Connecting Virginia and DC via the Long Bridge

2018 has been quite the year for mobility in the region. We’ve seen some highs and some lows — the rise of scooters and e-bikes (CaBi plus is fire…) has been pretty great for the region. For lows, well…Vision Zero hasn’t exactly gone super well and, of course, the all too frequent Metro shutdowns have really not been good.

And yeah, there are too many cars doing terrible things. Like killing and maiming people.

But, sneaking in during the last month is some surprising and absolutely necessary news — we are going to get a dedicated bike and pedestrian bridge from Long Bridge Park in Arlington east to DC.

Make no mistake, the Long Bridge Project represents a once in a generation opportunity to transform our regional transportation network by adding freight and passenger rail capacity, connecting major regional bicycle and pedestrian trails and providing new, direct links to two of the fastest growing areas of our region.

Regional density is increasing and roads are becoming more crowded. Demand for non-motorized modes of transportation that are safe, accessible and convenient to employment hubs is on the rise, too. Long Bridge could be an answer, resulting in a better connected regional trail network.

So, what does this new crossing actually look like?

Well, we don’t know yet.

A few facts:

  • The existing Long Bridge, built in 1904, requires significant upgrades in order to meet rail capacity projected in the coming years;
  • It is significantly less expensive — both in dollars and environmentally — to keep the existing span and build another rail bridge upstream;
  • To mitigate (called 4(f) mitigation) any existing impacts to National Park Service (NPS) land, the project team will have to design and build a bike/pedestrian bridge upstream of the proposed rail bridge (in between the existing rail bridge and WMATA’s yellow line);
  • Current plans call for connecting Long Bridge Park to the south to East Potomac Park to the north — and we don’t know exactly what the connection will look like in DC;
  • We still have a long way to go until this is built (current plans are shooting for 2025) and there is no project sponsor — so, we don’t know who will own this bridge.

What will the bike/ped bridge look like?

This is the million dollar question. Currently, the bridge is slotted in between the proposed upstream rail bridge (passenger rail) and Metrorail’s Yellow Line. As you can see in the image below, we don’t have more detailed renderings (or a proper design) yet. This will be particularly important for users moving between points south and the District, as the plans don’t take people all the way to Maine Avenue (and to L’Enfant), but would drop people off just north of Ohio Drive. That’s not ideal — and will require DDOT to upgrade the existing network to safely move people over East Potomac Park into the city.

Where do we go from here?

There is a lot of work that needs to be done to get this project over the finish line. Notably, nobody really knows who will own the bridge (let alone pay for the bridge). That’s important. Bottom line: without building the next upstream bridge, there will be no bike/ped bridge. The project steps below (from DDOT’s presentation) show that until pen goes to paper in Spring 2020, this project is still in flux. So, we will have a lot of work to do to make sure that this project stays on course.

Image from Long Bridge Public Meeting on Nov. 29.

So, there you go. We have lots of meetings and conversations (with Federal Railroad Administration, CSX, VDOT and DDOT) to determine exactly what is ahead. There will be lots of opportunities for public input (especially after the draft Environmental Impact Statement happens in Summer 2019).

Stay tuned. There is so much work left to do, but right now things are looking good for those of us moving between Virginia and the District.

The Best Way Across the Potomac Isn’t Built Yet (But It Could Be)

Recent construction on bridges over the Potomac has been a bit of a disaster for bicyclists. In a sense, the existing inadequacies of Potomac River crossings (trails dead ending, narrow sidewalks, dangerous fencing, and more) have been exacerbated by the construction highlighting a need for more, high-quality Potomac River crossings to be connected to both the Virginia and District’s bike networks.

But that might change.

We have an opportunity to build the finest Potomac River trail crossing in an unlikely place—the Long Bridge.

Wait…what is the Long Bridge?

The Long Bridge is the the rusting hulk of a rail bridge that you can see heading over the Potomac River on Metro or from the Mount Vernon Trail. Currently, it is a two-track railway bridge that serves freight, commuter trains and Amtrak.

