Mile Markers coming to the Metropolitan Branch Trail

MBT Coffee Hour 12.12.2014Over the past few weeks, a series of troubling incidents on the Metropolitan Branch Trail have again raised questions of user safety on this popular urban trail. Though counter data show an average of 1200 trail users each day since April, recent incidents and the law enforcement response to them have justifiably shaken the confidence of regular trail users.

Two weeks ago, WABA sat down with leadership from District Department of Transportation (DDOT), Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), Office of Uniform Communication (OUC), and DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) to address these concerns. As a result, DDOT will install mile markers throughout the trail backed by changes to the 911 computer dispatch system to ensure a timely and direct law enforcement response to 911 calls.

Why is location so difficult?

When someone dials 911 to report an incident, pinpointing an accurate location is one of the first priorities for the dispatcher. For places on the street grid, this is easy. The dispatcher has a vast database of city addresses and landmarks at their fingertips for quick action to an emergency.

Locations on trails are much more difficult to pinpoint because they do not easily map onto the street grid. To send help to the right place, the caller must have some idea of where they are and the dispatcher must have a record of that location. A caller may know they are on the Met Branch Trail, but have few useful landmarks to communicate where. On the other end, the 911 dispatcher’s system requires a valid address or a selection from a limited number of hand coded points along the trail. In an emergency, even half a mile is too large a margin for error.

Shortly after the MBT opened in 2010, DDOT installed street signs along the trail to help trail users orient themselves to the street grid. At the same time, the Office of Unified Communication, which runs the 911 call center and the location database it uses, identified a number of possible landmarks along the trail. Trail access points such as the ramp at M St and the cross streets of R St, T St, and 8th St. were coded into the 911 location database. In theory, a caller could identify any street crossing and the dispatcher would be able to work with that.

What works in theory is failing in practice. Police and emergency responders cannot help if they are sent to the wrong place.

A solution is on the way

Mile markers may resemble this

Mile markers may resemble this

Two weeks ago, WABA helped convene a meeting with the leaders from the OUC, MPD and DDOT to walk through the 911 response issues we have seen and heard about. A quick review of recent cases showed that confusion on location, both by caller and dispatcher, is far too frequent. Trail users have too few reliable landmarks and dispatchers have an incomplete list of street intersections and access points.

The solution: DDOT will install mile markers along the full length of the Met Branch Trail. In addition to giving trail users a clear message on where they are, every marker will be entered into OUC’s location database. No longer will callers and dispatchers have to go back and for on which metro station is in the distance or which street is closest. Mile marker 1.7 on the Met Branch Trail will suffice. Signs are designed for every 1/10 of a mile and should start going up soon.

Trail safety remains a priority

Mile markers and better 911 response are crucial, long needed improvements for the Met Branch Trail. But, signs alone cannot erase the concerns of trail users and neighbors. We are encouraged by more frequent police presence on the trail and greater awareness of the trail’s specific challenges by MPD’s leadership. Law enforcement must be an integral part of ensuring the trail remains a safe place to be.

In the coming weeks, the NoMa BID will be releasing its final report to conclude the Safety and Access study which began earlier this spring. It will include a number of recommendations for the short and medium term which could do a lot to make the MBT an even better, more popular community resource. More activities, more eyes, better neighborhood connections and, of course, more miles will ensure the MBT’s continued success.

Public Open House for Arlington Memorial Circle Redesign on March 3rd

The National Park Service is hosting a public open house on March 3rd to present rough design ideas for Arlington Memorial Circle on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The area has a long history of safety issues for Mount Vernon Trail users. NPS started the planning process back in September with an initial round of public open houses.

NPS is undertaking a Transportation Plan and an Environmental Assessment to evaluate possible reconfiguration of the road, traffic circle and trail. The goal is to improve safety and the park experience for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers, while minimizing the impact on the cultural and historical resources of the area. The planning process will take almost two years to complete. We do not expect a final decision document until the summer of 2016.

More information about the public open house, the planning process and how to give your input are included the following NPS meeting announcement:

Public Open House
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
5:00 pm to 8:00 pm
National Park Service
National Capital Region
1100 Ohio Drive SW
Washington DC 20242

We will present rough sketches of design concepts that were developed at a workshop that evaluated previous studies of the area, existing and projected traffic conditions including accident, speed and road/trail volumes, and the memorial character of the area. These concepts will be the foundation for the development of alternatives to be presented later in the year.  Please take this opportunity to offer your thoughts about this process and the ideas that were generated before we develop alternatives.

Comments will be accepted at the open house or may be provided online through the NPS Planning Environment, and Public Comment (PEPC) website.

