Rock Creek Park Trail, now with fewer stop signs

Matt reports that there has been some signage changes on the Rock Creek Park Trail lately.

NPS appears to have removed the majority of the stop signs on the southern portion of the Rock Creek trail and replaced them with caution signs. The exception is the Virginia Ave crossing. This is positive because it makes clear to drivers they need to yield to pedestrians and cyclists. Having stop signs gives the wrong impression to drivers that they don't have to yield. 
 
RCP signs (2)
Here's the same spot with the old stop sign
 
  Stop

Bike path narrowed on new Nice Bridge, possibly endangered

Last year, Gov. Hogan announced plans to replace the Governor Harry W. Nice Bridge over the Potomac. The bridge between Charles County, MD and King County, VA is the only Potomac River Crossing downstream of the Wilson Bridge. It currently has no bike/ped crossing, but the preferred alternative for the replacement has a 10-foot wide sidepath.

The proposed bike/ped path crosses beneath the bridge on each shore to enable bicyclists and pedestrians to transition to the appropriate shoulder of US 301 without crossing the highway. The bike/ped path allows users direct access to parkland in Virginia (i.e., Dahlgren Wayside Park and Barnesfield Park) and to the AquaLand Campground and Marina in Maryland. 

In order to cut ~$200M from the cost of the project, they have begun favoring the practical design which reduces the path width to 8 feet and removes the shoulders. These two designs can be seen below along with the current bridge.

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 11.51.18 PM

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 11.52.53 PM

Maryland bike advocates have been told that the state now wants to go with the Practical Design without a bike/ped path, which will knock another ~$60M off the price tag

Screenshot 2017-09-21 at 12.03.16 AM

This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build a bike connection across the bottom 100 miles of the Potomac River, a connection that could serve as an important link between the two states and as a critical piece of any long-distance bike routes in the area.

Though there doesn't appear to be a formal comment process at this time, comments can always be sent to the Governor, to Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn or to Maryland or Virginia state and county officials. 

[Alternate title: "Nice Bridges Finish Last"]

National bike commuting down again, DC up, region mixed

Last week, the Census Bureau released its annual American Community Survey and for the 2nd year in a row bike commuting was down, and this time by a larger number.  In 2016 data, bike commuting went down from  0.597% to 0.575% or about 22000 people total. There are now about 863,000 American bike commuters according to the Census. Streetsblog theorizes that the drop in global gas prices worldwide is the cause of the drop, which seems reasonable - people do respond to financial incentives, but the cost of gas isn't really that much of the cost of driving so I' skeptical. Adding to my doubt is the fact that since 2014, driving is also down - from 85.7% to 85.4%. The more likely cause is that working from home is up more than 10% over that time and is eating into every other mode. Transit, driving and biking are all down; walking and taxis are flat and working from home is up.

In DC, bike commuting bucked the trend and went up from 4.1% of all commuters last year to a whopping 4.6%, the highest rate ever recorded for DC and enough to move us back into 2nd place among America's largest cities behind Portland.  These gains were almost entirely the result of more bike commuting among women. Nice job, ladies.

image from i2.wp.com

Despite that, we still remain below the 10-year goal set out in the 2005 DC Bicycle Master Plan, which was 5%.

Meanwhile, driving dropped again, from 38.8% to 38.1%. Walking also dropped, to 13.7% from 14.0% and transit was up, from 35.8% to 36.1%. Working from home was unchanged at 6% total.  

Elsewhere in the region:

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 1.06.40 AM

Arlington continues its steady growth, up to 2.4% from 1.9% (now comparable to Boston) but Alexandria is down to 0.9% from 1.2% last year. 

Silver Spring, recovered some of its gains from last year, ticking up slightly from 0.6% to 0.7% 1.3%.  Rockville and Gaithersburg meanwhile collapsed. The former is down from 0.7% to 0.1% and the later is is down from 0.2% to 0.0%. For Gaithersburg, at least, there's no where to go but up. 