However, this bridge needs some improvements. Built in 1904, the bridge has outlived its usefulness and needs some serious improvements to meet the needs of our growing region.

DDOT, VDOT, CSX, the Federal Railroad Administration (and more) are working on a series of potential redesign options. Though the scope of the project is focused on increasing rail capacity, included in those redesigns are two bicycle/pedestrian options—one option is for a bike/ped bridge that is connected to the rail bridge and the other option is a free-standing bridge that runs parallel to the bridge. However, DDOT is only considering these options. These options are not guaranteed and we have already heard some grumbling about cost and security for a bicycle/pedestrian crossing.

“Build the Long Bridge for people.” Has a nice ring to it, no?

Though we don’t have much more clarity on those options, what we do know is that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to build what could be the safest, highest quality Potomac River bicycle and pedestrian crossing on the day it opens.

So WABA—along with fourteen (14) partner organizations—called for the project team to include a bicycle and pedestrian trail to be constructed concurrently with the rail component. You can find our letter here.

The letter itself lays out five principles for designing the project:

  1. Include a bicycle and pedestrian trail across the Potomac River.
  2. This bicycle and pedestrian trail should be funded and constructed concurrently with the rail component of the Long Bridge project.
  3. The bicycle and pedestrian trail should be incorporated into the design of the broader project in a way that optimizes the achievability of the project with regard to cost and complexity.
  4. The bicycle and pedestrian trail should be designed to enhance the connectivity of the regional trail network. Specifically, the trail should connect to the esplanade in Long Bridge Park in Arlington. In the District, the trail should extend as far towards L’Enfant Plaza as physically possible to maximize connectivity to existing trails.
  5. The bicycle and pedestrian trail should be designed and constructed to the highest design standards, with a minimum width of 12 feet wide, and seamless connections to existing trail networks.

To be clear, this project is a long way from being built. And we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that the bridge includes a bike/ped trail. That’s why we want you to show up to the next public meeting on November 29th to speak up for Long Bridge.

Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Building
1100 4th St SW (Room E200)
Washington, DC 20024
4pm – 7pm (presentations will be at 4:30pm and 6pm)

Let us know if you’re coming

You can find out more about the project at the project webpage here or on the WABA blog. At the meeting, DDOT will show us their proposed alternative.

The benefits to having a pedestrian and bicycle trail across the Potomac along with the rail component are clear for the region. In addition to connecting the Mount Vernon Trail to East Potomac Park (and providing bicyclists and pedestrians a safe crossing along the Potomac), there are very real economic and transportation benefits to this project. That’s why we’ve got to show up and work to make this happen.

End of Year Report: A Trail Ranger Sort of Season

The DC Trail Ranger seasonal program champions the trails and trail users of the District of Columbia. During the 2018 season, Tim, Carly, Trey, and Matthew kept District trails clear, led events and rides to introduce the trails to more people, and fixed a flat or three to keep trail users rolling.

Trail Rangers helped Red Line commuters try the Metropolitan Branch Trail during the August Metrorail shutdown around Brookland, partnered with the National Park Service for the centennial of Anacostia Park with a guided history tour, and had 250 people join Anacostia Pedal Paddle Palooza to explore the Anacostia watershed. It was a busy summer on the trails! Thank you for joining us.

By the numbers: in 2018, DC Trails Rangers:

  • Rode 1,978 miles on four urban trails
  • Promoted trails through 147 hours of outreach
  • Spent 195 hours cleaning broken class, clearing branches, and keeping the trail tidy for users
  • Spoke with 2,058 people about regional trails and WABA programming
  • Distributed 864 DC bike maps
  • Celebrated trails with 691 people at 19 events

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




Let’s talk about Louisiana Ave Protected Bike Lanes

Louisiana Ave in red is a missing link in a much larger protected bike lane network in green

After more than three years working to fill a gap in Downtown DC’s protected bike lane network on Louisiana Ave, the project is moving forward. Better yet, preliminary plans are done and ready to share!

On Wednesday, October 24, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is hosting a community meeting and panel discussion with the District Department of Transportation to introduce this project to the public and get feedback on current plans. This is our chance to stand up as a community and say “we want this project!” Will you join us?

