New Connections: Proposed improvements between Capital Crescent and Rock Creek Park Trails

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The southern terminus of the Capital Crescent Trail. Photo by Kevin Posey.

Last week, I had one of the nicest bike rides of the summer. I cruised blissfully down the Capital Crescent Trail, soaking in the views of the Potomac and enjoying the shady tree cover. But the transition back to the on-street bike network was a harsh one, and my trail euphoria evaporated immediately.

For those of you who have ridden or walked along the Capital Crescent Trail and finished the trip at the southern terminus in Georgetown, you probably relate to the experience.

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The Capital Crescent Trail ends at the dead end of Water St. NW.

The K Street/Water St NW situation is a scary one for bikes. Between the U-turning buses, trucks and vehicles, frustrated rush-hour commuters, lots of back-in parking, and missing sidewalks that force people to walk in the street, there is no clear area for cyclists to position themselves to avoid conflicts. And despite thousands of people using the corridor every day, it remains a mess.

Fortunately, there’s a plan to transform the corridor into something that works for people on bikes and on foot.

The Georgetown Business Improvement District (Georgetown BID) and District Department of Transportation (DDOT) are working to provide a better solution for K Street/Water St NW (this is the road beneath the Whitehurst Freeway- it is Water St. on the western end, and turns into K St. at Wisconsin Ave.) between the southern terminus of the Capital Crescent Trail (near Potomac Boat Club) to Rock Creek Park Trail, just east of 29th St. NW.

With funding through Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) Transportation-Land Use Connections Program, the project has taken off. Since January of 2016, Georgetown BID and DDOT have been gathering information and assessing the corridor, as well as reaching out to the public and business owners. They produced the conceptual design for the corridor in June 2016, and WABA and other stakeholders recently received an on-the-ground tour of what the concept plan entails.

Here’s what we learned:

The Capital Crescent Trail is a bicycle superhighway.

  • We all know it, but the numbers back up our instinct: The CCT is a bicycle superhighway. On this year’s peak day (Labor Day), more than 3,700 people rode under the Aqueduct Bridge at the southern end of the Capital Crescent Trail. That’s a boatload of folks on two wheels. In fact, if the Capital Crescent Trail traffic was measured like a road, it would be equivalent to a collector street! We must serve bicyclists better when they enter the on-road network.
    Beneath the Aqueduct Bridge, the Southern terminus of the Capital Crescent Trail, in Georgetown.

    Beneath the Aqueduct Bridge, the Southern terminus of the Capital Crescent Trail, in Georgetown.

Things will be A LOT better for bicycling.

  • Riding with car traffic along K/Water Street is not for the faint of heart. But the concept plan includes a two-way protected bike lane on the south side of K/Water Street. By providing protected infrastructure for bicyclists, it’s clear where to ride (away from cars) and allows many more people to access the corridor by bike.
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    Georgetown BID is proposing horse troughs as potential buffers for the protected bike lane in the K St./Water St. Bicycle and Pedestrian Enhancements project.

And it will be a lot better for walking.

  • By providing protected infrastructure for bicyclists, there is a clear directive of where to ride. This will reduce the number of bicyclists within Georgetown Waterfront Park. Many ride through the Park because the on-street traffic is so unpredictable (read: dangerous).
  • The trail adjacent to K/Water Street is a fantastic connector, but is not all the way connected, and some would argue is better suited for pedestrians.
  • Additionally, the concept plan includes widening sidewalks on both sides of the street, meaning more room in front of Malmaison to drink your coffee, more space in front of Gypsy Sally’s to meet your friends before a show, and more room to simply WALK.
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Will Handsfield from Georgetown BID explains the specifics of the concept plan.

But it’s not all about bicyclists and pedestrians.