Metropolitan Branch Trail's expansion into north DC hits some roadblocks

It's been nearly 18 months since DDOT presented the preliminary design plans for the Metropolitan Branch Trail, and 9 since they issued an RFP for the design-build construction contract for the Fort Totten section (from John McCormack to Gallatin), but despite the anticipated Notice of Intent to Award date (5/15/17) having come and gone, we don't seem to be any closer to the start of work. Perhaps more concerning is that work north of Fort Totten, from Gallatin to Aspen, is being held up by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee of ANC 4B. As WABA wrote

Despite years of planning that have created a terrific trail plan, some ANC members are asking for major changes that will both delay and jeopardize the success of the trail.

The committee’s decision, and the full ANC resolution later this month, is an important one. If they green light the route that DDOT has spent years developing, planners can finish design work and start construction. If the ANC asks for big changes, we’re back to the drawing board, setting us back years, and likely resulting in less direct, less continuous trail.

So, this whole project is dependent on one committee of one ANC [If you're one of those people who doesn't bother to figure out who their ANC reps are or who the candidates for that seat are or what they stand for then let this be a reminder of why that is foolish].

It's unclear what is causing the delay in the RFP, but in the past it has been because the bids came in too high. 

MBT fort totten

[The release of the Design contract for the trail north to Aspen Street is also behind schedule, likely due to the ANC approval]

It doesn't appear that ANC 4B puts the minutes for it's committee meetings online (or even for their general meetings for more than a year) but some people did go to the meeting and report on it.  Some of the concerns were just garden variety NIMBYism

A woman representing the South Manor Park Neighborhood Association argued that 1st Street is too narrow to “bring all these bikes there” and that parking is also very difficult. She also alleged that the adjacent DC Bilingual Public Charter School creates additional problems as it generates lots of car traffic and walking kids such that placing the trail here would increase conflicts and could be dangerous.

And others were more about where traffic made the most sense. 

The other segment of contention was regarding DDOT’s proposal to build the trail as a shared use path along Blair Road between McDonald Place and Rittenhouse Street, essentially replacing the sidewalk on the eastern side of Blair Road. 

ANC subcommittee head Faith Wheeler said Aspen Street is already busy and about to get busier with all of the construction that is underway on the former Walter Reed site.

She and some residents implored DDOT to consider putting the trail on Van Buren Street, but DDOT noted that Sandy Spring Road is too narrow there for the trail to fit. 

Van Buren and Aspen both have underpasses for moving the trail from one side of the tracks to the other, which has to happen in this area.  In both cases the east side trail will be Sandy Spring, but DDOT is arguing that for the two blocks between Van Buren and Aspen, Blair is better and I tend to agree. 

Frankly, the first concern should be politely dismissed out of hand and the 2nd should be given "great weight" but DDOT's technical assessment of traffic and road width should trump that weight.  I can't believe that 18 months after releasing these designs the ANC wants to further delay the trail over such a trivial change based on such flimsy concerns. Where was all this in 2015?

But there is some good news.

One is that it seems the ANC and bike advocates both support a trail spur along North Dakota and 3rd that it would take the trail by the Takoma Community Center. DDOT appears to have been less enthused, but if such a facility could be added on later, that would be a great idea.

The other bit comes from Richard Layman who notes that we could get two routes through this area.

DDOT is offering the on-street alignment now, because during the design period heretofore, NPS was against providing an alignment on NPS property. However, NPS is now willing to discuss such an alignment. DDOT proposes to go forward with the current on street design, while pursuing a longer term off street alignment, pending discussions and a subsequent planning/design process with NPS.

He's talking about the original alignment from the 2005 Concept Plan

FtTotten2005

Maybe NPS will turn out to be more welcoming to a lot of DDOT's early ideas like a bridge over Riggs and a PG County Connector Trail along the Circle Fort path. 

Anyway, ANC 4B doesn't have this on their agenda for the September 25th meeting, so I don't know when it might be resolved. 

New Arlington Bike Plan is taking shape

The Arlington Master Transportation Plan Bicycle Element Working Group has updated their draft framework and made it available to the public. The primary changes from the last version are a fully written introduction, instead of a bullet list, different organization of the policies and the inclusion of updated facts (like they removed references to the streetcar) and ideas.

