Seatbelts Everyone! Explore the WB&A Rail Trail

On Saturday, Oct 11 at 1:00 pm, join WABA for a field trip into PG County to the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Trail.  With summer just behind us and hints of fall colors on every tree, now is the perfect time to get out for a trail ride.  Join us for a relaxed, family friendly ride, a look at an exciting emerging rail trail, and a discussion of the possibilities for connecting the trail to the District.

Join Us

As you move from busy urban areas towards quiet suburbs, the places you want to go tend to be farther from each other.  As destinations spread out, roads get wider, faster, and more like highways, and if you get around by bike, just getting to the grocery can be tricky.  Traffic calming, bike lanes, and side paths are essential, but they cannot compete with the joys of a rail trail.  The Washington Baltimore & Annapolis Trail is still a work in progress, but is already a fantastic bike highway.

The WB&A runs a total of 10.25 paved miles over two discontinuous stretches in Maryland’s PG and Anne Arundel Counties.  It follows the route of the long abandoned WB&A Electric railroad offering a direct path from Glen Dale to the Patuxent River, then to Odenton.  Though a 1.4 mile gap remains between the two built segments, the built portions through quiet woods and open sunlight are already a dream to ride.  And don’t forget the bridges and tunnels that whisk riders past those busy roads.

On Saturday, we will meet at the end of the PG County segment near the Patuxent River and bike westward towards DC, then turn around and head back.  Along the way, we’ll discuss the trail’s history, current holdups, and some possible connections towards DC.  This will be a completely off street and relaxed ride, so feel encouraged to pile the family in the car to join in.

Join Us


This is the third and final tour of our future trails series this fall.  We are grateful to our good friends at REI for making this series possible.  Be on the lookout for future trail advocacy and events later this fall.  Read more about our trails advocacy partnership with REI.

WABA’s Future Trails Tour Series

September 20 – Unbuilt Met Branch Trail Walking Tour
October 4 – Southeast DC’s Unbuilt Trails Bike Tour
October 11 – Washington Annapolis & Baltimore Trail Bike Tour

No Tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail at Wisconsin Ave

The Bethesda tunnel. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Plans have fallen through for a Capital Crescent Trail tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave in downtown Bethesda. Montgomery County attempted to facilitate a redevelopment of the Apex Building that would have allowed a large and more efficient Purple Line light rail station and trail tunnel. In a closed session several weeks ago the County Council, at the recommendation of County Executive Ike Leggett, decided not to move forward with this attempt.

WABA is disappointed that the county has abandoned these plans. The Capital Crescent Trail is one of the most travelled multi-use trails in the county, and the Purple Line transit project is a once-in-a-lifetime investment in better trail infrastructure. Redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed for the best possible station and trail.

The construction of the Purple Line will connect the Capital Crescent Trail to Silver Spring and will upgrade all trail crossings along the corrdidor, which is why WABA supported the project. The loss of a grade-separated crossing where one already exists is a significant compromise and loss. Wisconsin Avenue is the busiest road in downtown Bethesda. More than 1.3 million people use the trail annually. An at-grade crossing of this road is not an acceptable long term solution.

Repeat, there will be no trail tunnel.

A redevelopment of the Apex Building would have allowed the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to design a larger, more efficient Bethesda Purple Line station with better multimodal facilities. A new building above the station would be considerably taller and denser. The plans also included a bicycle and pedestrian tunnel underneath Wisconsin Ave for the Capital Crescent Trail.

With this latest news, the MTA will go forward with the original plan for the project: when construction begins in late 2015, the existing trail tunnel will be closed and the light rail station will be built in that space. The completed station will include a very narrow pedestrian (and walking bicycle) entrance from Woodmont Ave. The Capital Crescent Trail will follow a surface route described below.

Now what happens to the Trail?

Plans for the Purple Line have always included the construction of an additional “surface route” for the Capital Crescent Trail through downtown Bethesda. You can think of the surface as the “business route” and the tunnel as the “express route”. The Montgomery County Dept. of Transportation is developing the plans for the surface route right now. The Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) and WABA have been involved for over a year with a stakeholders group advising MCDOT on their plans. With the tunnel now off the table, the surface route will carry all of the traffic on the Capital Crescent Trail.

