Capital Trails Coalition impact report highlights benefits of a full trail network

MWCOGNCT2

Back in April, the Capital Trails Coalition released the National Capital Trail Network (seen above) impact report which showed that a billion dollar investment in trails would pay off with over $2.4 Billion in savings PER YEAR.

Impact

This report was completed AFTER the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments officially endorsed the Capital Trails Coalition's (CTC) National Capital Trail (NCT) Network (seen above* or in an interactive version here), but the benefits highlighted absolutely informed that decision. Interested parties should read the whole report because I'm not going to repeat it all here, but even if you think they're way overstating the benefits (and I don't), it's still got to be a net gain

The NCT represents the product of a multi-year effort led by WABA and Rails-to-Trails; and including dozen's of other organizations and advocates. The CTC has been slowing building to wide acceptance of the NCT as the key response to their goal to connect the region by trails. It doesn't lack for ambition. It envisions trails stretching across the greater Washington region, from Frederick, Md., to Prince William County, Va., that would expand the amount of off-road bicycle and pedestrian pathways to 1,400 miles.

The extensive trail system would more than double the size of the existing network by adding 755 miles to the current 645 miles of trails

And they're not stopping with the plan. Since completing it, the CTC has been working to identify the trails that could most benefit from an advocacy push and then working to get them across the finish line. One of those was the long-stalled South Capitol Street Trail which recently got funding in Mayor Bowser's new budget

The NCT network, if built out, would finally get bike facilities to the place advocates have been trying to get them to for over 100 years and the CTC should be proud of the way that they've moved a plan that would have been laughed at 20 years ago into something serious policy makers can support. 

*An alternative version of this map, excluding Frederick and Charles Counties in Maryland; and Loudoun and Prince William Counties in Virginia shows up in the impact report. 

Scaling back of Beltway expansion spares Rock Creek, Bethesda Trolley, Sligo Creek trails

In mid-May Maryland scaled back their proposed expansion of DC-area highways, a decision that will prevent changes (and likely upgrades) to the many bike trails that cross it. Instead of adding lanes to the whole of the MD Beltway and I-270, the reduced proposal is to add lanes from the Virginia side of the American Legion Bridge (ALB) to north of Rockville. The major impacts for cyclists will be limited to any impact to the C&O Canal Towpath, a possible crossing on the new bridge and any improvements to or new connections crossing along the expanded highway (as is happening along I-66).

image from dcist.com

[For the record, I think any expansion is a bad idea, but if they do they should take the opportunity to make it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to cross the barrier. And advocates should push to make them do so.]

Last year, Montgomery County Planning weighed in on the project, to advise the state of the walking and bicycling recommendations in the Bicycle Master Plan and other area master plans to reconnect the neighborhoods that were severed with the original construction of I-495 and I-270. They brought their attention to individual bikeway recommendations that cross the interstates are shown at mcatlas.org/bikeplan. They also brought their attention to new guidance related to freeway ramps and grade-separated crossings. All of that is still valid, even with the reduced scope.

The 2020 DEIS discusses how the state is working with local planners to preserve current bike/ped facilities and add the facilities required by the county.

DEIS

A shared-use facility on the bridge is something the state says it's committed to. Regardless of feelings about the HOT lanes, that would be a great addition to the local bike network as it would be the only crossing between Chain Bridge and White's Ferry (which may or may not come back). The bridge runs almost exactly north-south, so it's odd that they described the share-use path as being on the "south side", but I'll assume they mean the downstream side which matches up with where they put it in the 2002 Mount Vernon Trail Extension Study. (The MVT is the light blue line).

MVTALB

It'd be a mistake to build it as shown, but not include a connection under the bridge to Live Oak Drive. 

Crystal City, and its Bicycle Network, would change with Amazon HQ arrival

image from projects.arlingtonva.us

Crystal City, a part of the future National Landing, is going through plenty of change right now, with more on the horizon. In order to help Crystal City develop in a 21st Century sort of way, the county is working on a new Crystal City Bike Plan with the goal of delivering a “network of enhanced bicycling facilities” that can be implemented no later than December 31, 2024. A 2nd Crystal City Bike Network community meeting is scheduled for sometime this month (TBD)

Advocates are supportive of the initiative but have some criticism for the plan nonetheless. One criticism has been that what they need are two plans - a short term plan, based on existing resources and items already in the pipeline, and a long-term plan, based on goals that only can be achieved as larger projects get underway.  The plan doesn't do enough to consider how people will really get around or that Crystal Drive is the most important road in the network. The plan also ignores Potomac Yard, a critical connection to the Four Mile Run Trail and Alexandria. 