Policy additions and changes in this version include:

  • County should complete and continuously improve the bikeway network.
  • Rearranges the first two policies into three, with the new one being " Provide a network of context sensitive, low-stress bicycling routes that connects residential areas with commercial centers, transit stations, schools and County facilities"
  • Expands a policy about on-street bike facilities to include "Enhance on-street bicycling facilities with painted buffers or physical separation where feasible and applicable."
  • New bike facilities should now be built in accordance with both NACTO and AASHTO guidelines, not just AASHTO.  NACTO is much more oriented toward urban walking and biking.
  • Use bicycle count data in project development and in future use estimations
  • Consider a GPS-based, dockless bike share system, similar to what DC is doing (I think they should say "study" rather than "consider" but whatever)
  • Increase enforcement of laws in relation to bicycle safety
  • Maintain trails on private property where a public easement exists
  • Establish guidelines for trail lighting
  • A new Policy to "Design trail corridors to be “greener” reducing impervious surface area and enhancing planting
    opportunities."
  • Increase the minimum bike lane width from 3' to 4' and set 2' as the minimum additional width for tunnels and underpasses, not the standard and adds that "Additional bicycle lane width, in the form of painted buffers and/or physical separations, should be considered whenever feasible."
  • On heavily used trails, physical separations and lane markings should be considered as measures to reduce conflicts between pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Raises the standard from arterial street design from ones that accommodate experienced cyclists to those that accommodate all cyclists. 

They completed all of their scheduled engagement opportunities last weekend, but their 5th group meeting is at the end of this month and they're still taking comments at bikeplanupdate@arlingtonva.us

Spring Street Cedar Street Buffered bike lanes almost finished

Montgomery County is almost done striping and marking the new Spring Street Cedar Street buffered/protected bike lane, which will connect the future Capital Crescent Trail to the future Silver Spring Green Trail (both of which will be completed as part of the Purple Line project, which you may have heard has just started). 

The county has been striping Cedar Street.

image from pbs.twimg.com

And Spring Street which will place the bike lane between the sidewalk and parked cars.

image from pbs.twimg.com

They have a new pedestrian island

image from pbs.twimg.com

And cyclists are already out using the lane (even before the flexposts have been installed).

image from pbs.twimg.com

And then last night, they live-tweeting the installation of the green thermoplastic.

image from pbs.twimg.com

And for the bike box (can you spot the manager)

image from pbs.twimg.com

The bike lane runs along the north side of downtown.

image from www.montgomerycountymd.gov

When this is complete, they'll follow it with a protected bike lane on Wayne, from the left end of the pink line above to Georgia Avenue.

image from washcycle.typepad.com

In ~5 years when the CCT is completed, it will connect to the Sarbanes Center as will the Metropolitan Branch Trail (which may be done by then??) and the Silver Spring Green Trail. Later the SSGT will be extended to the Sligo Creek Parkway and thus the Anacostia Tributary Trails. This separated bike lane would then serve as a northern alternative to the SSGT and would make a nice little downtown loop.

image from www.bethesdamagazine.com

from Bethesda Beat

What's really needed after that is a direct east west connection between Sligo Creek and the WB&A Trail via College Park and Greenbelt. Then we'll have a real bicycle network north of DC. 

Update: The bike lanes are to be finished by the end of the month and will include "flexible plastic bollards and signs to protect and help guide cyclists along the new bike lanes." 

September 11th National Memorial Trail chooses Executive Director, opens new trail segments

image from www.newsworks.org

With the anniversary this week, it seems like an opportune time to talk about the September 11th National Memorial Trail, the trail - or network of trails that connect the three 9/11 crash sites. Naturally, it passes through the DC area on the way to the Pentagon, going through Virginia, Maryland and DC. Last week they announced that they'd chosen their first ever Executive Director.

This week, Thomas “Tom” Baxter IV, one of the developers of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which traces the banks of Pittsburgh's rivers, was named executive director of the September 11th National Memorial Trail.

Technically, the trail exists as a patchwork of previously developed trail segments and secondary, less-traveled roads in seven states — West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Maryland and Virginia — and the District of Columbia.