  • The plan includes other enhancements that will make car traffic flow smoother, too, like the addition of a left turn lane for eastbound cars turning onto Wisconsin Avenue, and reducing the attractive nuisance of free parking spaces at the dead-end of the road, which causes significant traffic congestion.
  • Tour buses will also get a central drop off location on lower Wisconsin Avenue along with locations within a mile of Georgetown where they can reliably park and lay over.
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Looking down to Water St. NW and Georgetown Waterfront Park. Photo by Kevin Posey.

The concept plan is compatible with future long-term plans.

  • If/when the Streetcar makes it to Georgetown, or when additional boathouses are developed near the aqueduct by the National Park Service, the road and lane configuration can change to accommodate it. In the interim, using attractive planters as physical separation for bikes will create a cycling environment unlike anywhere else in the city.

There is an opportunity for a really neat bridge over Rock Creek at the eastern end of the corridor.

  • To connect to Rock Creek Park Trail, bicyclists would still need to squish onto a seven-foot sidewalk below an overpass, shared with pedestrians, and lacking safe sightlines. A temporary scaffolding bridge over Rock Creek where there is already a DDOT freeway overpass could be a temporary solution as NPS and others plan for a permanent bridge at the corridor’s east end. This area is nearly impossible to see from the road, but would be a vital solution for both walkers and bicyclists, and an innovative alternative to the too-narrow sidewalk that currently connects K St. walkers and bikers to the Rock Creek Park Trail.
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    A scaffolding bridge could span Rock Creek, an interim solution to connect the K St/Water St. improvements to the Rock Creek Park Trail.

This isn’t pie in the sky. It’s realistic, and many want to see it implemented.

  • The corridor is included in the 2005 DDOT Bicycle Master Plan, and is some of the lowest hanging fruit at this time.
  • Part of the corridor was also identified by National Park Service as one of 18 priority projects in their recently released Paved Trails Study (It’s project C1.1: Closure of Gap on Water Street NW b/w 30th and 31st St. NW.)
  • The community around this area is clamoring for improvements! The existing conditions are undesirable, and stakeholders from all different interest groups are eager to rally together to support a way forward.
  • This can be a great example of a public/private partnership. MWCOG, Georgetown BID, and DDOT have already shown a remarkable degree of cooperation in developing the concept plan, and the BID (a private entity) has stepped forward to offer various maintenance and implementation support that could make this streetscape the gold standard for a commercial area.

 

Something to note: The improvements in the concept plan relate to a current NPS Environmental Assessment regarding non-motorized boathouses in Georgetown. NPS has five proposed sites for new or refurbished boathouses along the waterfront. The Georgetown Nonmotorized Boathouse Zone Development Plan EA is open for comments until Sept. 30. We encourage you to comment!

We thank DDOT and Georgetown BID for their work on this project, and are excited to be part of the next stage.

Matthew Henson Trail Crossing at Viers Mill Road is Still Deadly

On Sunday July 17th, Oscar Mauricio Gutierrez Osorio, 31 of Silver Spring, was killed crossing Viers Mill Road in Silver Spring where the Matthew Henson Trail crosses a high speed Maryland State Highway, according to the Washington Post. The exact details of the deadly crash involving Mr. Osorio are not public, but the trail crossing is a known safety hazard. This is the same location where Frank Towers, 19 was killed in December 2016,  just days after receiving a new bike for Christmas.

Trail users must cross 7 lanes of traffic where drivers regularly exceed the 45 mph speed limit. For reference, a person walking or biking struck by a driver at 40 mph or greater has an 80 percent chance of dying. At this trail location, there is no traffic light requiring drivers to stop for people walking and biking across the road. Compounding the problem, the trail crosses Viers Mill Road at the bottom of a hill with poor sight lines.

After the death of Frank Towers, the Maryland State Highway Administration “improved” the trail crossing with overhead flashing yellow lights which must be activated by trail users. The crosswalk beg button provides visual and audio cues that the yellow lights are active which was a deficiency of the previous design. This was a flawed approach from the beginning, as yellow lights only require drivers to exercise caution, but not to stop. Any design that requires less than a full stop will continue to cause safety issues. WABA pleaded with engineers to design and constructed a traffic light or HAWK signal which would require drivers to come to a full stop. The request was denied, now with deadly consequences.