They call for the plan to 

  • Require a Complete Street cross section for all future realignments and rebuilds of Clark/Bell by Developers
  • Expand the sidewalk along 12th St east of Long Bridge Drive and south along Crystal Drive to 15th Street to Trail width (at least 15').  
  • Rebuild the Metroway bus stops to support a 2-way protected bike lane on Crystal Drive from 15th to 26th St. T
  • Extend the Potomac Yard Trail from the Arlington/Alexandria border to Long Bridge Park.  

A study of Pentagon City is also underway that also proposes to transform that area into a more urban and bike/ped/transit oriented area. 

PentagonCity

The Commonwealth is getting in on the act too, as they're more than half a year into a Route 1 Multimodal Improvements Study

Meanwhile some things are happening outside of that planning process. As of earlier this year, construction has started on two residential towers at 1900 Crystal Drive in Crystal City, the project will include new 5' bike lanes on a block of 18th Street S. and, while it doesn't create a protected bike lane on Crystal Drive as advocates wanted, the bike lane will now be next to a transit lane instead of a travel lane. 

18th St S
18th St S

Still, a pair of protected bike lanes on Crystal Drive and S. Clark Street are something the County aspires to. Staff recently released recommendations on how to improve the area's bike lane Network and PBLs on Crystal Drive made the list along with improved cross-street east-west connections, and additional protected or buffered bike lanes on 15th, 18th, 23rd, and 26th streets.

In March 2020, the Arlington County Board directed staff to develop a plan to improve the bicycle network “east of Richmond Highway, from the Alexandria border extending north to Long Bridge Park.” The requirement for the proposal is that it needed to be completed within four years — by Dec. 31, 2024 — and require minimal changes to the curb line.

Staff considered several other options, but those rejected either didn’t fully address safety issues, could not be completed in the four-year timeline, or substantial capital improvements would be needed.

image from s26551.pcdn.co

Not everyone thinks the recommendations go far enough. Darren Buck, who serves on Arlington’s Transportation Commission and lives in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood, said the recommendations reflect a “short-term view” that will not age well given that Crystal City in the midst of so much development.

“Let’s create a road map with a long-term vision, especially on Crystal Drive,” Buck says. “Let’s plan ahead with a 10 or 20 year goal for how that street should look.”

Right now, he says, gaps remain in the plan that doesn’t fully protect and provide safety to cyclists on all Crystal City streets, particularly from 18th Street to Clark and 27th streets.

Farther north of the area in that plan, the County approved the Crystal Gateway development which has some community benefits of interest to cyclists. They will be conveying 54,500 sq. ft. of land for Gateway Park (one of 5 parks being developed in the area), which will "connect Long Bridge Park to Crystal City" and contributing $300,000 for the County to plan the park. Long Bridge Park currently has a multi-use path (or esplanade) that is intendeded to connect to both the Mt. Vernon Trail and a new bridge ("Louvestre Bridge"?) across the Potomac.  That path already passes through the Crystal Gateway site. So the new park won't really connect Long Bridge Park to Crystal City, as they're already connected, but it preserve some of the green space next to the existing trail. There will also be a new road connecting 12th and 10th and some path's and sidewalks that should help pedestrians. 

Gateway Park

The existing trail is on the right side of this site plan.

In other Crystal City park/trail news the county approved upgrades to the Crystal City Water Park and the Crystal City MVT connector trail through it. 

Under the plan, the Crystal City Connector path would become two paths — one an ADA accessible pedestrian path and the other bicyclist-focused — accessing the Mount Vernon Trail and proposed VRE north tunnel. The developer proposes dedicating a public access easement over the privately-owned Water Park and trail improvements.

Connector

While this would separate pedestrians and cyclists in the park, they would still share the tunnel. The project would also better landscape the are past the tunnel exit.  Originally the project included a long staircase just to the left of the tunnel exit in the above site plan that led to the park, but on the advice of the PAC it was removed. 

Veiwfromtunnel
 

But wait, there's more. They're also considering 

approving a $4.23 million contract, awarded through a competitive bidding process, for the conceptual design and environmental review for a Crystal City-National Airport Multimodal Connector. The connector would link Crystal City’s core and the airport, meeting the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, and micro-mobility users of all ages and abilities. Currently, pedestrians and bicyclists must navigate a circuitous network of trails and crossings to traverse the 2,000 feet from Crystal Drive to the airport terminals. Funding will be provided entirely through federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement funds.

