From Good to Great: Improving the Mount Vernon Trail Design
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The National Park Service is looking for a final bit of feedback on its proposed plan to improve the Mount Vernon Trail and George Washington Memorial Parkway south of Alexandria. There’s a lot to like in the proposed design: a road diet south of Tulane Drive, the alleviation of the pinch point under Memorial Bridge, numerous bike/pedestrian intersection safety improvements, a fully rebuilt and resurfaced trail, and a host of new trail amenities including signage, water bottle refill stations, and six (!) new Capital Bikeshare stations. But there are a few areas in need of fine-tuning that will take the design from good to great and we urge you to chime in today.
Unfortunately, one area we are not likely to see changed is the trail’s proposed width – 12’ in the north and 10’ in the south – due to environmental and cost constraints. Still, we are proposing several adjustments that we think can meaningfully improve safety and reduce conflicts within these constraints: adding gravel buffers to effectively widen the usable space without added impervious surface, modal separation/dual trails at heavily-congested Gravelly Point, and roadway striping on the GW Parkway that can accommodate a protected bike lane in the future.
Submit a comment before October 24th in support of improvements to the Mount Vernon Trail while encouraging NPS to fine-tune its final concept to maximize safety and comfort. This remains a generational opportunity to rehab a vital trail not just back to a state of good repair, but to upgrade it to be a world-class resource able to serve the recreation and transportation needs for regular users and visitors long into the future.
Use the sample language at the bottom of this page – developed in partnership with Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and the Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail, and with support from East Coast Greenway Alliance and the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling – or feel free to write your own.
The National Park Service released its draft Environmental Assessment with a preferred alternative design for the Mount Vernon Trail and the George Washington Memorial Parkway south of Alexandria. The 17-mile Mount Vernon Trail is one of the region’s most visited recreation destinations as well as a vital and scenic transportation corridor for thousands of area residents. It is also in very poor condition, especially the southern segment in Fairfax County, with significant deterioration, cracking, ruts, and dangerously uneven surfaces; its rehabilitation is thus a BIG deal and long overdue.
The NPS rehabilitation proposal includes a host of significant improvements including:
- Fixing the pinch point under Memorial Bridge by reclaiming space in the roadway for people walking and rolling (THIS IS HUGE);
- A road diet that will bring the GW Parkway down to one lane in each direction south of Tulane Drive;
- Geometric changes and trail realignment for safer navigation;
- Trail bridge replacement or deck rehabilitation;
- Trail intersection roundabouts;
- Drainage improvements;
- Vegetation management; and
- Addition of trail amenities like better lighting, signage and wayfinding, benches, water fountains, a new permanent bathroom facility at Gravelly Point, and new Capital Bikeshare stations to extend the reach of our world class bike share network.
Unfortunately, environmental and cost constraints means we won’t see a trail wider than the proposed 12’ north of Slaters Lane to Theodore Roosevelt Island and 10’ south of Jones Point Park even as user volumes might warrant a 14’ or 16’ modal-separated/dual trail in whole or in part of the corridor. At a minimum, NPS must rebuild the trail to the maximum widths it has laid out and incorporate braided trails where physical constraints preclude a continuous 10’ or 12’ span. Other options remain for NPS to maximize usable space and minimize trail user conflicts including:
- Adding gravel buffers alongside the trail to effectively widen the usable space without adding impervious surface, improve drainage, reduce trail edge erosion and plant encroachment, and create a softer surface for runners;
- Restriping the George Washington Memorial Parkway to accommodate future protected bike lane facilities should trail user volumes warrant the additional capacity; and
- Implementing full modal separation/dual trails or building a bypass route at Gravelly Point – the most acutely congested stretch of the Mount Vernon Trail – as suggested in the Gravelly Point/Roaches Run EA and in the National Capital Region Paved Trails study.
On the last point, NPS’ proposal does include the addition of a sidewalk at Gravelly Point but it crosses the trail twice, potentially introducing more conflict. Creating a Gravelly Point bypass trail as envisioned in the NCR Paved Trails study would best reduce conflict between different types of users of the trail at this very busy park. Additional recommendations include ensuring that the trail roundabouts are geometrically suitable for long wheelbase bikes/bikes with trailers and designed/signed in such a way that encourages compliance around rather than cutting across and hardening the parkway medians to prevent use as a passing lane.
This project is truly a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve one of the most beloved and utilized trails in the country. While compromise is to be expected, we think the adjustments to the trail and parkway are imminently reasonable, will take the design from good to great, and provide visitors now and in the future with enough space to fully enjoy this special place. Speak up now before October 24th.
Below is sample language you can use but feel free to add your own thoughts, ideas, and experiences using the trail.
SAMPLE COMMENT LANGUAGE
To Whom It May Concern:
I write eagerly in support of the National Park Service’s plan to improve the Mount Vernon Trail and the George Washington Memorial Parkway South. With visitor safety and comfort in mind, I strongly support many of the proposed elements including a road diet south of Tulane Drive, alleviating the pinch point under Memorial Bridge, intersection safety improvements, more signage and wayfinding, and better trailside amenities including Capital Bikeshare. But I also strongly urge NPS to consider alternatives to create more usable trail space even if a wider trail isn’t feasible as it prepares to finalize the design.
NPS should add gravel buffers alongside the trail to effectively widen the usable space without adding impervious surface, improve drainage, reduce trail edge erosion and plant encroachment, and create a softer surface for runners. It should also restripe the GW Parkway so as to not preclude protected bike facilities in the future should visitor volumes warrant them. And NPS should address the most acutely congested area – the ever-popular Gravelly Point Park – by constructing the bypass trail called for in the NCR Paved Trails Study. If this is not feasible, NPS should update its current parallel trail-sidewalk concept at Gravelly Point to include 16’ dual trails to better accommodate the heavy and mixed visitor usage.
NPS should also ensure the trail roundabouts are geometrically suitable for long wheelbase bikes/bikes with trailers and designed/signed in such a way that encourages compliance around rather than cutting across, and generally ensure the parkway intersections and medians are hardened to maximize safety. Paint alone does not protect vulnerable visitors from or prevent reckless behavior.
The Mount Vernon Trail is a truly special place and NPS should take care to ensure it can be safely and comfortably enjoyed now and for years to come. The trail has become the quintessential way that millions of people experience our region and its unique natural beauty. The recommendations above can help ensure that experience remains accessible to all.
Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing more as this project progresses.