It's not all existing trail and so some new trails will be built, but not in the DC area.

A ...priority is a trail connecting the Great Allegheny Passage (a 150-mile long rail-to-trail) in Garrett, Somerset County, to the Flight 93 Memorial, which is expected in the next two years.

In Pennsylvania, currently about 60 percent of the September 11 trail route uses the roadway and 40 percent are pathways.

The goal is to develop more trails and use less road.

More than 500 miles of the September 11th National Memorial Trail will wind through the state, making it the state's longest recreational trail when complete, according to Kent Taylor, a DCNR natural resource program specialist

Baxter spent 14 years with the Friends of the Riverfront, the nonprofit that developed the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. It attracts more than 800,000 visitors a year and has an $8 million economic impact with purchases of food, bicycles, clothing and other products, according to trail-user surveys.

“We took a localized trail and made it the center spoke in a regional mega trail, including the Great Allegheny Passage,” he said.A

And then on Monday, Shanksville cut the ribbon on a new 21-mile segment of trail, Randolph, NJ unveiled the first trail blaze for the system, and Bucks County issued a proclamation in favor of the trail.

Washington Gas Project is cause for Anacostia Trail closure, but it should open soon

Screenshot 2017-09-13 at 12.52.18 AM

Image courtesy of Ben Bowman

Back in 2014, the section of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail that passes under the 11th Street bridge (seen above) was closed in order to clean and remediate the site (aka Operable Unit (OU) 1). It became contaminated due to wastes related to the former Washington Gas East Station manufactured gas plant property which was just north of the site. At the time they said that

The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which is currently along Water Street, will remain intact during the OU1 work. As part of the OU1 work, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail will be re-routed to go beneath the bridges along the River, rather than along Water Street. This new trail will not be available for use until after the OU1 work is complete and the fence has been removed.

In 2015 they reported that

Washington Gas completed the contaminated surface and subsurface soil removal and backfilling requirements of the Operable Unit (OU) 1 Remedial Design and Remedial Action at the government property 

So why is it still closed? 

In October 2015, Washington Gas seeded the topsoil with native species appropriate for planting in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and adjacent coastal regions. Washington Gas will have two years to establish a healthy vegetative cover over the government property. Public access to the government property will be limited by a fence for two years to ensure successful vegetation over the clean soil that will blanket the property. The section of Anacostia Riverwalk trail that crosses through the Site will not be accessible while vegetation becomes established, but a detour is already in place for trail users.

So yes, it has literally been closed to allow the grass to grow, which is why it seems like nothing is going on there. But...if they mean exactly two years and if they really did do this in October 2015 and if my math is right it should reopen (let's see, carry the one)....next month. Though this earlier document said the site would open in 2017-2018. 

I-66 trail changes were made late without consulting all stakeholders, so any delays are VDOT's fault

Virginia transportation leaders are claiming that moving the I-66 trail outside the noise barrier is putting the whole project at risk and that it would also require taking more property from adjacent land owners, but they haven't explained how either of those things are true and it seems like this problem is very much of their making. 

The I-66 Outside the Beltway project will include 22 miles of parallel trail, but for ~5 miles that will inside a sound wall.

For about five of the project’s 22.5 miles, the trail would be squeezed between the highway and the concrete wall that will serve as a buffer between traffic noise and adjacent neighborhoods.

Trail users, led by FABB, want the trail to be outside the sound wall. 

“It is air pollution, it’s noise, small particles that get kicked up from the highway,” said Bruce Wright, a member of the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling. “Imagine riding on this trail and there is really no place to go if you have a problem. You are right next to a very tall soundwall, and you are right next to a jersey barrier.”

However Virginia is now saying that it's too late to change things, despite pleas from state lawmakers that they do so, although they appear to be making an effort.

Susan Shaw, director of Mega Projects for VDOT, said the department is working with the project’s private partners to find other locations within those five miles of trail where the facility could be moved to the other side of the wall. A modified design would be released for public review this fall, she said.