In addition to all of that, the Virginia Department of Transportation has initiated a feasibility study for proposed improvements on Route 1 on the west side of Crystal City between 12th Street S and 23rd Street S as part of the Route 1 Multimodal Improvement Study.  More information about the project is available on the project website and there's a virtual public meeting scheduled for June 16th. The project is exploring an at-grade urban boulevard, but also reviewing and comparing potential improvements to the current elevated condition, and the elevated urban boulevard described in the Crystal City Sector Plan. There's no consideration of bike facilites through the corridor, but there are places  - like 15th and 18th - where bike lanes cut across it and there the future design is important. 

The rendering below considers a Route 1 that crosses 15th at-grade (instead of going over it as it does now) and so the bike lanes on 15th would change as a result.

Route1

The National Landing org, however, is promoting a vision of Route 1 that does include protected bike lanes, as well as bigger sidewalks, more trees and more parking through a road diet. 

Route1diet

Changes underway, planned along Pershing in Arlington

 

DES-Pershing-Drive-Pilot-IMG_0121-e1571775473150-1024x768
There are more than a half-dozen bike-relevant projects underway, or in various stages of planning, in the Arlington Boulevard corridor.

Arlington County has been working on the Pershing Drive Complete Street project for over 5 years, and while the actual work has begun, a manufacturing issue put it on hold. This project goes beyond the 2018 pilot that

was implemented on Pershing Drive between Washington Boulevard and North Barton Street in October 2018. The pilot installation includes the addition of pedestrian/streetscape enhancements, protected bike lanes, and bus service efficiencies to improve safety for all roadway users. The pilot is expected to remain in place for several years.

However the needed supplies arrived last month and work resumed and will continue for a little longer. There's no specific bike facilities here, but it does include general traffic calming like bulbouts and realignments. 

Meanwhile in the same area, they've completed the redesign of the Washington Boulevard intersection and awarded a contract for that project, which is an expansion of the same project. Work should begin this summer.  Again, no specific bike component, but general traffic calming should make it safer for all. 

DES-Pershing-Dr-Washington_Blvd_intersection

On the east end of Pershing, the General Land Use Plan (GLUP) Study for the Day's Inn site south of Pershing Drive at Arlington Boulevard was reviewed by the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) completing a necessary step for rezoning. The Day's Inn site redevelopment would likely result in a new section of the Arlington Blvd Trail where the trail meets Pershing and currently is routed through a parking lot.

White's Ferry may be saved, what this means for cyclists

image from www.buckyandhisbike.net

Back in December, White's Ferry was closed in part because a cable was destroyed during a Christmas Day flood and in part because of a dispute over landing rights on the Virginia side. After negotiations to reopen it failed, the owners of the ferry sold it to a Virginia businessman and preservation, who will now try to negotiate a deal. I won't bore you with the details, but you can follow the links if you want to know who said what and who offered whom how much money and why a deal is needed and why no one can agree.

The reason this all matters, of course, is that the ferry serves as a connection between the W&OD Trail and the C&O Canal Towpath and many cyclists use it to make a loop (although I've never used the towpath for that loop). It's the only crossing for cyclists between Chain Bridge and the Point of Rocks Bridge - a distance of 40 miles. I've never biked across that latter bridge, which is beautiful, but as it only has 3 foot wide sidewalks, seems less than ideal anyway (not that that is really an alternative to the ferry).

It wasn't cheap and the pricing always bothered me. It cost $3 to take a bike across, but only $5 for a car. And if a driver bought one of their blue books with multiple tickets the price was less than $3 per trip (and less than taking a bike). But whatever - monopoly's gonna monopoly. 

A non-operating ferry is bad for cyclists. Opening it would be better. But perhaps the ideal situation would be for some government entity to take it over. They'd be more interested in cutting prices for cyclists and pedestrians - though the argument for that might be weak since I doubt there are many (any?) people who commute over the ferry by bike or on foot.

Another option is a small human-powered ferry, but I can't see why anyone would intervene to build one when the main constituency for the ferry is drivers. 