On March 3rd the sketches will be posted to the project website and comments will be accepted from March 3, 2015 to March 10, 2015. You can access this site from the project website at: Navigate from the left side of the page to Document List, then 2015 Design Concepts, and Comment on Document.

Our Future Trails Celebration was a blast!

Last weekend WABA partnered with REI to bring the region an event that celebrated our amazing network of biking and walking trails.

Even though it was pretty chilly outside, hundreds of people came out to warm up with us in our heated tent, enjoy some free cookies and coffee, get their face painted, play some games and learn about the network of trails that exists and future plans for expanding trails in DC, MD and VA. Check out photos of the celebration and read on for more highlights of the event below.

One of the highlights of the event was the three trail tours of the nearby Metropolitan Branch Trail led by our very own Trail Ranger Coordinator. About 45 people joined us on bikes for informational tours on the trail, and many even took advantage of the free bike rentals we provided for the tours.

Another highlight of the day was REI. This celebration and WABA’s current advocacy project around the Arlington Boulevard Trail (you can read all about our concept plan for this new Virginia trail here) was made possible with REI’s amazing support. They even brought out an REI bike mechanic to the celebration, who became the star of the whole show with a line of bicyclists at least 10 deep the whole day, to help fix people’s bikes for free! REI also had their incredibly beautiful signature camp set up to let event participants see what it’s like to bike camp in style.

Interested in staying in touch and receiving updates about WABA’s work on regional trails? Sign up for trail-related news here.

WABA would also like to thank the NoMa BID for their partnership in helping to make this event happen.

Trail Tours a Hit!

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been taking a close look at some exciting developments for trails in DC and the surrounding Washington Area.  In September and early October, we invited trail neighbors and curious advocates on three trail tours (each on our advocacy priority list) to see the trails, build some context, and explore options for moving forward with rehabilitation and extensions.  In case you missed the tours, read on a for a recap.  While many of these projects are progressing forward, continued public support and pressure are crucial to seeing them through.

Feeling like you missed all the fun?  Join us on November 15 for our Future Trails Celebration to celebrate our region’s trail’s and learn about the next ones.  This trail tour series, and our ongoing trail advocacy work, was made possible thanks to the generous support of REI!

Metropolitan Branch Trail

Traveling by foot, we toured the future northern route of the Met Branch Trail between the Fort Totten and Takoma Metro Stations, now in design.  This phase will connect directly to the existing trail on John McCormack Road and extend the trail almost to the DC boundary through a combination of wide sidepaths, separated trail, and possible on street improvements.  Click here for more details.

Southeast DC’s Unbuilt Trails

This time by bike, we toured two of the District’s existing trails in Ward 8, experiencing the needs, barriers, and possibilities for better mobility by bike and foot.  In particular, we discussed the new South Capitol St. Trail, the Oxon Run Trail Rehabilitation, and improved connection ot the Suitland Parkway Trail coming with the Douglas Bridge replacement project.

Washington Baltimore & Annapolis Trail

For our third field trip, we took a leisurely ride on the WB&A Trail, a rail trail that runs more than 10 miles in two sections between PG and Anne Arundel Counties in Maryland.  With quiet wooded stretches and luxurious bridges and tunnels, this trail is a delight to ride and would be a crucial connection from DC to Baltimore and Annapolis, if the ambitious plan is completed.  More on extension possibilities to come.

Announcing WABA’s Future Trails Celebration, Nov 15

It’s a party for trails!  Don’t miss out

Biking in the Washington area is easier and more popular than ever. Multi-use trails, like the W&OD, Anacostia Tributary, Capital Crescent, and Metropolitan Branch are a big part of that explosion, and it is high time we celebrate their success! On Saturday, November 15, join WABA, REI, and trail lovers from around the region for a free celebration of the biking and walking trails that connect our region. It’s a party for the whole family!

Join in the fun & Tell your friends!

Where:  The grassy field at First & Pierce Street NE in NoMa, DC
When:  Saturday, November 15, 11:00 am – 2:00 pm
Cost: Free!!

Come for music and food, a bike repair clinic, carnival games, face painting and bike fun!  Explore a great trail in the making, and discover the community links in your backyard.  Have some fun with interactive activities and win great raffle prizes, including a free registration on REI’s C&O Canal Overnight Cycling Tour!  And stick around for the release of WABA’s concept plan for the Arlington Boulevard Trail, which outlines a vision for the next regional bike trail project in Northern Virginia.

Bring a bike.  Bring the family.  Celebrate our trails!

Learn more, Then tell your friends

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