There are some mixed messages from VDOT and I can't get a clear answer as to what the issue is. Is it that more property will have to be taken

 Changing the trail location would require additional right of way, officials said.

Or is it because neighbors want the wall between them and the trail.

Officials say they understand the design isn’t ideal, but they cite neighbor opposition to having the trail on their side of the wall. The option they settled on addresses the neighbors’ concerns and the corridor’s right-of-way constraints.

Because if it's the latter I'm not sympathetic, but the former does matter. What isn't clear is why additional right-of-way would be needed or how much or where. They should answer those questions. Right now they're planning a roadway barrier with fencing, then the trail, then the noise barrier. It seems like, if anything, they could reduce the width by combining the two barriers into one. So why do the need more space and why can't they tell us how much additional width they need. 

They claim that "a deal.. was reached after years of negotiations and compromises to reduce the impact on homeowners" but as near as I can tell trail advocates like FABB were not included in those negotiations.  The earliest I can find this was mentioned was in a December 2015 draft RFP document, but I'm not sure when that was made public.  Regardless, maps from June 2016 show the trail (solid green line) outside the sound barrier (green and black line)

Brian2016

But in April 2017, show it (green) inside the noise barrier (blue and black)
Brian2016

What happened over those months? Why weren't trail advocates notified of such a big change?

If there is an engineering reason why the noise wall can't be placed where the road barrier is planned, and so moving the trail outside the wall would take 10-12 feet from people on Brian Drive, that I am sympathetic about (but dubious, I mean why can't you put the sound barrier where the road barrier is planned); but they need to explain that. If not, then they're kowtowing to irrational fears of neighbors. Give them a nice privacy fence, sure, but this is a terrible plan.

If it really does mean a larger taking, maybe we could look at a narrower trail, or lifting the trail up above the roadway (which would be pricey I admit). There has got to be a better solution.

I have to say that what it looks like is this - late in the game they screwed over trail users by changing the design to placate homeowners and now they're complaining that trail users want to go back to the original design when it's too late in the game.

Georgetown Branch Trail is closed. What now?

I've heard, but not seen photos of, that a large fence now blocks the Georgetown Branch Trail just west of Connecticut Avenue (but that you can still ride from Connecticut to Stewart Ave. Lyttonsville if you're willing to go around the closure sings). So with it REALLY closed, what next? 

A day in court

There are still two court cases (for now) outstanding. There's the case about whether or not the Purple Line EIS has to be redone because it didn't account for a recent decline in Metro ridership and there's one filed last week asking the courts to prevent them from cutting down trees until the first case is settled. Final briefs in the first case were filed last week and the "oral arguments in the case could take place as soon as this fall." On the second case, Judge Leon on Friday denied a request to halt tree cutting.

However, he wrote in his order that he’ll wait until after a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for Sept. 19 to decide whether his court has the jurisdiction needed to rule on the issue.

That's one day after the state said they're going to start cutting down the big trees, but they've agreed to wait to the 20th now, but not to delay cutting down smaller brush which could cost as much as $6.1 million. "Workers began cutting smaller trees — those less than nine inches in diameter — [last] week."

Some have complained about the rapid way in which the closure happened once permission to do so was given, but I agree with MD Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn on this one

“I find it hard to believe that anyone thought the trail wasn’t going to be closed after a year of litigation,” Rahn said. “I believe it’s common knowledge. We have been talking about this. There have been meetings. The fact is we need to get the project going and I do not believe the notice that was given was inadequate.”

Rahn said notification requirements were altered for the trail closure and for construction activity to occur near the Arliss Street tunnel and also at the Prince George’s County site where the project’s groundbreaking took place last week.

“I’ve got to stress that we are having to make up for nearly a year in delay caused by the lawsuit,” Rahn said. “It cost taxpayers’ money for delays. Frankly, it would cost the public far more than is reasonable to have waited another 30 days to have started work when the public clearly would have seen that construction is going to start.

I'm not sure what people would have done with more notice, except filed more lawsuits. 