And while I'm reluctant to support new car infrastructure, a one-lane, alternating traffic bridge with a bike/ped lane - like the Union Arch Bridge over Cabin John -  might even be better. Toll it for drivers and make it free for cyclists, pedestrians, transit and emergency vehicles. We could try to set the toll so that car traffic remains the same or at some other sustainable level. 

We should start attaching points to speed camera tickets

Right now if someone gets a speeding ticket in DC they incur 3-5 points on their license. Unless that ticket is camera-enforced, then they don't get any points assessed. [Surprisingly, there are no points for running lights or stop signs] When I've asked about it, I've been told we can't because of the Constitution or the presumption of innocence. The problem with that is that other places do it.

WSJ2

And if Arizona, if someone amasses many tickets, the police will go to their home.

Identifying the driver takes some work - they use the driver's license photo for the registered owner, and if that doesn't work they send out the ticket and give the owner a chance to identify the driver. Which they sometimes do. It's not just AZ either. Both California and Oregon do this. 

Attaching the tickets to drivers instead of cars, would also result in the insurance rates of bad drivers going up. Which is how the system should work - although some states (MD and VA included) forbid this.

If we started giving points for camera tickets then we might need to lower the penalty (as enforcement goes up, the penalty should go down), but the incentive to slow down and drive safer would remain. 

DDOT plans to add protected bike lanes to West Virginia Avenue this year.

Image2020-4-14_14-44-7 (1)

At a recent ANC meeting, DDOT announced plans to speed up the West Virginia Avenue (WVA) road diet completing the 2-phase project about a year earlier than originally announced. Work will start in the spring of 2021 and finish up by summer.  Phase 2 was to complete in 2022, but now will also be built this year

The project will remove a travel lane from WVA in order to add the two 8' wide PBLs. Phase I will build the northern section from Mt. Olivet to New York Avenue (NYA) and Phase II will build south of there to Florida Avenue where it will connect to the new bike lanes on that road. In the middle, DDOT plans to add bike lanes heading west on Mt. Olivet. And someday they plan to build a bike trail along NYA, though maybe not as far east as WVA. 

WVAPBLs

Very exciting stuff. As a former rail road corridor, WVA is a nice flat route making it perfect for biking and bike lanes have been something DC aspired to have there since at least the 2005 plan. They're calling these protected bike lanes, but it's unclear what the protection will be (barriers? flexposts? flexposts and curb stops?). Regardless it will be a step up from what's there now. 

Broad Branch deemed too narrow for bike lane, but will get a sidewalk

Alt42

Not gonna happen

DDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have been working on the rehabilitation of Broad Branch Road between Linnean Avenue and Beach Drive since 2011. The project has been slowed by the narrow right-of-way of the road, desires to widen it to accommodate a sidewalk and/or a bike lane and limitations on the ability to do that caused by potential encroachments by the project on Rock Creek Park and Embassy lands owned and occupied by Sovereign Nations. In October they released a Revised Draft Environmental Assessment that includes a preferred alternative that's a modified version of one of the candidates presented in the original EA. This one avoids all encroachments on Embassy properties and further minimizes encroachments on Rock Creek Park.

Map

In the end, the right-of-way was found to be too narrow to include two traffic lanes, a climbing lane for bikes and a sidewalk. It doesn't seem they were able to get access to any of the embassy lands and that RCP was reluctant to give up more than a few feet in a few tight areas. 

With the road connecting to the Rock Creek Trail on on end and climbing up to the west for more than a mile, bike facilities on this road would create many new connections. 

Alternative 4 had a bike lane on the uphill/east side of the road to serve as a climbing lane, while cyclists heading downhill would take the lane. This was the widest and most expensive option (though only a small amount more expensive than the preferred alternative. 

Alt4

The alternative they chose is basically the same, but with the bike lane gone. The 10' rain garden is only found on the northern section between Linean and 27th, where the ROW is wider.  The preferred alternative is identical to the original Candidate Build Alternative 3 with the exception of the width of sidewalks in front of the sovereign nation lands. To minimize encroachments onto NPS lands on the east side of the roadway at these locations, the sidewalks along the embassy properties were reduced to a 5-foot width.

There's no doubt that the preferred alternative would be better than the status quo. It has a sidewalk - which cyclists are legally allowed to use - and storm water runoff facilities; but it's really unfortunate that adjacent landowners couldn't be convinced to allow for a safer street. Unfortunately none of the relevant countries are Vision Zero leaders, but you'd think Italy might support a climbing lane. 

