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

better bike trails

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.

REPORT: Extending the WB&A Trail

WBA Trail Economic Analysis Cover2

WABA and BikeMaryland are pleased to announce the release of an exciting report by Jeff Lemieux (our 2016 Advocate of the Year) and Nolan O’Toole. Extending the WB&A Trail from MD450 to Washington, DC provides an economic analysis of the benefits of this critical connection in our regional trail network.

The Washington Baltimore & Annapolis trail (WB&A) is a paved multi-use trail that runs from Maryland Route 450 in Prince George’s County to the Patuxent River at the border of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties. Efforts are underway to extend the WB&A trail north-eastward over the Patuxent River and toward the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

This report provides a preliminary analysis of extending the current WB&A trail in the opposite direction: southwestward to connect with the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail (ART) at the Washington, DC border. By 2016, the ART will be a continuous trail system connecting the Washington, DC riverfront with the extensive Anacostia Tributary Trail System in northern Prince George’s County. Extending the WB&A trail to the ART at the Maryland/Washington DC border would provide analogous trail connectivity for a large area of central Prince George’s County serving residents and visitors.

Download the full report.

FAQ: Plows, Trails and Bike Lanes Oh My!

As the region digs itself out from the 2 feet of snow that fell this weekend, we wanted to provide a few updates. With such a historic snowstorm, it is an endeavor to get the transportation network back to normal.

We’re doing our best to keep up on trail and bike lane conditions over on Twitter. Head on over and let us know how your ride went.

https://twitter.com/WABADC

When are bike lanes plowed?

During last year’s comparatively lighter snowstorms, the bike lanes were plowed on the second go around. The first pass with the big plows pushed snow to the sides of the streets (often into the bike lane) and the second pass removed this pushed snow from the bike travel lanes. With the amount of snow added to our roads this storm, bike lanes will take some time. In DC, DDOT is predicting that it will take several days for them to clear the lanes and for DPW to clear bridge sidewalks. The 14th St Bridge has been cleared. 

So, is the same thing true for the protected bike lanes?

No, not quite. The flexposts of the protected bike lanes often mean that a smaller specialized snowplow is required rather than the primary plow crew. They will be plowed but the plow is having challenges with the volume of snow. A frontloader has been hard at work removing snow from the 15th St cycletrack.

The Pennsylvania Ave cycletrack this morning.

The Pennsylvania Ave protected bike lane Tuesday morning.

Trails!?!?!?!

Each jurisdiction and maintenance entity operate independently under different protocols. But trail plowing is becoming an accepted part of repairing the transportation network after a snowstorm. Not everyone is on board yet but we are getting there. This storm is particularly tricky because the sheer volume of snow is difficult for the small snowplows to handle.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail late Friday night.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail late Friday night.

 

As of the morning 1/27/16, we have reports of the following trail conditions:

Capital Crescent Trail: Montgomery County Parks and Recreation Department has plowed the Montgomery County section and National Park Service has plowed the DC portion.

Arlington has been clearing their Snow Removal Priority Trails in tandem with the roads. The Custis Trail was plowed and the W&OD has been plowed north of the junction with the Custis though sections of compacted snow remain. Four Mile Run from Shirlington to Route 1 has been plowed. The W&OD south of the Custis Junction remains unplowed though portions eastbound in Fairfax from Vienna were plowed yesterday. Arlington County policy can be found here.

Metropolitan Branch Trail – DDOT was out on Sunday plowing and successfully plowed from Edgewood St to New York Ave. The pedestrian bridge to the Rhode Island Ave Metro has been plowed. DDOT is working on plowing south of New York Avenue.

Mt. Vernon Trail – Current policy is to not plow the trail. NPS is considering changing their policy to potentially plow next winter.

Anacostia Riverwalk Trail – Status unknown.

Anacostia Tributary Trails – Current policy is to not plow the trails.

Rock Creek Trail – Current policy is to not plow the trail.

Georgetown Branch Trail – Current policy is not plow the trail.

Holmes Run Trail – Unplowed.

Alexandria – Trails are unplowed. County policy ranks trails as third priority for sidewalk removal for the city after school walking areas, accessible curb ramps and sidewalks near key transit stops such as Metro stations, & retail zones, and walks expanding out from schools, parks, and municipal locations.