Montgomery County is committed to Vision Zero. This is the principle that we must design our streets so that no person (bicyclist, pedestrian or driver) will be killed while using them. This requires that policy makers and traffic engineers be ultimately accountable for design decisions made in our transportation system. People make mistakes when they use our streets, but streets should be designed to be so safe that those mistakes aren’t deadly.

Following Sunday’s crash, WABA reached out to local and state elected representatives, and transportation officials requesting action. On Thursday, July 21st, the entire Montgomery County Council sent a letter to Maryland Governor Hogan, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn and Maryland State Highway Administrator Greg Johnson requesting immediate prioritization of trail crossing improvements. The letter calls out the current dangerous conditions and the need for immediate action.

Fixing the Matthew Henson Trail crossing at Viers Mill Road is just the beginning. This needs to happen now to prevent future injuries and death at this location. But there are dozens of other trail crossings in the Montgomery and Prince George’s County that need attention too. We need the leadership of the Maryland State Highway Administration to work with localities to protect vulnerable road users by focusing on critical street and trail crossings. This means prioritizing the life and safety of people walking and biking over the convenience of people driving.

No one should die walking or biking across the street.

July 29th, 2016 Update: The delegation from Maryland’s 19th District sent a letter to Maryland State Highway Administrator Greg Johnson requesting immediate corrective action at the Matthew Henson Trail crossing of Veirs Mill Road.  A special thank you Senator Manno (D-19th) for organizing this action on this important community safety issue.

Beach Drive Rehabilitation is Finally Here

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The green heart pulsing through Washington DC is Rock Creek Park, but for bicyclists, the current trail conditions are less than ideal- but not for much longer.

Big changes are on the horizon for Rock Creek Park, especially Beach Drive and the adjacent paved trail. National Park Service (NPS) recently announced that construction on the much-anticipated rehabilitation project that WABA has been advocating for for years will begin after Labor Day of this year! There is a huge demand for this project. More than 2500 WABA supporters demanded rehabilitation back in 2014, and many have fought for years prior to prioritize this project with NPS and other relevant agencies.

The construction project will happen in four stages, beginning in the south and working north, and various agencies have their roles in effort. The first wave of construction is managed by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)- Eastern Lands Division. FHWA will rebuild the trail along Beach Drive on the east side of the creek. District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will tackle the trail sections west of the creek and a trail extension on Piney Branch Parkway. DDOT’s trail construction will come after FHWA is done with their work.

While Beach Drive will be closed to car traffic in both directions for the segment under construction, bicyclists and pedestrians will still be able to travel through the corridor. While the road is being reconstructed, the trail will remain open, and when the road is completed but not yet open to car traffic, and the trail is being reconstructed, then bicyclists and pedestrians will have access to the road.

The funding is allocated, the engineering designs are complete, and the contract has been awarded. You can see a project map on our April 2015 update, and find more information on the NPS project website.

National Park Service is hosting a public information meeting on July 28 at the Cleveland Park Library. Join us and learn more about this exciting project!

 

A Trail Along New York Avenue in Northeast DC? Yes, Please.

On a toasty Friday afternoon, over 30 trail enthusiasts came out for a two-mile walk along the proposed New York Avenue Trail in Northeast DC. This trail would connect NoMa to the National Arboretum and the neighborhoods in between, and bicyclists in the surrounding area are thrilled to hear more separated infrastructure could be in their futures.

A trail within the New York Avenue corridor is not a new idea. In fact, it was included in the District’s 2005 Bicycle Master Plan, and thanks to development along the corridor, specifically in NoMa and Ivy City, there is renewed interest in the trail concept.