Land use permission aside, the true missed opportunity here comes from the assumed operational needs - that the road needs two traffic lanes. I'm no expert, but even on the busiest section of Broad Branch, the section closest to Rock Creek, the traffic is less than half of what it is on Beach Drive (6500 vehicles a day vs 13100). And on the north end traffic is less than half of what it is on the south. Beach Drive is a two-lane road, so why not make Broad Branch a one lane, one-way road to free up space for active transportation? There aren't that many destinations along the road - and many of them are the embassies who clearly don't think extra capacity is needed anyway - so there aren't that many people being inconvenienced. 

A one way, one-lane road going in the south/downhill direction would allow

  1. downhill cyclists to merge with automobile traffic, just as was planned in the bike lane option
  2. 6-8 feet for a protected climbing lane in the uphill direction,
  3. a 6 foot wide sidewalk the whole way, without taking land from NPS
  4. a slightly reduced footprint, moving the trail away from Broad Branch. 

Cyclist gutter

Unfortunately, the comment period on the Draft EA came and went in the fall. The final EA will come out in the Spring. I'm gonna be disappointed. 

(Aside: I love the way this changes over time

On a similar note, Bingham Drive in RCP has been closed for several years now for a sewer rehabilitation project that was supposed to be finished last year. During that time it was significantly damaged during an August 2018 rain storm (remind you of anything). Since then DDOE and NPS have become more worried about storm water management. What if roads, but less? DC Water and NPS could reduce the impervious area and make biking better by replacing the road and adjacent trail with a one-lane road (uphill this time) and an adjacent 10 foot bi-directional bikeway. Together the one lane roads could act like a pair of lanes - one bringing people into the park, and the other bringing them out - though they are pretty far apart along Beach Drive. 

There was a time when NPS was very concerned about all the car traffic in the Park. This is one way to reduce it - with many added benefits. 

Indian Head Rail Trail Extension Feasibility Study

Screenshot 2021-01-29 at 12.30.20 AM

Charles County is studying a possible connection between two rail trails, the Indian Head Rail Trail in White Plains and the Three Notch Trail south of Hughesville. On the map above, the orange line is the Indian Head, the blue line is the Three Notch and the study area is between them. At this point, they're looking for input from residents and trail users via a survey and an interactive map - both accessible at this link

I've been on parts of both trails, but can't claim to be too familiar with the area in between. It's a great idea to make both trails better and I commend their ambition.

Montgomery County's Open Parkways Program should extend after the pandemic

image from d1dph1psyatsfa.cloudfront.net

Starting last year, Montgomery Parks started closing (or opening, from a certain point of view) sections of parkways to give people more room to get out an exercise during the pandemic, since Covid closed many of the indoor spaces people used in the Beforetimes. When we get through this, they should consider expanding the closures in the Aftertimes as well. 

In the Beforetimes, part of Sligo Creek was recreationalized from dawn to dusk on Sundays to create more recreational space. But in April they closed Sligo Creek Parkway from New Hampshire Avenue to Piney Branch Road Friday through Sunday. It was so popular that they expanded to the recreationalization to the portion between Forest Glen Road and University Boulevard. The next week, it was expanded again

  • Little Falls Parkway from Massachusetts Ave. to Arlington Rd. (1.3 miles)
  • Beach Drive from Connecticut Avenue to Knowles Avenue (2.7 miles)

They also kept them "open" for Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. And the closures were popular.

sensors detected about 147,000 visits to Little Falls Parkway since April, but that was only an approximate number. The number of people peaked in May. Now, 10,000 to 15,000 people go to Little Falls Parkway each month.

The began to roll that back in December, specifically on Little Falls Parkway. And the rollback was also attributed to Covid

Trails Master Planner and Trails Program Supervisor Darren Flusche said the change was largely due to logistics and staff capacity. With county COVID-19 numbers on the rise, the Operations Crew and Park Police now only have two-thirds of the usual number of people working at once to allow for social distancing.

The department decided that closing Little Falls Parkway to motor vehicles made too many demands on the staff, he said.

“It’s not something that we want to do,” he said about the decision to reopen Little Falls Parkway to motor vehicles. 

Part of the problem with Little Falls Parkway is the lack of gates which makes closure harder. The solution here is just to add some gates to LFP. 

The Open Spaces program has been wildly popular. It's gotten people outside exercising and socializing and even made active transportation easier. The County should take a good hard look at it before they roll it all the way back. Weekend closures of these parkways - even without a pandemic - would put more park into the parkways. 

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