Yes, I’ll Be There!

Louisiana Ave Protected Bike Lane Community Meeting
Wednesday, October 24
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm Open House
7:00 pm – 9:00 pm Community Meeting & Panel Discussion
Rayburn House Office Building
45 Independence Avenue SW (Room 2253
Click here to RSVP

Bringing this project to this point has not been easy. It has taken the combined will of neighborhood commissioners, councilmembers, members of Congress and hundreds of people like you. So join us on Wednesday to see the plan and keep the pressure up!

See you on Wednesday.

Closer to Completion: New Construction on the Met Branch Trail!

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

This Saturday at 10am, DDOT is breaking ground on the next phase of the Metropolitan Branch Trail that will connect Brookland to Fort Totten Metro station. There hasn’t been any major construction on the MBT since 2013, so this is a huge win!

After a handful of delays, in November 2017, DDOT awarded the contract to complete design and begin construction on the next phase of the popular multi-use trail. WABA’s been working on getting this trail built since the 1990s; this new construction will link the trail to the Fort Totten Metro Station, provide direct access to three new neighborhoods, and cut out the steep (and smelly) Fort Totten hill.

And it moves the Met Branch Trail one step closer to completion.

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

Once complete, the MBT will connect Silver Spring to Union Station, in a mix of on and off-road trail. The trail will also be a key connection the East Coast Greenway, the largest connected walking and biking route in the nation.

Details for the groundbreaking ceremony:

Saturday, July 28th

10:00AM to 11:00AM

Between Gallatin St and 1st Pl NE (map)

Click here to see the event flyer.

DDOT Breaking Promises on C Street NE

Image from Google Street View

At a public meeting late last month, District Department of Transportation (DDOT) staff announced an alarming change of plans for their C St. NE rehabilitation project that cuts critical safety improvements for people walking and biking to speed more cars through the neighborhood. We are baffled by the changes and what they mean for DDOT’s commitment to its Vision Zero principles and ending all traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the city by 2024.

Demand That DDOT Reverse Course

C St. NE is a relic of DC’s long-past highway building days. At five lanes wide, it was designed to funnel rush hour commuters through the neighborhood into downtown DC. But highways make terrible neighborhood streets during rush hour. When uncongested the rest of time, empty lanes tempt drivers to step on the gas. In 2013, when the 11th St. bridge was completed, drivers found different routes, leaving C St. NE empty even more of the time. Today, C St. NE is overbuilt for cars and underbuilt for the people who live, work, play, bike and walk along it.

The critical long-term solution has been in the works since 2006 when Rosedale residents started organizing to demand solutions to chronic speeding, unsafe crossings and stressful biking. DDOT responded with over a decade of studies — the Capitol Hill Transportation Study, C St. Traffic Calming Study, C St. Multimodal Corridor Study, and MoveDC Plan — which helped create a vision for a calm, multimodal street with fewer travel lanes, more frequent, shorter crossings, green space, and protected bike lanes where moving cars is not the priority.

C St. NE 65% plans presented in February

In 2017, DDOT started work on plans which promised to deliver on that vision. In February 2018, staff presented 65% design plans that would:

  • Remove a travel lane from each direction to help reduce speeding
  • Add curb extensions at nine intersections for shorter pedestrian crossings
  • Add new crosswalks at 17th Pl and 20th St
  • Create 11 raised crosswalks at cross-streets to encourage slow-speed turns
  • Add curb-protected bike lanes on C St. and North Carolina Ave NE
  • Create five “floating” bus stops that keep buses and people on bikes separated
  • Add dozens of new trees, green space, and improved river-friendly stormwater management
  • Preserve full-time parking on every block

These plans reflect a decade of study, community discussion, and consensus building around the safety concerns on C St. NE. Residents and experts in traffic safety have been engaged and actively participating in support at every step. Indeed, this project promised to deliver a safe, complete street that would have set a new bar for Vision Zero projects (view the full plans here).