Detour

It's a little bit shameful that we have a 5-year closure with a mutli-year warning and the official detour is so awful (they're spending $5.23 million on it - which I can only hope includes the cost of designing the new tunnel). Some of the signage has been up for over a year, but it's not clear that the detour will change the streets in any way other than added signage despite earlier plans for bike lanes

While the official detour uses streets many feel are too busy, Mayor Flynn claims that the streets in Chevy Chase are just too quiet and residential to handle cyclists.

But Flynn said past town leaders raised safety issues about encouraging pedestrians and cyclists to cut through quiet neighborhoods.

“There are safety issues; we have narrow streets, a lot of shared driveways,” she said. “The houses are closer together than you might think. The streets are residential streets — they weren’t designed with the trail,” said Flynn.

It does indeed sound very dangerous. I guess we have to look for Goldilocks streets. Rahn gets it right again.

“I find it interesting that Chevy Chase refused to put up signs to designate the alternate route for the trail,” Rahn said. “If Chevy Chase is concerned about this, they should cooperate with helping people know how to get through their community.”

The Air Rights Tunnel

The tunnel will be rebuilt in two parts. One part will be done as part of the Apex Building and the other will be built by the County.

image from washcycle.typepad.com

The portion to be built as part of the replacement building is in dark blue and the county section is in light blue on the right-hand side of the image.

Demolition of the Apex Building started in June (putting it behind schedule) with the hardware store moved in August, and will last at least until the end of October

Carr wants to replace the existing structure at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. with office and apartment towers that could soar 300 feet into the sky. The company has also agreed to construct a shell for a future Purple Line station beneath the complex, and despite the legal entanglements that have delayed the light-rail project, the Maryland Transit Administration is holding Carr to a late 2018 deadline, according to the June 19 waiver application.

Sticking to this schedule requires an expedited demolition process, Carr argues in its request for a noise waiver effective from Aug. 1 through Oct. 31.

I'm not sure if the tunnel has been closed down yet or not, but with the rest of the trail closed it's kind of moot.

The developer is also planning to close the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel below Wisconsin Avenue during construction. Carr needs a county permit to shut down the tunnel, and the approval process is on hold until the developer submits a proposed path for rerouting pedestrians, said Tim Cupples, a county transportation designer.

The tunnel will likely remain closed for several years during the redevelopment project, Cupples said. 

At last report, in last March, the county had not budgeted the money for the new trail, though they were approving money for the design.

the County Council’s transportation committee approved a $3.8 million budget item to be funded over three years to plan and design the tunnel that would extend from the planned Purple Line station underneath the Apex Building on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda to Elm Street Park in Chevy Chase. 

Deputy Council Administrator Glenn Orlin said the county plans to complete the design of the trail tunnel by 2020, then construct it from 2020 to 2022 so it can be finished by the time the Purple Line is planned to open. County officials have estimated the tunnel may cost from $15 million to $30 million, but an exact cost won’t be determined until the design process is complete.

So to get the full trail we need the Purple Line project (~2022), Apex Building project (~2018) and Montgomery County Tunnel (~2022) project all to be complete.

The project will actually include two tunnels for trail users. One will be the new full trail tunnel, but it will also include a pedestrian tunnel that connects to the Bethesda station. There will also be an overpass to take the trail over the Purple Line.

Bethesda

The trail will then travel along the north side of the tracks, over Connecticut Avenue, under Jones Mill Road and then to Rock Creek Park.

The Rock Creek Trestle

 

The current Rock Creek Trestle will be removed and the trail will go across Rock Creek on its own bridge. It will have a connection to the Rock Creek Trail and then carry the trail over the tracks to the south side. 

Rock Creek

At times, old bridges will be advertised for reuse and in fact the Capital Crescent/Georgetown Branch Trails use three re-purposed bridges (one of which, the Talbot Avenue bridge is currently available for reuse), but I doubt this one would be a good candidate for saving.  They should burn it to the ground for old times sake (the bridge was a frequent target of arsonists over the years). 

At the CSX tracks, the trail will again cross over the Purple Line (and the railroad tracks) and follow along those to the Silver Spring Transit Center where it will meet up with the Met Branch Trail - which one can dream will be complete all the way to Union Station by 2022.

Talbot

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