Anacostia Riverwalk Trail Bridge Construction Halted

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The final span of the bridge on the east side of the Anacostia River as construction has stopped.

In April 2012, Mayor Gray cut the ribbon for the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail bridge on the river’s west side. This was the first of two riverwalk trail bridges planned to pass over the CSX tracks. The second bridge, on the east side of the river, should have been completed this past July. But in January 2013, we still don’t have a finished bridge. According to the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, the contractor for the project struck an underground object and needs to move or redesign the final few supporting structures. The project is stalled while DDOT and the contractor hash out who pays for the changes. The AWI team says a completed bridge is months away, if not longer. Completing this bridge will link the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail from the Frederick Douglas Bridge to Benning Road. In 2014, when the Kenilworth Garden trail section is complete, the Riverwalk Trail will link D.C. to Maryland’s Anacostia Tributary Trail System, which is over 50 miles. We hope DDOT will find a solution soon to complete the bridge.

South Capitol Bridge: New Rendering, Nothing Really New as Design-Build Looms

With the District Department of Transportation’s release of a video rendering of its South Capitol Bridge concept, we’re concerned with the design’s suitability for bikes and pedestrians. Essentially, nothing in this rendering is new. It is precisely in keeping with the Federal Environmental Impact Study, in which WABA found a laundry list of disappointments, including a lack of dedicated bicycle space and access. Despite some follow-up with DDOT, the Bicycle Advisory Committee, and Councilmember Tommy Wells, nothing has been modified, and our concerns are still prevalent. Over 300 bicyclists wrote to express similar disappointment with the the FEIS stage. We are displeased that there has been no response to that community input. DDOT has awarded this project—like the 11th Street Bridge and many other construction projects—as a design-build contract (in which details are developed throughout construction, as budgets and timelines become better known), rather than a traditional design-bid-build process. A design-bid-build process requires designers to take public input and produce final designs for the project before construction is underway. Those designs are used as bid documents, and the chosen contractor executes the designs with only minimal changes. For advocates and regulators, the existence and sharing of designs prior to construction, as required by the design-bid-build project, is important: That provides the opportunity to make sure nothing has been missed (like the inclusion of any bike infrastructure at all!) and provide feedback at a stage when corrections can still be made. A design-build process can be more efficient in terms of time and money, but it makes the incorporation of public input difficult. There’s no point at which changes can no longer be made and concerned parties can look at “final” plans. When large transportation contractors make time- and budget-based decisions without community input, they do get the obvious tasks right. No one ever forgets to put in high-speed vehicle lanes. But contractors can make changes that impact bicyclist and pedestrian facilities by redesigning them in ways that are impractical or inefficient. Sometimes, components are eliminated entirely. Community input from cyclists is critical in elucidating why changes might not make sense, but in a design-build process, outside involvement is minimal. There’s been evidence of the problems with the design-build process just this week. In December, Greg Billing wrote about the lack of a direct connection from the 11th Street Bridge to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. He emailed DDOT over the course of several months, seeking details,  and received either noncommital or no responses at all. Greg was only told of the lack of connection at a Ward 8 Transportation Taskforce meeting when he directly raised the topic. It was not until a council staffer followed up on the the issue that DDOT explained what it was doing with regard to a bridge connection in detail: The agency reversed course and said that the connection would be built. We don’t know if the representative at the Ward 8 Transportation Taskforce meeting was simply mistaken about the status of the connection, or if the connection was not part of the design at the point. That’s because, under the design-build model, plans for major infrastructure evolve even as construction takes place. It’s difficult for everyone—especially the public—to keep track of what’s happening. The designs are ever-changing in the hands of DDOT, its contractors, and their subcontractors. During the formal environmental review period for the South Capitol Bridge, hundreds of comments expressed concern with its design. But WABA and other members of the D.C.-area cycling community received no meaningful feedback and have seen no changes from DDOT to their fundamental concept. The bridge is still planned to be a big circle and a big oval with wide sidewalks. With the design-build process moving forward, that DDOT hasn’t acknowledged any input from the cycling community is worrying—and frustrating. We have resubmitted our concerns with the South Capitol Bridge to DDOT, with a few additions:
  • That the circle and oval are over-designed and will be difficult for bicyclists and pedestrians to cross
  • A restatement of our concern with the design in general, which relies on extensive mixing of bicyclist and pedestrian traffic on a bridge expected to carry large numbers of pedestrians arriving en masse for stadium events
  • Emphasis on the importance of connecting the bridge to main bicycling trails, the Anacostia Metro station, and the Anacostia neighborhood
The design-build process is not going away, nor should it. It saves money and time. But some of the efficiency of design-build comes from minimizing public comment. While time-consuming, opportunities and solicitations of public comment ensure that the project will meet the needs of the people using it. Projects like the South Capitol Bridge are a significant expenditure of city and federal funds, and should meet the needs of the people using it as effectively as possible. This issue is broader in scope than just the South Capitol Bridge. But DDOT will soon award a contractor the authority to turn the agency’s renderings, National Environmental Policy Act documents, and guidance for the bridge into a piece of infrastructure that will be around for decades. We need to ensure that the development process for the bridge hears and acts on our needs and concerns. We look forward to working with DDOT and its chosen contractor to ensure that appropriate consideration is given to the needs of bicyclists. And we’re excited for the the cycling community to have the opportunity to see, understand, and input on the design for the bridge—rather than having it imposed upon us.