But in April, DDOT announced drastic design changes, striking many of the most critical safety features of the plan. See the new plans here. The changes would:

  • Remove seven of the nine curb extensions at 16th St, 17th St, 17th Pl, 18th St, 18th Pl, 19th St, and 21st St, making pedestrian crossings longer and more risky especially for children and seniors
  • Add back the third travel lane planned for removal on six blocks. More travel lanes encourage speeding, especially in off-peak hours, in exchange for less driver delay at rush hour. Ironically, DDOT staff are now considering adding traffic signals at two crosswalks because the new proposed design makes these crossings less safe
  • Eliminate full-time parking on six blocks either during rush hour or at all times to make room for turn lanes. Residents will lose access to as many as 50 parking spaces for the convenience of moving cars quickly
  • Eliminate some raised crosswalks
  • Reduce the size of bus stops to move buses out of the travel lane

All of these changes are required, DDOT staff claim, because traffic models show that removing a lane in each direction will create unacceptable delay for drivers by 2040. But traffic models only tell the driving part of the story and they are notorious for overestimating future driving habits. We should not compromise safety today to avoid theoretical delay in 20 years.

Revised April plans. Pink shows curb extensions cut from the plan. Blue cars indicate parking restrictions.

DDOT’s new plan to preserve the C St. NE speedway is simply indefensible. It dismisses a decade of work towards an inclusive design that meets community needs. It contradicts four studies that show lane reductions are needed. It trades away critical safety features for greater risk to vulnerable road users. And it cuts residential parking used today to speed more cars through the neighborhood.

But worst of all, the plan is a glaring contradiction to Mayor Bowser’s commitment to end traffic fatalities by 2024. In December 2015, Mayor Bowser released her Vision Zero Action Plan, and pledged that her administration “will do everything in our power to eliminate transportation fatalities and serious injuries, because no loss of life is acceptable.” To achieve this, the action plan promises that “streets should be designed for all users and need to be built to account for inevitable human errors.” It declares that “streets must be engineered to self-enforce a safe speed,” and that “design speed limit and posted speed limit must both prevent serious injury.”

In March 2018, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen worked with MPD to put a targeted focus on traffic enforcement along the C Street NE corridor near Eliot-Hine Middle School and Maury Elementary. After about an hour each day for three weeks, MPD issued 76 speeding tickets to people driving 11-30+ mph over the speed limit.

Drivers ticketed going 11-15 mph over the speed limit: 25
Drivers tickets going 16-20 mph over the speed limit: 6
Drivers ticketed going 16-20 mph over the speed limit: 7
Drivers ticketed going 21-25 mph over the speed limit: 10
Drivers ticketed going 26-30+ mph over the speed limit: 34

Read that again! 34 people going 50+ mph in a residential neighborhood with not one, but two schools where the posted speed limit is 25 mph. For seven blocks, DDOT’s plan would do little to curb this speeding.

DDOT has a moral imperative to do everything in its power to reduce speeds to safe levels. The February version of the plan does exactly this. The April plan is a mockery of Mayor Bowser’s Vision Zero commitment.

We call on DDOT to drop these indefensible changes and instead return to the inspiring, community supported vision presented in February. Last week, ANC 7D voted unanimously to urge DDOT to do the same (read ANC 7D’s letter here). As this plan moves towards construction next year, it must prioritize safety for people walking and biking and actively slow drivers down. While staff have indicated revisions may already be in the works, it is imperative that safe design, not driver delay, is guiding the plan. Please join us in taking a stand for Vision Zero by sending a letter to DDOT.

Take Action

What’s going on with the Louisiana Avenue protected bike lane?

Intersection of Louisiana Ave. at New Jersey Ave.

Since June 2015, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) have been working on plans for a Louisiana Ave protected bike lane to fill a gap in the downtown bicycle network between Union Station and Pennsylvania Ave NW. Three years later, planning is stalled and Louisiana Ave remains a dangerous speedway, leaving many asking why.

