By Jonathan Krall
It is the best of trails, it is the worst of trails. The Wilson Bridge Trail offers beautiful views, scenic rest areas with historic and educational markers. It provides a bike and pedestrian connection where previously there had not been one. It is enough of an attraction that many people walk it just to enjoy walking it. When they reach the end, they simply turn around.
For cyclists, however, there is a problem. Expansion joints, about ten of them, jolt cyclists at regular intervals over the length of the one mile bridge. Each has a gap of several inches where the trail surface drops by about 3 inches. The expansion joints extend across the entire width of the bridge, but have a different configuration in the motorized traffic lanes. Motorists, unlike cyclists, get a smooth ride.
In 2013, I wrote to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which maintains the trail, to thank them for plowing snow from the trail in winter and to ask about the expansion joints. I was told that upgrades to the bridge, if any, would come from the Maryland State Highway Administration. I recently followed up with the SHA and in an e-mail reply I was told that “in the past we have filled bridge joints with rubber seals that help prevent bike tires from falling into them. Perhaps this might help ease the bumps. The maintenance crew may also have other ideas.” In a follow-up phone call on Tuesday of this week, I was told that the expansion joints would be inspected within the next two weeks.
On my own daily commute, the Wilson Bridge expansion joints have damaged bicycle components and cargo. Front and rear lights, a cargo basket, a water bottle, and a laptop computer are among the casualties. I've replaced components and learned to pack more carefully (tip: sensitive electronics go on the rider, not the bike). However, after replacing several headlight mounts that snapped off in very cold weather, when the plastic becomes brittle, I now attach my front light to my bicycle only after I cross the bridge, even at night. This is hardly an ideal solution and is tolerable only because the trail has lighting. The expansion joints pack much less of a punch at speeds above 20 mph, but riding at such speeds is not recommended on this very popular trail, or on any multi-user trail.
People who wish to write to the Marland SHA about the Wilson Bridge Trail can do so using this online form: Request for Service