11th Street Bridge Fails to Link Anacostia Riverwalk Trail

In a few months, DDOT’s largest project to date will be finished without promised bicycle and pedestrian connections built in. The 11th Street Bridges is the largest element in the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative and is a critical way to connect bicyclists and pedestrians from both sides of the Anacostia River. It is also necessary for use of the entire Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. But the finalized bridge will not directly connect the Riverwalk Trail on both sides of the river to each other. This is a failure. The 11th Street Bridges project represents a $370 million investment in the regional transportation network. Missing interstate connections are being built to remedy the awful cut-through traffic that communities east of the river have experienced since the first 11th Street Bridges were built over 50 years ago. The new local 11th Street Bridge is to include a “14 foot sidewalk/bikepath” to connect local communities and the Riverwalk Trails, which run parallel on both sides of the river. The resulting project will be a 14-foot sidewalk, minus the space occupied by lamp posts, streetcar catenary supports, railings and fences—so, effectively, 10 feet or less. And, it will not connect directly to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail on the east side of the river! In the project’s current state, bicyclists coming south from the Ward 7 and Maryland (via the new Kenilworth Garden Trail section) wishing to get to Capitol Hill will have an extra and unnecessary route to the bridge. Traveling south along the Riverwalk Trail, trail users will have to bike or walk on-street along Good Hope Road into Anacostia. Then, they will have to turn left at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road onto 11th Street towards the bridge. This circuitous route adds an additional one-third mile of walking or biking to access the bridge from the Riverwalk Trail. The actual distance between the Riverwalk Trail and the local bridge sidewalk/bikepath is about 200 feet part. The old 11th Street Bridge, which was recently removed, did have a direct connection to the trail along the downstream side. This shouldn’t be lost with the new bridge—because it wasn’t planned to be lost. Planning for the new bridge began when DDOT completed a Final Environmental Impact Statement in October 2007. The FEIS includes a direct connection between the Riverwalk Trail and the local bridge (see page 60). DDOT chose a design-build construction process to speed up project delivery and stay within a constrained budget. The result of the design-build process has been frustrating for those trying to stay involved. In June 2012, I contacted DDOT to inquire about the lack of a direct connection from the local bridge to the Riverwalk Trail. A few emails were sent around, with more people copied each time. In the end, there was no answer for the lack of this important trail connection. At last night’s the Ward 8 Transportation Task Force meeting, representatives from DDOT and the project team were on hand to give a progress report. When asked about why the trail connection was not being built, two answers were given. The DDOT representative said the previous trail connection on the old bridge was “not ADA compliant,” so it wouldn’t be replaced. And when pressed on the fact that the FEIS includes the connection, project manager Pete McDermott said DC Water was planning to dig in the area, so no connection would be built. The community was promised a world-class waterfront with recreational and transportation amenities, including the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. The construction of the 11th Street Bridge fails to provide the high-quality direct connection between the east-side and west-side Riverwalk Trails it assured from its outset. WABA hopes to see this critical connection completed while this project is still under construction and amenable to improvement.