Trail Rendering courtesy of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

The group, including representatives from the Bicycle Advisory Committee, local businesses, nonprofits and interested citizens, started out from Union Market. After navigating to Florida and 4th St. NE, trail development professionals from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), who completed a concept plan of the corridor which was released this January, described the connections that could happen to the south, linking up with the Metropolitan Branch Trail and providing access to NoMa. We peeked down the way to the Uline Arena, where the new REI store will open this fall, and Matt Liddle, REI’s Mid-Atlantic Manager spoke to the benefits that REI sees in having bicycle and pedestrian connectivity not just to their store, but throughout the entire city.

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We headed north to a tunnel that burrows under New York Avenue. Eli Griffen from RTC shared the opportunities and challenges associated with using the tunnel as part of the trail alignment. The proposed trail would follow the railroad tracks eastward, but without a trail to walk on, the group walked along a dirt path along New York Avenue. The heavy car and truck volume (and high speeds) was a stark reminder of how unpleasant (and for many, unsafe) the arterial would be to ride, and underlined the importance of having alternative options for walking and biking along the corridor.

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As we reached Ivy City, we were joined by Andrea Gourdine from Douglas Development, who talked to participants about Douglas’s involvement in the project and why they see trails and other bike infrastructure as central to their work. Erik Kugler from BicycleSpace shared why they chose to open a store in Ivy City and what a trail connection would mean for him and his business.

While the idea of the corridor itself could be transformative, other visionaries including Robert Looper III, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for Single Member District 5C03 – Fort Lincoln, see the potential to go even further east. Looper spoke about his view for what the corridor could be, and the positive impact it would have on his constituents. Continuing the trail along the New York Avenue corridor could open up biking and walking options to neighborhoods beyond the current study area.

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WABA will work closely with DDOT, RTC and other stakeholders to move the trail development process forward. But that’s not to say that it will be easy- there’s a significant possibility that this could get quite complicated. Virginia Railway Express (VRE), a commuter rail service linking DC and Northern Virginia, has plans to relocate it’s railcar storage in light of the expansion of Union Station. Their chosen location is from 4th Street NE to 16th Street NE- right below New York Avenue, right where the concept plan routes the trail. Learn more about the proposal here

What is clear is that New York Avenue is quickly becoming a residential and retail destination, and that both private developers and the city are significantly investing in the corridor. The planned trail connection will bring safe multimodal infrastructure to the community and should be built.

WABA would like to extend a special thank you to DDOT Trail Planner Michael Alvino for joining us for the walk and answering technical questions along the way, and to all of the event participants for spending their Friday afternoon with us.


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Hundreds of miles of trails are coming to Prince George’s County

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Photo: Leah L Jones

Hundreds of miles of trails are coming to Prince George’s County, and you get a say in the matter!

The county’s Trails Master Plan (still in draft form), identifies how Prince George’s County intends to build and manage nearly 400 miles of new trails, a benchmark set forth in Formula 2040 (the 2013 functional master plan for parks, recreation and open spaces).

The county set the bar high for trail development. Now it’s time for implementation, and the Trails Master Plan identifies how to make trail development and maintenance a functional and operational priority across the county.

That’s important because the demand for trails in Prince George’s County is incredible. Our members and supporters have made it clear—trails are important to them. And they’re not alone. Trails are the #1 amenity that residents want, according to a 2012 Prince George’s County survey. Having a trail network that connects the whole county will serve both residents and visitors, and the Trails Master Plan is a critical step to closing key gaps, getting trails to new parts of the county, and elevating the importance of bike and pedestrian infrastructure within the county’s parks and planning processes.

Some of the plan’s highlights include a three-tier designation for trails (primary, secondary, and recreational), depending on the expected type of use. Primary trails are classified as mostly paved, with high-quality design features, a park-like experience, and used for both recreation and transportation. The Plan takes the mileage of primary trails in the county from 65 to 293!

Secondary trails are also mostly paved, but are connectors, along roads, or within neighborhoods. The intention for these trails are not as major commuting routes, but as connectors and shorter trips. The Plan takes the mileage of secondary trails in the county from 110 to nearly 400.

