In addition to identifying several high priority capital project priorities, the NPS Paved Trails Study also identifies some programmatic priorities. 27 total programmatic recommendations are outlined in the study, but 7 of them scored well enough to be considered among the highest priority.
Establish an NPS Regional Trails Coordinator
This regional position would be responsible for furthering the implementation the recommendations in this plan and the enhancement of the NPS paved trail network. The position would coordinate with all NPS park units, other federal, state and local land managers, and trail advocacy groups, regarding the planning, design, construction, maintenance, and promotion of NPS trails and those trail segments impacting the NPS network. The trail coordinator would be a liaison between the NPS units and trail partners to provide guidance on process requirements and would assist in the cultivation of trail partnerships, marketing, and communications.
It's kind of surprising that they don't already have one, and thus seems like a great idea.
Adopt a standard trail counting methodology and formalize agreement(s) with local government and expand the number of trail counters (2 separate recommendations)
NPS has noticed that trail counting has improved and the report notes that the installation by Arlington and Alexandria of counters along the MVT have benefited them. Improved trail use counts would provide a more accurate picture of trail usage for the overall network and the study dedicates numerous pages to the subject.
In addition to the number of trail users, trail data can be used to identify seasonality impacts, special event impacts, and can help substantiate the need for investment in high-volume corridors.
But they don't want to abandon manual counts, because "manual counts remain the best means to collect quantitative information regarding user characteristics such as trail user type (e.g. walker, jogger, or biker), helmet use, etc..."
The count data they have is limited both in locations and in the length of time it's been available, and the bridge counts that DDOT does have not been done on all bridges in all years due to budget issues. And then sometimes errors in data counters aren't fixed for several months. Nonetheless, they note that all the counters show bike traffic and trail usage to be up. For example, bridge traffic for cyclists is up 78% between 2008 and 2014. Also of interest:
- "The Key Bridge, Arlington Memorial Bridge and 14th Street Bridge accounted for 76% of all bicycle usage on area bridges, down from a high of 83% in 2011." [Which is another reason why improving the TR bridge could be so important].
- "The fastest growing usage is primarily on bridges with on-road facilities, representing a combined 130% growth since 2008."
- And somewhat humorously, "Despite the pronounced seasonality, there has been a steady increase in winter usage, from near zero in 2010 to approximately 20,000 in 2012." But the reason it was near zero in 2010 is that the trail counters in place then all registered zero cyclists in February due to Snowmaggedon.
- "Three NPS-owned and maintained trails have trail count data available for analysis: the Mount Vernon Trail, the Towpath, and the Capital Crescent Trail. The Towpath has one of the longest time periods of data from automated counters available for analysis, spanning from 2009 to 2014"
- "Data provided by NPS-maintained counters had errors or gaps in data approximately 30% of the months that counts were collected, whereas, the Eco-Counters maintained by Arlington County on the Mount Vernon Trail had errors or gaps approximately 8% of months. Errors associated with NPS counters lasted longer (approximately 4.8 months per occurrence) than errors associated with Arlington County counters (2.3 months)"
So, NPS would like to see more counters installed, and that they report data in a standard format. They recommend that jurisdictions co-ordinate their purchasing and maintenance for efficiency and that they work to close counting gaps. Some of the more notable gaps are along the Potomac Heritage trail, National Mall trails and Rock Creek Park Trails (no mention of whether or not the current projects will install any). "Emphasis should be placed on the junction and terminus points along the Capital Crescent Trail, Rock Creek Park Multi-use Trail, Anacostia Riverwalk Trail as well as the POHE."
Complete At-Grade Crossing Study and Develop Standards for At-Grade Crossings as part of the Study
Because at-grade crossings represent the most dangerous parts of the trails, NPS would like to improve them by studying, determining and utilizing best practices. " A primary focus of this effort may be directed initially toward existing crossings along the Mount Vernon Trail; however, development of design standards should have a regional application"
The Mount Vernon Trail has 18 at-grade trail crossings with vehicular traffic and another nine at-grade trail crossings associated with Arlington Memorial Bridge (NPS Transportation Scholar Report, 2012). Thirteen of the at-grade crossings exist south of the City of Alexandria. Many trail crossings occur at high vehicle volume intersections with minimum-to-no safety or signage features for pedestrian or cyclist crossings. The George Washington Memorial Parkway was designed as a scenic roadway along the natural terrain of the Potomac River. Points of interest and overlooks were designed to be reached by motorized vehicle. To improve overall safety, at-grade crossings should be targeted for roadway and trail safety enhancements; improvements could include improved sightlines, speed limit reductions in key areas, creating shorter trail crossing distances by narrowing or reducing lanes, introducing pavement markings, and improved crossing signage
Establish Comprehensive Trail Standards and Manual of Standards
NPS has no trail design standards.
The NCR should establish a set of trail design standards and guidelines unique to the NCR that define trail user types and at a minimum address trail width; clear zones; sight distances; crossings; markings; amenities; access; vegetation; safety features; lighting; snow removal; maintenance; signage; wayfinding; bridges; tunnels; and boardwalks. The standards and guidelines should take into consideration the regional hierarchy of trail and trailhead types (high volume corridors) and industry standards being implemented locally.
Establish Protocols for Incident Reporting and Data Collection and Increase Trail Security Infrastructure
Obtaining comprehensive pedestrian or bicyclist accident or incident data related to NPS paved trails is difficult due to the number of agencies, organizations, and local police departments involved in tracking fatality and injury data. Methods and standards by which data is collected, reported, and made publicly available vary widely and the NPS incident reporting system does not currently require or capture incident geospatial information that could be used to analyze trends and target investment to specific locations. Protocols for incident reporting and data collection to increase trail safety should be developed and mile markers should be installed along all trails to aid emergency responders and trail users.
Unfortunately it appears that the worst tracker of data is the United States Park Police (USPP)
The Incident Management Analysis and Reporting System (IMARS) is a relatively new Service-wide system that is used by USPP to document incidents that occur in a park. Currently the system does not require or capture geospatial information for incidents that would allow mapping of incidents along trails for analysis. When an incident occurs, the location of the incident is typically referenced as the nearest roadway intersection when entered into the system, which may be a considerable distance from the actual location of the incident.
Develop National Capital Trail marketing and promotion program
Promotion of the National Capital Trail concept across the region should include the development of standards for signage and wayfinding system-wide and a trail map and booklet, as well as, interactive features such as virtual experience opportunities, i.e. mobile device apps, interactive mapping tools, educational websites. Efforts should include the establishment of a clear agreement with Arlington County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, City of Alexandria and the District of Columbia to advance the National Capital Trail concept and branding.