St. Elizabeths Bike Carnival Recap

This summer, the historic campus of St. Elizabeths was opened to the public for a summer-long series of community events. On August 25th, WABA hosted  the St. Elizabeths bike carnival, an event to promote cycling East of the Anacostia River and beyond. Attendees from across the street and across the region took advantage of the rare opportunity to tour St. E’s by bike. Over 300 guests attended, and this was clear when seeing people all across the serene, historic locale.  The closed streets provided groups of families and friends a chance to explore the over 180-acre grounds of the idyllic campus at a comfortable and leisurely pace. Participants explored bucolic knolls, shady alcoves, and historic buildings all by bike. The day culminated in a family parade around the “maple quad” where kids at the event sped off turning the event into a high-speed race. In addition to self-guided tours, City Bikes provided bicycle maintenance free of charge on rusty chains, flat tires, untuned cables, and more. While families waited for their bikes to be repaired many played bike-themed carnival games that included pin the tail on the bicycle,  water bottle knockover, ball in the bike basket shootout, bike pump races, and a ring toss that required WABA staff to drink soda around the clock the week in advance! The more games guests played the more raffle tickets they earned to enter into the running for 4 new bicycles and accessories provided by City Bikes. One lucky family actually won 2 new bicycles! A bike decoration station allowed more artistically inclined guests to spruce up their 2 and 3 wheelers.To add to the carnival atmosphere, talented make-up artists painted faces. Youngsters got a chance to hone their cycling skills on the Bike Rodeo course where they performed maneuvers to improve their abilities, a program WABA brings to area elementary schools. WABA asked residents where their bike destinations were and respondents placed stickers on a huge map of the Washington region. Attendees also rubbed elbows with Public Health Advocate and Miss District of Columbia, Sarah Hillware as they answered the reasons why they liked to bike. This carnival helps to redefine the iconic destination of St. Elizabeths and the relationship with Ward 8 and the DC region at large.

St. Elizabeths Bike Carnival: Getting There

Riding to the St. Elizabeths East Bike Carnival? We are pleased to report that our friends at BicycleSPACE and at Kidical Mass are each leading rides to the event!

KIDICAL MASS RIDE 

If you are riding with kids, ride with Kidical Mass at any of these locations to ride along with parents and kids.  It’s a great chance to not only convoy to the carnival, but also to share tips on biking with children in the city. You can catch up with the group in:
  • Edgewood at 10:45am (8th St. NE & Franklin St. NE near Chocolate City Brewing Company)
  • Eckington, 11:00am (R Street NE @ Met Branch Trail)
  • NoMa, 11:15am (M Street NE @ Met Branch Trail)
  • Capitol Hill 11:30pm (Stanton Park @ 4th Street NE)
  • Estimated arrival at St. Elizabeths: 12:00pm

BICYCLESPACE RIDE 

Our friends at BicycleSPACE are also leading a ride, starting at the WABA office in Adams Morgan. We promise a good time, they’re a fun-loving group of like-minded bike people! You can catch up with the group in:
  • Adams Morgan Leaving at 11am, WABA Office, 2599 Ontario Rd., NW
  • Mt. Vernon Triangle  11:30am, BicycleSPACE, 1019 7th St., NW
  • Southwest Waterfront Leaving at Noon, Yards Park (the pavilion with the sail awnings)
  • Estimated arrival at St. Elizabeths: 12:30

METRO

And for those who want to come by Metro, the event is a very short and safe walk from the Congress Heights Metro stop, and signage will direct you from the Metro to the festivities.

PARKING

Yes, there is parking at theFriendship School, but it is limited, and Metro is likely an easier option.

EVENT INFORMATION

When you get there, you’ll find open streets to bike on; bike-themed carnival games for prizes or raffle tickets; the Ward 8 Farmer’s Market; the East of the River Drum band; a kids’ bike skills challenge; bike decoration station; City Bikes providing free minor bike repairs on a first-come, first-served basis; and much more. At 1:45 we’ll gather for the raffling of four brand new bikes–two adult bikes and two youth bikes.  Everyone who comes and plays the free games will have a chance to win–but you must be present to win, so don’t leave too soon. And finally, at 2pm, we will start the St. Elizabeths Bike Parade, in which everyone–including those who have visited the bike decoration station–can show off their bikes as we parade around a 0.3 mile loop perfect for picture-taking and fun. Thanks to BicycleSPACE and Kidical Mass for leading the convoys, and to City Bikes for providing the repair station.  Come see us, have fun, and say thank you to them tomorrow at St. Elizabeths East.      