Recreational trails are mostly unpaved and serve a nearly-exclusively recreational purpose. The Plan takes the mileage of recreational trails in the county from 153 to 255.

But it’s not just about trail development. The County’s plan also has recommendations for maintenance and operations for the existing and future facilities. The plan stresses the importance of dedicated funding sources for trails to allow the county to stay up to date on maintenance needs of the trail network.

The plan still needs refinement, and Prince George’s County is accepting public comments until 11:59 p.m. on June 23, 2016. Read the plan and submit your comments here.

The draft plan includes a handful of long-time Prince George’s priorities. For example, the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis (WB&A) Trail has been on the county priority list for years, and is one of WABA’s advocacy priorities. When completed, the WB&A could become the eastern spoke of the Washington area’s trail network. Just over 10 miles of trails are already built, but it does not yet connect to the District of Columbia or the rest of the regional trail grid.

Since 2008, WABA has urged the County to extend the WB&A Trail west along MD-704. Since 2011, building a trail along MD-704 has been at the top of the County’s bike and pedestrians transportation funding priorities for Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA). And with inclusion in the county’s Trails Master Plan, the message is clear- it’s time to finish the WB&A.

Do you support the completion of the WB&A Trail? Are there other trails that are equally important to you? Tell the County which trail corridors you’d like to see completed first.

We encourage all Prince George’s County residents to submit their input about trails in their county. Do you use trails to get to work, school, or the store? Let the County know that trails are a vital part of our transportation system.

Would you ride year-round if you knew the trail would be plowed? Do you have to ride over the same bumpy section of trail everyday on your way to school? Let the County know that you depend on the off-road infrastructure, and trails should be treated with the same maintenance concern as roads.

Would you like more lighting on the trail corridor near your office? Would you take your kids on the trail network if there were more bathrooms, water fountains or parks? Would you like wayfinding signage to help you navigate the network? Speak up for the trailside amenities you want.

Are you far from a trail that would get you anywhere? Are you frustrated by a “trail to nowhere” in your neighborhood? Let the County know that you want to be connected by trail to the larger network.

Your input is needed to make Prince George’s Trails Master Plan even better. Speak up before it’s too late! Take the county’s survey before 11:59 p.m. on June 23, 2016.

The Park Service Has a Plan for a Seamless Trail Network—And it’s Good

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We’ve got some great trails in our region, but they don’t all connect to each other.

So imagine with us for a minute: seamless trail connections to monuments, to rivers, to parks, and to the places we need to get to every day. A network that doesn’t leave gaps at bridges and busy road crossings, where people on foot or on bikes can connect in an easy, low-stress way to all of the places that make our region great.

That’s the vision that National Park Service (NPS) has laid out in the National Capital Region Draft Paved Trails Study, released in April.

Sign the Petition!

The study includes a set of goals and 120 capital and programmatic recommendations, in addition to a framework for prioritizing regional funding of trail-related projects. We are thrilled that the Park Service has taken this on, and pleased with the results.

So what’s in the study, and why are we giving NPS a round of applause?

Here is just a small sample of the priority projects:

  • Extension of the existing cycle track south on 15th Street from Pennsylvania Avenue, NW to the 14th Street Bridge. (You know, that connection we’ve been asking for for years?)
  • A feasibility study for a cycle track or trail along the Military Road, NW right of way, from Glover Road, NW to 16th Street, NW.
  • A feasibility study for an extension of the Suitland Parkway Trail from the D.C./Maryland line to Henson Creek Trail.
  • Improved wayfinding and standardized signage so that it’s easier to navigate the trails system.
  • The development of comprehensive trail design standards and guidelines for the region that address trail width, snow removal, clearances, safety features, and more.
  • Fixing numerous bridge access problems, including the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, Tidal Basin Inlet Bridge, and 14th Street Bridge.
  • Connecting the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to the Wilson Bridge, by way of Blue Plains and Oxon Hill Farm.