The stakes are now much higher for the design and execution of this surface route. Councilmember Roger Berliner has tasked MCDOT to build a “gold standard” trail experience for the at-grade crossing of Wisconsin Avenue. MCDOT is hoping to have draft plans to present to the public later this fall, finish designs and begin construction by next summer. This sounds like an aggressive timeline because it is one—the surface route must be completed before construction starts on the Purple Line, as the tunnel will be closed. We will post notice about a public meeting here when the information becomes available.

What next for the trail?

WABA has been working for more than two decades on the Capital Crescent Trail. The trail is a well loved community resource which provides an important recreation, fitness and transportation benefit to visitors and residents of all ages. The vision has always been a seamless trail from Georgetown to Silver Spring. While the Purple Line will complete a major gap in the trail, it leaves behind a new one.

We are disappointed by this loss of an tunnel option and hope that County officials exhausted all options before making this decision. We expect a safe, grade-separated crossing of the trail at Wisconsin Avenue to be the long-term solution.

Tell Montgomery County you want a safe trail crossing

Tell Fairfax County to Adopt the Bike Master Plan

Fairfax County currently does not have a bike master plan. And that’s not good.

The proposed Bike Master Plan contains recommendations for developing a comprehensive bicycle network. It also includes guidelines for bike-friendly programs and policies. The plan vision is “Meeting the safety, access, and mobility needs of bicyclists today, while encouraging more people to bicycle in the future…making Fairfax County bicycle friendly and bicycle safe.” Without a master plan, Fairfax County Department of Transportation has fallen behind in implementing bicycling improvements.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the county’s Bicycle Master Plan (Phase II) on Wednesday, October 1 at 8:15 p.m. There needs to be a strong showing by residents who support the plan. Please consider attending the public hearing to show your support for the plan.

Details about the October 1st hearing can be found online here. You can sign up to testify at the Planning Commission using this form. The Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing on October 28. Look for another WABA email alert prior to that hearing.

We are also asking cyclists to sign the FABB Bicycle Master Plan petition urging the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to approve the plan.

This petition is from the Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, a sponsored project of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association

Tour the Unbuilt Met Branch Trail’s 2nd Phase

Next Saturday, September 20th, come take a walk with WABA’s trail advocates on the planned but unbuilt route of the Metropolitan Branch Trail in NE DC.  The existing and interim 8.5 mile trail from Union Station to Silver Spring Is already a hub for neighborhood recreation and a major commuter route, drawing bicyclists from Silver Spring and beyond.  But the unbuilt second phase, between Fort Totten and Takoma, remains a significant gap in the trail network.  Join us Saturday at 1 pm to see where the trail will go, what it will look like, and what stands between the interim route we have today and the seamless trail of tomorrow.

MBT Phase 2

Met Branch Trail Phase two in blue. Click for a larger map.

One of the most common questions we get these days is “When will the Met Branch Trail be finished?”  The simplest answer is that while projects of this magnitude take time, progress is being made.

The Met Branch Trail that we have today is the result of over twenty five years of steadfast effort from committed residents, advocates, and planners through a lengthy public process.  Construction, too, spread for over a decade with early segments opening as early as 2004 (Michigan Ave to Ft. Totten Drive) and as recently as August of 2013 (Monroe St. to the Brookland Metro).

Today the trail boasts 4.2 off-street miles stretching from Union Station to Fort Totten Park and a short span in Montgomery County.  This spring, the District added a half a mile protected bike lane through NoMa as an additional southern option, and in the coming fall and winter, a connection to Florida Ave NE and a bridge to the the Rhode Island Metro are expected to open.

MBT-Progress-Chart-clean

Breakdown of what is built, under construction, in design, and yet to come

While there is plenty of progress to celebrate and enjoy (thousands of MBT users do each month), there remains a substantial gap in the trail between Fort Totten and the District line.  And though the interim on street route offers mostly quiet streets, it is no substitute for a fully separated trail.  In July, we received the exciting news of small steps toward design of this large missing link.  This Saturday, we invite you to join us for a block by block tour of the trail’s proposed route, design challenges, and next steps.

Sign up here


This tour is the first of three trail tours this fall.  Join us in October for a look at two other crucial trail priorities and a glimpse of what the region’s trail network could become.  This tour series is made possible thanks to REI.

