In case you missed it, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge's active transportation lane (ATL) opened on Saturday. And if you missed it you might have been the only one. There were several hundred people there - cyclists, walkers, roller bladers etc... - at the opening time (actually earlier - doesn't anyone follow the rules anymore?) Even earlier than that, there was an opening ceremony.
Transportation chiefs from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia joined local officials and biking enthusiasts for the first ride over the bridge Saturday.
I rode in from DC with the DC BAC. We were looking at the route along the proposed (and funded) South Capitol Street Trail. We noted several problems with the existing route. South Capitol Street is one way so you can use it to get to the bridge, but not back. It also involves getting on to I-295 for a while. There is absolutely no signage in either direction. It's a long circuitous route, instead of going directly to the bridge between 295 and the river - one has to bike up and over the Beltway past Oxon Hill Farm. And finally, the trail from DC Village through Oxon Hill Farm is in terrible condition.
The WWB ATL itself is spectacular. It's a flawed masterpiece and a fantastic resource. The ride is great, with the overpass as a small park over the Beltway. The views are stunning (and the telescopes free) and they better be, considering winter commuters will pay for them - originally, the ATL was to be on the south side to allow for snow to melt faster, but was moved north for the views. But, it is really a great thing. There are even markers letting you know when you enter and exit DC. I kind of wish the sound barrier were continued across the whole bridge (it was nice when I finally passed behind it), but I realize that's price prohibitive. For me the ride was one of four across the Potomac that day - but by far the best. Take that Potomac, not so big and bad anymore are you? But don't take my word for it; watch the video below.
I know I complained before about a lack of pomp for the whole thing, but I take it back. How many drivers went to the Wilson Bridge when the roadway opened to hand with other drivers? How many people were driving across all grins and happy? And we got free T-shirts and water bottles. Take that commemorative coins, not so shiny and collectible are you?
The flaws, as they are, can be fixed and some will be. The rough seams are going to be improved, an NPS volunteer said. As Oxon Hill below said "The kludge for wiring or something across the trail is a hazard that should be remedied." The trail to National Harbor was not completed - or if it is completed it's not paved. That should be addressed - there's no reason to leave it a gravel path.
It was pretty clear people in National Harbor had no idea that the bridge would open on Saturday. They were asking cyclists to dismount and told some that there was no bike parking (which there is), but that will change as they get used to the connection.
It could use a drinking fountain, some bathroom signs and a map kiosk
The Post had a big story on it that included some good news.
"There is funding for trail development, to put bike trails along Oxon Hill Road," said Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.), an avid cyclist who made the inaugural ride and lives nearby. "But we do need more trails that actually connect to each other."
One problem is that the most direct route to the District would require laying down a trail past five privately owned homes. Despite an easement, those residents have resisted the idea.
I'm not sure which "route to the District" they're talking about. But a better route to the District, as discussed above is flaw #1 and the most expensive to fix.
There was also a Dr. Gridlock article with some bad news.
Rules Specific to the New Bridge Trail:
* Hours of operation: 5:30 a.m. to midnight.
* Speed limit is 10 miles per hour.
WTF! Why would the ATL close at midnight? Is the beltway going to close at midnight? Do sidewalks close at midnight? This is not a park - it is a transportation tool! And closing it is probably illegal.
And 10mph? What the hell is that? That criminalizes normal biking.
Several people wrote in to Dr. Gridlock's noon chat yesterday to ask about it.
I was surprised by the 5:30 am to midnight rule. I was on the WWB Maryland Interchange Stakeholder Panel, and in all of our discussions it was agreed that the trail is a transportation facility that should be usable twenty-four hours a day. None of the other bike-ped crossings of rivers in the Washington area have limited hours of operation.
Dr. G: I don't see anything in the M-NCPPC rules that rules out a lower speed limit in a particular area.
Fort Washington: We also need to make sure that the trail is accessible 24 hours a day. This is a recreational and transportation facility. What other transportation facilities have limited hours of operation?
Dr. G: I agree with you on the 24 hours issue. That's probably a policing resources question at the moment.
Someone else worried about the safety of the barrier, and Dr. Gridlock agreed and added "Also, I'm not convinced yet by arguments in favor of a higher speed limit for bikers. The path is 12 feet wide. There's no runoff room on either side if a problem develops in a congested area."
OK, well then I guess we better slow the 14th street and TR bridges down to like 6 mph because they're even narrower.
The Route 1 bridge also opened that day but when I rode it I saw few others. It was like the ugly twin at her sweet 16 party. Still, take that Cameron Run. Not so big and bad anymore, are you?
Update: GGW has more on this with some quotes from Jim Hudnall and Eric Gillliand
Bicycle advocates are dissatisfied. Jim Hudnall of the Oxon Hill Bicycle and Trail Club said that "more will be done to improve the [National Harbor] connection, but it is not clear who will do what" to improve the section between the Wilson Bridge trail and National Harbor property. Noting that this section was until last Wednesday "mostly mud" and that the crushed asphalt "was a quick fix done at the end of last week," Hudnall is not sure why the trail was not paved to the National Harbor property line in the first place. Eric Gilliland of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association calls the new Wilson Bridge crossing an "incredible facility" but is also not satisfied with the Maryland side. "The connection into National Harbor needs to be paved and signed and more bike parking is needed at National Harbor itself," he says. In addition, "the connection from the end of the National Harbor access trail at Oxon Hill Road to Oxon Hill Farm and the Oxon Run Trail needs to be made a priority." WABA is also calling for the elimination of the 10 mph speed limit on the Wilson Bridge trail and the repeal of rules limiting bridge access to between 5:30 am and midnight.
Some, in the comments, have pointed out that work on the trail to NH has already begun.
Photo by WABA