Fairfax – Current policy is to not plow trails.

So my commute is full of snow-blocked lanes, how do I report them?

DC: Report blocked lanes as “Snow/Ice Removal” through DC’s 311 system or by giving them a call at 311. If you are calling from outside the district, call 202-737-4404. 

Arlington: Issues can be reported here. Alternatively call 703-228-6525 for a trails issue and 703-228-6485 for local roads.

Prince George’s: Issues can be reported here. Alternatively call 311 or if you are calling from outside the county, 301-883-4748. County policy can be found here.

Montgomery: Call 311. If you are calling from outside of Montgomery County, call 240-777-0311. County policy can be found here.

Alexandria: Call 703-746-4357. County policy can be found here.

Fairfax: Call 703-877-2800. County policy can be found here.

Montgomery County Getting Serious About Bike Networks

Watch out DC, watch out Arlington! Montgomery County is making big plans to become a national leader in low stress bike networks. With committed political leadership, ambitious goals, and effective collaboration between planners, engineers, and developers Montgomery County is poised to catch up quickly!

Big Plans Are Afoot

In Spring of 2015, Montgomery County Planning Department kicked off a rewrite of the county’s Bicycle Master Plan. Master Plans are long term, usually 20+ year, planning priority documents that lay out a vision for what a future place should be along with guidelines and rules to get there. Since 2005, bike lane and trail development has followed the Countywide Bikeways Functional Master Plan which complements plans for roads, transit, communities, and urban centers. As advocates, we pay close attention to master plans because they are an effective tool for long term change in our communities. They are also a strong indicator of a community’s priorities.

Montgomery County is refreshing its Bike Master Plan 10 years early to reflect new trends, apply new standards, and set the county on an aggressive path towards a low stress network that more residents can use and enjoy. Protected bike lanes (also called separated bike lanes or cycletracks), bicycle signalization, secure bike parking and protected intersections were rare in 2005 and few people biked in the region. That is no longer the case. Leaning heavily on stress mapping research, planning staff are taking a data driven approach to map street stress levels and explore ways to link and create low stress networks. The plan is ambitious, inclusive, and an laudable leap in transportation planning for the County. Numerous opportunities for input are coming in 2016 including this interactive map.

Early Results

Since countywide plans take time, planning staff have prioritized smaller plans for at least two areas to coincide with other planning and development efforts. White Flint and the Life Sciences Center in Shady Grove are both on the cusp of dramatic change lead by development. Late last year, the proposed street and trail networks for these areas were released. As a statement of how Montgomery County will prioritize travel by bicycle, these plans are nothing short of revolutionary. Imagine if every single street in your neighborhood was comfortable to ride on, even major roads. This is how we get more people on bikes!

Proposed network from Montgomery Planning

Proposed network from Montgomery Planning

Proposed Life Sciences network from Montgomery Planning

Proposed Life Sciences network from Montgomery Planning

Each new development and street repave will more or less conform to this plan. And with so many developments in the pipeline for White Flint, the plan comes at a good time.

Lines We Can Bike On

Of course, drawing lines on a map is the easier task. Building out the network takes time, funding, and political vision. It also requires the effort of a different agency. In November 2014, Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) completed its first 0.3 mile protected bike lane in North Bethesda.

Woodglen Drive Protected Bike Lane image from Montgomery Planning

Woodglen Drive Protected Bike Lane image from Montgomery Planning

In 2016, MCDOT is moving ahead with a few pieces of this network. At an Advisory Committee meeting for White Flint, MCDOT showed plans for an initial 0.5 mile curb protected bike lane on Nebel Street from Randolph St. to Marinelli Rd. Construction is anticipated to begin in July. Also on the list is a short protected bike lane on a newly connected Hoya Street (formerly Towne Road) south of Montrose Parkway.

Nebel Street protected bike lane image from MCDOT

Nebel Street protected bike lane image from MCDOT

To learn more about the ongoing Bike Master Plan process, visit the project page and sign up for the newsletter. Read the full proposed White Flint and Life Sciences Center plans. Get involved in WABA’s advocacy in the county by attending our Action Committee meeting on January 25 at 7pm at the Silver Spring Civic Center.

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 months, 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

memorial-circle
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: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/mctpea Navigate from the left side of the page to Document List, then 2015 Design Concepts, and Comment on Document.