 to the Maryland line. Completing final design and construction should take roughly 18 months or by spring 2019. This new timeline is almost a year behind the schedule published in May 2016.

Improve the Georgetown Branch Trail Interim Routes

When the Georgetown Branch Trail closed in early September for the start of Purple Line construction, trail users faced the frustrating task of finding alternatives to an irreplaceable piece of the biking, walking, and recreation network between Bethesda and Silver Spring. And though Montgomery County’s Department of Transportation (MCDOT) has signed a trail detour, it leaves much to be desired for the individuals and families who depended on the trail for their daily routines.

On Wednesday, November 1, Councilmembers Roger Berliner and Hans Riemer, along with the Planning Department, MCDOT and WABA, are hosting a community meeting to discuss bicycling issues, planned improvements, and opportunities in the Bethesda area. This is an important chance to voice constructive concerns about the existing trail detour and help build consensus and urgency for improvements that fill the void left by the trail, while creating new low-stress connections in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and beyond. We hope you will join us for this important discussion.

Bethesda Community Meeting on Bicycling 
Wednesday, November 1 from 7:30 to 9 p.m
Jane E. Lawton Community Center
4301 Willow Lane Chevy Chase, MD 20815
Learn more | RSVP

WABA supports the Purple Line because it will create a new reliable transit connection for inner suburban Maryland and a world-class multi-use trail from Silver Spring to Bethesda. As construction continues, we have called on Montgomery County to provide safe and useful alternatives to the trail that accommodate all trail users. You can read our recent letter here.

For more information on the signed Georgetown Branch Trail detour route, click here. For more on the Bethesda Master Plan’s recommended bicycle network, click here (see p. 59).

Silver Spring Celebrates its First Protected Bike Lane

On Saturday, October 14, more than 70 bike advocates and neighbors gathered with county officials in Woodside Urban Park to celebrate the completion of Silver Spring’s first protected bike lanes on Spring Street and Cedar Street. After schmoozing with stakeholders and excited conversations, councilmembers Roger Berliner, Tom Hucker and Hans Riemer, Montgomery County Department of Transportation Director Al Roshdieh, Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and WABA Board Member Peter Gray spoke about the event’s significance and enjoyed many well-deserved rounds of applause. After cutting the ribbon on the new lanes, we all embarked on the maiden voyage, joyfully riding the length of the protected bike lanes and returning along Wayne Ave and Second Ave, the future home of Silver Spring’s 2nd protected bike lane.

Events like this capture advocacy at its finest. Government officials experienced firsthand the passion of their constituents and the delight, and new connections, such projects generate.  About 55 bicyclists safely and comfortably traveled along a main Silver Spring corridor, showcasing the potential for smart road design to promote safe and active transportation for all age groups. Along the way, curious residents inquired about the event, and a few stray cyclists joined the ride!  Thank you to all who made this event possible.  We look forward to working with you as we harness this positive energy and momentum for a more bikeable, walkable and livable Silver Spring!

This post comes from Zachary Weinstein, a leading member of WABA’s Action Committee for Montgomery County and a resident of Silver Spring. To get involved, sign our petition to support our campaign to Create the Silver Spring Circle for a more bikeable Silver Spring, come to our next meeting (4th Monday of the month, 7pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center) and join the Bike Silver Spring Facebook group.

Thank you!

If you’re one of the more than 500 people who joined WABA or renewed their membership this week, THANK YOU!

Whether you became a new member, renewed your commitment to WABA, or tweeted for #wabasockwednesday, your passion for our organization has really shown!

If you’re a new member, we are excited to help you find your bicycling community! If you’re

Thank you again for participating in WABA’s Membership Drive this year, and we hope to see you soon!