What is the deal with the Met Branch Trail?

When complete, the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) will be an 8.5-mile multi-use trail from Union Station in the District of Columbia to Maryland’s Silver Spring transit hub. With advocacy and concept plans going back 30 years, this rail-with-trail has been a long time coming. So far, about four miles are complete. The remaining pieces can be a bit overwhelming to track, so here is an update on the latest happenings from south to north. For a truly detailed look, you can follow along with this interactive map of the Met Branch Trail’s progress.

8th St. NE in Edgewood

Under the Franklin St. bridge, the Met Branch Trail emerges onto 8th Street NE for a half-mile where walkers move to the sidewalk and people on bikes share the road with cars and trucks. WABA, trail advocates, and the local neighborhood commissioner are pushing DDOT to transform this often stressful road with a two-way protected bike lane on the west side. DDOT has drawn up rough plans and aims to install them in 2021. Click here for more information and to sign our petition in support.

Brookland to Fort Totten

DDOT broke ground on this ~1 mile addition in summer 2018 to link the existing trail on John McCormac Dr to the Fort Totten Metro Station along the Metro and freight rail tracks. Though progress has been very slow due to contractor issues, work is in full swing and expected to be complete by May 2021. Find construction photos and progress updates on the project website.

Fort Totten to Takoma

The last long section in DC runs ~2 miles from Fort Totten to Takoma. In 2017, WABA worked closely with DDOT, neighborhood advocates, and Takoma’s advisory neighborhood commission to solidify the trail’s route along First St. NE, McDonald Pl, and Blair Road NE. In 2020, DDOT began final design, which will be complete by March 2021. Construction is funded and should be done by Fall 2023. 

DDOT is holding a virtual public meeting to present and collect feedback on the current design on February 10th at 6:30pm. The trail will run along Blair Road as a wide side-path as it crosses many wide driveways, parking lots, and business entrances. It also includes needed traffic calming and new pedestrian crossings on Blair, so getting the fine points of design right is critical. Please attend to ensure this trail is a great experience for trail users of all ages.

Get Meeting Details

Takoma’s Main Street

How to route the trail from Blair Road around Takoma’s main street and Metro Station has been a persistent question for the Met Branch Trail since the beginning. The 2011 Environmental Assessment identified two possible routes east and west of the elevated rails tracks in a mix of on-street signed route, protected bike lanes, and off-street trail. The eastern alignment continues the trail at Sandy Spring on Maple, left on Carroll, right on Cedar around the Metro parking lot and up the steep hill on Eastern Ave.

The western alignment takes 4th street to the (now rebuilt) Cedar/Blair Road intersection, squeezes between the building at 343 Cedar St and the rail embankment to meet Spring Street, then right onto Chestnut Street. From here, it either ramps down to the south side of Piney Branch Road or bridges to the north side before joining the existing trail at Eastern Avenue. See this interactive map for more detail.

Until now, DDOT has worked to preserve both routes, while negotiating to add pieces of the trail as part of some recent housing developments. Both routes are still viable, but the western alignment is getting attention first. DDOT has committed to beginning preliminary design of the western alignment starting in Spring 2021.

Eastern Avenue

Work is finally set to begin on a short trail segment on Eastern Avenue between Piney Branch Road and the already-complete trail through Takoma Park, Maryland. This project will repurpose some parking spaces to build a new trail, curb extensions for traffic calming and shorter crossings, and bioswales for some extra greenery and stormwater management. DDOT issued a Notice of Intent in December 2020 and work should start in February 2021.

Montgomery County’s Section

Montgomery County’s ~1.3 miles of the Met Branch are being built slowly but steadily in small segments. More than a decade ago, Takoma Park built it’s half-mile piece on Eastern Ave and Fenton Street. This was extended as part of the Montgomery College expansion that built the footbridge over the Metro tracks, and Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) extended it to King St. in 2018. The Silver Spring Transit Center brought a large stretch, and another piece, so far disconnected, came with the new Progress Place development.

North of King Street, MCDOT will run the trail along the rail tracks, under Burlington Ave in a new tunnel, and alongside Selim Rd. It will cross over Georgia Ave on a new trail bridge and run around the parking lot of the reconstructed historic B&O train station to connect with the trackside Progress Place Trail. Final design has been complete since 2019. MCDOT is in the final stages of obtaining the final permits and sign-offs to move forward with construction. They are planning to put the project out for construction bid in Spring 2021 and could potentially move forward with construction in Fall 2021. Construction will take about 2.5 years.

The final 400 feet will be built as part of the planned Ripley II mixed-use development project which is expected to finish in 2022. At the Silver Spring Transit Center, the Met Branch Trail will directly connect to the Capital Crescent Trail bridge over Colesville Road when the Purple Line project is complete.

Want to stay up to date on the project status? Be sure to follow us on Twitter @TrailsCoalition and sign up for our quarterly newsletter! You can also sign up to receive project updates and notifications here: http://www.capitaltrailscoalition.org/metropolitan-branch-trail/

Tell NPS to make the Memorial Circle improvements permanent!