Despite support from a wide range of stakeholders in DC and on Capitol Hill, the delay is due to a familiar obstacle: car parking. Adding protected bike lanes to Louisiana Ave will require repurposing a handful of curbside parking spaces in the half-mile between Pennsylvania Ave and D St. NE and a few more spaces in the center median of the final block near Union Station. Each of these parking spaces are reserved exclusively for Senate staff. And the Senate Sergeant at Arms, whose office manages the parking supply for the Senate, is apparently unwilling to relinquish any of the spaces needed for this project to proceed.

The red segment is the current existing gap between Union Station and Pennsylvania Ave.

In a January letter, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton asked the Senate Sergeant at Arms, Frank Larkin, to reconsider his office’s opposition and allow construction to commence. “Losing a few parking spaces,” she wrote, “is a small price to pay to ensure public safety and help alleviate congestion near the Capitol by encouraging alternative modes of transportation.” Read the full letter here.

Ask For His Support

According to the Architect of the Capitol, who manages the Capitol buildings and grounds, a number of large campus construction projects planned and underway will substantially reduce available parking for the next few years, putting additional demand on existing parking.

But, to place the parking situation in context, there are reportedly as many as 5,800 parking spaces on the House side of the Capitol alone and perhaps an equal number on the Senate side. Two Metro stations, MARC, VRE, more than a dozen bus routes and a handful of regional trails serve the Capitol Complex, giving staff unparalleled transportation options. There may never be a convenient time for this project. A few more years is too long to wait for a safe, bikeable, and walkable Louisiana Ave.

The Louisiana Ave. project has vocal support from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Congressional Bike Caucus, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C and the Regional Council of Governments. DDOT has devoted considerable resources to design work, and plans to fully cover construction costs with local funds. And last year, Congress passed an omnibus bill that included language calling for construction of the Louisiana Avenue bike lanes without delay.

Last month, Frank Larkin retired and Michael Stenger became the new Senate Sergeant at Arms, creating a new opportunity to engage. Please sign our petition to ask him to reconsider his predecessor’s objections and to allow this needed safety project to move forward.

Sign the Petition

Hundreds of people speak up for a better Long Bridge

Want to keep up on Long Bridge updates by email?  Yes!






The Long Bridge is a rail bridge across the Potomac River, and it’s getting an upgrade from two tracks to four. This project represents a once-in-a-century opportunity to create a new, continuous biking and walking connection from Crystal City to DC’s waterfront core. Unfortunately, the current designs only go halfway. You can find more info here.

Last month, we encouraged people to take action and contact the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), the agency overseeing the project. Their assessing the environmental impact of the project, so it was an an ideal time to speak up for better bicycling connections.

And speak up you did! Throughout the month of January, more than 1600 people contacted DDOT and let them know that the river isn’t the only barrier for people who walk and bike. A better trail bridge would consider and provide solutions for getting past two major highways and the tangle of dangerous intersections, congested sidewalks, and freeway ramps that separate DC from Arlington.

WABA was proud to stand with numerous other groups and elected officials that sent official comment letters to DDOT, including Arlington County, DC Bicycle Advisory Council, Councilmember David Grosso, DC Recreational Trails Advisory Committee, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Southwest Business Improvement District, and Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling.

A public and agency update is planned for sometime this spring. Sign up for WABA’s advocacy updates if you want to stay up to date on this project!

 

Long Bridge needs to be, well, LONGER

Imagine biking from Crystal City to DC’s waterfront along a brand new bike bridge next to the railroad tracks. You’d sail over the George Washington Memorial Parkway and I-395, riding directly from one urban core to the other on a wide, protected trail. Sounds like the best Potomac River crossing in the region, right?

This vision is enshrined in the master plans of DC, Arlington, and the National Park Service, but the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is about to pass on the chance to make it a reality.

Let’s get this bridge right

Long Bridge is the rail bridge you can see from the Yellow Line as you cross the Potomac River.  It carries Amtrak, commuter rail, and freight rail from Arlington over the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Hains Point, and I-395 to L’Enfant Plaza and eventually on to Union Station. It’s getting a long planned, much needed upgrade from two tracks to four. This project is an opportunity to attach a biking and walking trail to the new bridge, creating a continuous non-motorized connection between Arlington and DC.