Sign the Petition!

WABA is pleased that NPS is being so strategic about the quality and connectivity of paved trails in the National Capital Region. These are important corridors for commuting, running errands, recreating, exercising, and connecting to our natural surroundings. For those of us who believe that the best way to experience the National Parks is by bike or on foot, this is a welcome investment in a connected, world-class trail network.

High-volume corridors, many of which are vital commuting routes, warrant special design, maintenance and operational considerations. With this plan, NPS is acknowledging that these trails are transportation systems, and should be treated as such. This represents a major paradigm shift for NPS.

Why does this stage in the process matter?

In essence, NPS is laying out the next 20 years of work in regards to paved trails under their jurisdiction. Now is your time to show your support and encourage adoption of all of the recommendations. 

Will you stand with us and tell NPS you support the recommendations outlined in the Paved Trails Study?

Sign the Petition!

Your voice matters, especially right now. From bridge connections to wayfinding signage to snow removal, the recommendations in the Paved Trails Study will elevate the regional trail network from “almost great” to truly incredible. The comment period closes on May 19, so take action today.

The Washington region needs  a connected, easily-accessible trail network. Now is the time to let NPS know that you support their recommendations!

Sign the Petition!

Want to read the study or submit additional comments to NPS? You can find that information here.

The MBT One Step Closer to Completion

Last night, the Met Branch Trail got one step closer to completion.

Before beginning construction on the 0.6 mile portion of the Met Branch Trail in Silver Spring, Maryland – the section across from the Montgomery College Campus on Fenton Street and King Street and along the CSXT Railroad to Ripley Street- Montgomery County was required to hold a public hearing, so area residents gathered on a misty Wednesday evening to learn more about the trail design and submit their feedback. When this segment is finished, the 1.1 mile Maryland portion of the Met Branch will be complete.

One highlight of the design is the 14-foot wide bridge that will allow trail users to cross Georgia Avenue far above the busy corridor. This above-grade crossing is an absolute necessity from a safety perspective, and Montgomery County sets the right precedent by ensuring that the bridge is an non-negotiable absolute.

One trail supporter analyzed the design as “95% Awesome.” The five percent in question? The access around the B&O Train Station. Because of concerns from the station’s owner, Maryland Preservation Inc. (MPI), the trail deviates from a direct route along the rail corridor and zig-zags on the edge of the property instead.

This zig-zag alignment seems manageable, and we thank the county for patience in working with MPI, and providing them multiple alignment options in an effort to move the project forward. From the trail user’s perspective, it’s not perfect, and certainly a straighter shot would be preferred, but the proposed alignment represents a compromise for which the county deserves a “thank you.”

We were reminded by a few supporters that this trail will transform how we interact with our surroundings. Jeff Kohn recalled a bike ride he took with his young son to Bethesda, and he reports not being able to identify a safe way to get there. “I wouldn’t try that again, I didn’t feel safe,” he said. “But once the trail is done, I’ll ride it frequently.”

Many in the room could relate to Michelle Terry’s experience of fear for her own well-being on Fenton Street, having to share the road with fast traffic and large trucks. Her front tire was clipped by a car, and while she wasn’t physically hurt, it scared her enough to keep her off her bike for a few days. And as a regular bike commuter, that means a lot. She’s awaiting the trail because it means a safer commute. “Building the trail isn’t just about recreation. It’s about public safety,” she said.

The construction bid will go out soon for Phase I, and construction is estimated to begin June 2016, with an estimated completion date of August 2016. Phase II will begin November 2017, the section west of Selim Road, which includes the bridge over Georgia Ave., will begin in November 2018 and phase completion is estimated for November 2019.

The record remains open until May 24 at 7 p.m. If you’d like to submit your comments to the record, email Gaila Lescinskiene at gaila.lescinskiene@montgomerycountymd.gov.