In November, 2020, The National Park Service (George Washington Memorial Parkway) completed several safety improvements to Memorial Circle. The goals of the project are to reduce risks at key locations within the corridor and to reduce conflicts between trail, walkway, and roadway users—where approximately 600 crashes were recorded in the area between 2006 and 2012. The project includes several safety upgrades for trail users including:

  • Higher visibility crosswalks
  • Relocating trail crossings
  • Lane reductions
  • New signage and rapid flashing beacons 
  • Clearer lane markings
  • Repaved road surface

WABA is pleased with the changes and believes that they are effective, but we know there is still enormous room for making these trail intersections truly safe for everyone (like by installing controlled trail crossings). The National Park Service will now monitor the effectiveness of the changes before deciding to keep the improvements and make them permanent or remove them. Due to the new merge pattern, drivers are complaining that they have to slow down for people’s safety. 

We do not want these complaints to undo the changes that have been made, so we urge you to sign this petition to NPS asking to make these safety improvements permanent! 

These trails are going to transform our region

Something exciting is growing in the DMV: a world-class trails network that will provide car-free connections between job centers, schools, and neighborhoods across our region. These gorgeous trails are a destination in themselves, creating much-needed outdoor space for exercise and play in addition to transportation.

With more than 10 miles of trails under construction right now, we’re closer than ever to a region where trails are an everyday option for transportation. There are priority trail projects in progress across our region:

  • The I-66 Trail in Fairfax County will improve transportation options, bicycle connectivity and safety throughout the I-66 corridor 
  • A new section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail, won by decades of advocacy, will fill an important gap between Brookland and Fort Totten
  • The Maryland Department of Transportation has broken ground on the Capital Crescent Trail extension (a part of The Purple Line project). When complete, this project will be transformative for the region—finally completing the vision of a Capital Crescent Trail directly linking downtown Silver Spring to Bethesda to Georgetown in the District of Columbia. 

Despite this good progress, there are over 300 miles of planned trails that haven’t seen a shovel yet. We can change that in 2021  by making sure our elected officials know that trails are important to us.

Learn more about WABA’s work to build trails with the Capital Trails Coalition and the Coalition’s priority projects here.

Support more inclusive park trails!

In early April, several federal agencies, including the National Park Service, proposed new regulations for e-bike use on federal lands. Many of our region’s trails are managed by the NPS across the region, and a growing number of people across the region rely on e-bikes for transportation and recreation. 

The proposed rule changes offer a clearer definition of e-bikes, and give park Superintendents more discretion to allow or restrict e-bike to meet the varying needs of individual parks. We support these changes, with a couple of reservations listed below. 

Submit your comments

The proposed rule for the National Park Service:

  • Revises 36 CFR 1.4 to add a definition of e-bikes consistent with 15 U.S.C. 2085 and define the three classes of e-bikes.
  • Excludes e-bikes from the definition of motor vehicle.
  • Allows Superintendents to designate roads and trails that are open to bicycles as open to e-bikes. E-bikes would only be allowed in areas that have been designated by the Superintendent.
  • Requires that e-bike riders comply with the laws that apply to bicycle riders.
  • Prohibits the possession of an electric bicycle in designated wilderness.
  • Allows Superintendents to limit or restrict e-bike use after taking into consideration public health and safety, natural and cultural resource protection and other management activities and objectives.
  • Prohibits the throttle-only use of an e-bike in non-motorized areas (i.e., the e-bike rider must be pedaling at all times). Throttle-only power would be allowed  in areas open to motor vehicles.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association strongly supports the NPS’ decision to pass order No. 3376 in August 2019. Opening Park Service land to e-bikes increases recreational opportunities for people who may not be able to ride a traditional bike due to physical fitness, age, or ability. E-bikes allow riders to travel farther distances, carry heavier loads (like children), and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions when used as an alternative to gasoline or diesel-powered modes of transportation.

We are in alignment with many of the revisions in the proposed rule, but we would like to see the following amendments:

  1. Specify that e-bikes are permitted on both paved and unpaved trails: “Consistent with the Secretary’s Order and the Policy Memorandum, the proposed rule would state that e-bikes may be allowed on roads, parking areas, administrative roads and trails (paved and unpaved) that are open to traditional bicycles.”
  1. Allow for the use of throttle-only bikes or Class 2 e-bikes. Class 2 e-bikes make cycling possible for many individuals who are unable to pedal. These low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycles are equipped with motors that can exclusively propel the bicycle, but cannot provide assistance once the bike reaches 20 mph. 

At WABA we believe that the joy and convenience of bicycling should not be limited to the physically and financially privileged. The public has until June 8th to comment on these proposed regulations. We encourage you to support this rulemaking and help improve access for e-bike riders of all abilities around the country. 

Visit this page to read the proposed rule or submit your comments here! To make things easy, you can copy and paste our own comments in the comment field. The public comment period closes on June 8th.