It’s a once in a century opportunity that DC, Arlington, and the National Park Service have been discussing for years, but the current trail designs only go halfway— from the Mount Vernon Trail to Hains Point.

DDOT can do better, but they need to hear from you.

Take action

The current proposal treats the river as the only barrier that for people who bike and walk, ignoring two major highways and the tangle of dangerous intersections, congested sidewalks, and freeway ramps that separate DC from Arlington.

DDOT is going through the environmental impact statement process for this project, so now is the time to speak up for better bicycling connections.

Ask DDOT for a better bridge

Comments close on January 16, so it’s important to act on this now!

Contact DDOT and ask them to:

  • Make the Long Bridge bicycle and pedestrian connection continue across the George Washington Memorial Parkway to connect to the Long Bridge Park (Arlington County’s Long Bridge Park Master Plan has long called for a connection from the park’s multi-use esplanade across the George Washington Parkway to the Mount Vernon Trail),
  • Make the Long Bridge bicycle and pedestrian trail connect directly to Maine Avenue, instead of requiring an indirect, congested or outdated connection across the Washington Channel.  This is called for in both DC’s MoveDC plan and State Rail Plan,
  • Leave space for a future trail connection across Maine Ave to Maryland Ave and Hancock Park, and
  • Build the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure simultaneously with the rail span, not as a separate project.

Read more about the status of this project in our Dec. 2017 blog post.

Want to get into the weeds? Here are our (really detailed) comments from October 2016.

Find additional information on the Long Bridge Project website.

Trail Connections for a New Long Bridge

Update: Presentations and handouts from the Dec 14 project meeting are available for review here.

Anyone who enters DC from the 14th Street Bridge by bike or foot is aware of the narrow trail on the bridge and the mixed-salad congestion of bike/foot commuters, automobiles at speed, and bewildered tourists that all use the 15th Street & Maine Avenue SW intersection. The Long Bridge Project presents a once-in-a-century opportunity for a new high-quality trail connection between SW DC and Arlington to bypass this quagmire. Stakeholder agencies need to hear from our biking and walking community to ensure that the Project includes bike and pedestrian improvements.

The Long Bridge is the District’s forgotten piece of river-crossing infrastructure. This century-old bridge conveys passenger and freight railroad traffic alongside the 14th Street and WMATA Yellow/Blue Line bridges across the Potomac.  The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) are in the midst of a multi-year study of possible upgrades to the Long Bridge to better handle 21st-century load and reliability. There is potential that a bicycle and pedestrian trail could be included in a bridge upgrade, creating a new link between Arlington’s Long Bridge Park, Mount Vernon Trail, and the District. This would also allow foot and bike traffic to completely bypass 15th & Maine, terminating in the less congested and more useful locations of Maryland Ave SW and L’Enfant Plaza.

What’s New

Earlier this year, the Long Bridge Project team narrowed the field from nineteen preliminary concepts to just seven based on a set of railroad specific and engineering selection criteria. Aside from the no build option, which is still on the table, all of the remaining build concepts would create a new bridge with 3, 4, or 5 rail tracks. Three of the seven concepts include a new multi-use trail as part of the project.

For the past few months, staff have done a second round of screening to further narrow the build options by considering factors like Constructability, Railroad Operations, Efficiency and Effectiveness, Cost, Preliminary Environmental Effects, and Safety.

Speak Up

On Thursday, Dec 14, DDOT and FRA are hosting a public meeting to share and gather feedback on the preferred build alternatives. Though we anticipate some of the chosen alternatives will include a trail, it will take consistent, ongoing pressure to ensure the final plan includes a high quality, convenient, and safe trail.

Long Bridge Public Information Meeting #4
Thursday, December 14 4 pm to 7 pm
Presentations at 4:30 pm and 6 pm
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
1100 4th Street SW, Room E200
Learn more

At the meeting or afterwards, be sure to submit comments to the project team. For more information, see the Long Bridge Project Website for more on the screening results. You can read WABA’s comments on the first round of screening here. To submit comments, use the contact tab on the project’s homepage and consider subscribing to the project mailing list for updates.