September 20 – Unbuilt Met Branch Trail Walking Tour

October 4 – Southeast DC’s Unbuilt Trails Bike Tour

October 11 – Washington Annapolis & Baltimore Trail Bike Tour

Announcing a Trails Advocacy Partnership with REI

REI_Logo_White_Background

At the end of last year, we offered up a list of things that was our “wish list” of projects we had on our minds for many months. Our most ambitious goal was to raise enough money to start planning for a Regional Trail Summit and Advocacy project And thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we came up with enough seed money to lay the groundwork.

But this is what happens when people start hearing about what WABA wants to do: people get inspired, they get excited and they want to build on what we begin. After hearing about our vision, not just for a trail summit, but for a larger, longer term project, we got another big boost: REI, a nationally recognized leader in outdoor recreation, community involvement and global stewardship,  invited us to apply for one of their grants. In January, we prepared an expanded grant proposal which included a full advocacy campaign, a summit with participants from all over the region, multiple trail tours, a concept plan for a new trail connection, public visioning sessions and online engagement.

Over the summer, we were thrilled to learn that we did indeed receive a grant from REI to cover almost all the costs of this expanded trail advocacy and summit vision. With what WABA will contribute in staff time, we now have the resources to launch a very robust and focused trail advocacy campaign. Thanks to the REI grant, all of the resources that come from this effort will become advocacy tools that we can use to build a case for expanded trails for years to come. Without the REI grant opportunity, we would not have been able to fund such a comprehensive advocacy program. Thank you REI!

To get the ball rolling, we’ve scheduled three tours with our advocacy team on three different trail systems. Please join us as we begin the process to help our trails get to the full potential of a completed and expanded trail circuit.

Tiny Steps Toward Reality for Met Branch North

Image Credit: mvjantzen

Preliminary engineering and design of the northern section of the Met Branch Trail between the Fort Totten transfer station to the Tacoma Metro Station (technically called Phase 2) kicked off this month. DDOT provided this juicy news during their update at July meeting of the DC Bicycle Advisory Council (DC-BAC).  The preliminary engineering and design phase will bring the plans to 30% of complete. It’s a small but important step forward. For a sense of where this fits into the whole project, here’s a handy chart:

The engineering firm RK&K is the primary contractor on this project with the Toole Design Group as a subcontractor for trail design. A timeline of when this phase will be complete is not finalized yet.  After this work, the trail design needs to be 100% complete before a construction contract could be awarded and actual trail building to begin. All of these dates are unknown.

This is definite forward progress on the MBT. But, still no answer to Councilmember Mary Cheh famous question: “Will I be alive [when the trail is finished]?

Trail Rangers Return for Season Two

2014 Trail Ranger Team

You’ve heard the rumors.  Pairs of friendly and helpful bicyclists have been spotted on off-street paved trails throughout DC.  Sources say they appear eager to help out with maps, trail information and patching the occasional flat tire.  Some say these uniformed “rangers” are even inspecting trail conditions, clearing debris, and removing trail obstacles for a smoother ride.

Well, its true.  WABA’s Trail Ranger team is back in full force for its second season!  After a long winter and a rainy bike month, we’re thrilled to unleash our 2014 Trail Ranger team on DC’s trails and the ever growing throng of trail users.  For the past three weeks they’ve been crisscrossing the city on the Met Branch, Anacostia Riverwalk, Marvin Gaye, and Suitland Parkway Trails, preparing for the work of supporting regular trail users and encouraging the hesitant to check them out   After over 220 training miles on and between these trails, the five ranger team is ready for the limelight!

Trail Rangers are out on trail daily during the morning and evening rush on weekdays as well as weekends.  Equipped with a host of trail information, bike tools and first aid supplies, they are always ready to lend a hand when you need it most.  The team also works to maintain and improve trail corridors, ensuring that irksome glass, obstacles, and tree branches are out of your way.  A regular Trail Ranger presence means smoother trail surfaces, a faster response to trail disruptions, and fewer barriers that might keep hesitant riders away.

In the coming weeks, we will introduce our enthusiastic and talented ranger team and unveil our schedule of cleanup events aimed at bringing trail users and neighbors together to keep DC’s trails looking great.  In the meantime, if you see a green shirt pulling a yellow trailer, be sure to give us a wave and say hello!

You can meet some of the team and have a cup of coffee next Friday, June 13th, on the Met Branch Trail.