To commemorate the life and history of civil rights advocate Frederick Douglass, WABA partnered with local community members and organizations to co-host the first “Lion Ride” through historic Anacostia and Anacostia Park. The heat and humidity of early August Washington weather didn’t deter the hundreds of attendees who roamed the grounds of the Frederick Douglass Historic Sitebeing treated to free ice cream and popcorn, dancing, music, games, tours, and family bicycle portraits with none other than Frederick Douglass himself. Local cyclists had the opportunity to comment on cycling infrastructure and where improvements might be made in their neighborhoods on an enlarged DC Bicycle map. “The Lion Ride” was a new component of the National Parks Service’s 5th annual Frederick Douglas Family Day. With help from local community members Kellie Armstead and Adrienne McCray who inspired and sparked this event, WABA helped to bring Capital Bikeshare and Bike and Roll bicycles to the community of Anacostia. Nearly 100 cyclists cruised down the majestic streets, homes and businesses of MLK Ave to the breezy banks of the Anacostia Riverwalk trail. Metropolitan Police officers helped escort the caravan to and from the Anacostia Skating Pavilion. Over a dozen riders from Artemis Bicycle Racing Team provided integral support to help riders navigate the route as well as lend a hand in the intense summer heat. Volunteers from the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative helped our bike check out run smoothly and efficiently. Residents got a chance to see just how close natural outdoor amenities are to their homes via bicycle. Older residents remarked on how this event helped them get back on a bicycle for the first time in years. Younger residents remarked on how this event helped them to get on a bicycle for the first time in their lives. The Lion Ride, named after Frederick Douglass’ moniker, the Lion of Anacostia, marks a tremendous achievement of advocacy and community support for cycling East of the River as a safe, viable, affordable and sustainable form of transportation. To echo the sentiments of Mr. Douglass’ thoughts on reading, “Once you learn how to [cycle], you will forever be free.” Please join WABA August 25th at St. Elizabeths East for a day of cycling, education, repairs and more.

Bike Carnival & Car-Free Streets at St. Elizabeths East

On August 25th, the streets of the St. Elizabeths will be opened to bicyclists, and the campus will be converted into a bike carnival for all ages. We are incredibly excited about this event, as it combines two rare happenings. First, the public is invited to tour the long-closed, historic St. Elizabeths campus. For years, security restrictions have made it nearly impossible to visit and see this amazing campus.  When occasional exceptions were made for tours they filled immediately (and of course they weren’t for biking). Second, we almost never get the opportunity to use closed streets for a free event, in which we can invite kids, parents, and novice cyclists to come and enjoy their bikes in a car-free setting. When WABA was invited to use these car-free streets for biking our reaction was immediate: Yes! So we have mapped out two self-guided tour routes that are safe and family-friendly, and that will allow you to see as much of the historic campus is possible.  We will be marking those routes, so all you have to do is show up, pedal, and enjoy the views.  We’ll have staff members and volunteers riding the routes as well to help with any issues and make sure things go smoothly. Meanwhile, at the main gate, we will have an assortment of bike-themed carnival games with prizes, a bike decoration station, a kids’ bicycle skills course, plenty of giveaways, answers to all your questions about biking in the city, and much more. At 2pm we will raffle off a number of new bikes–both adult and youth models–to be given away to those in attendance, then we will kick off the first ever St. Elizabeths Bike Parade.  So be sure to get to the event in time to visit the bike decoration station to get your ride ready for the show.  I want to see hundreds of people, smiling and safe, riding car-free streets on decorated bikes, enjoying the opening of this space and the fun of being on a bike. Whether you live across the street from the campus or across the region, this is a unique event in a truly unique place.  Please mark your calendars, RSVP on the Facebook page so we know how many people to expect, and come join us at the carnival.  Bring your kids.   Bring your friends.  Especially bring your friends who are thinking about biking and need a safe place and a good reason to give it a try. Hope to see you there! (If you have a bike, please bring it.  Remember, Metro allows bikes at all times on Saturdays.  We will have a rather limited number of bikes available for use on a first-come, first-served basis.  But there won’t be enough for everyone.)        

A Great Saturday Ride Along Oxon Run

(An update from Alex Hutchinson, WABA’s East of the Anacostia Bikes Program Manager.) On Saturday July 14th, WABA staff, residents, and volunteers gathered in Oxon Run Park. Nestled between the neighborhoods of Bellevue, Congress Heights, and Washington Highlands, Oxon Run features wetlands, ball fields, BBQ pits, and naturally where WABA comes in, a beautiful bike path. Despite flirting with Mother Nature’s rains early in the morning, by the start of the event pockets of blue sky began to peak out from behind the clouds. With much-appreciated assistance from Capital Bikeshare, Bike & Roll DC, and the District Department of Transportation our ride was supplied with 45 bikes and helmets for all ages and sizes. We even had some brave young riders go out on an attached tandem bicycle before they traded it back in for something a little simpler. The event was a huge success in no small part due to the help from local community groups such as the office of Councilmember Marion Barry, ANC commissioner Dionne Brown, and the 7th District Metropolitan Police Force. Commissioner Brown was pleased to have her bike repaired, then proceeded to cruise up and down the trail several times before the mid-July humidity finally got to her. “I prefer this to spinning” Brown joked. Community members remarked on the therapeutic effect of cycling along Oxon Run. Many doctors are beginning to prescribe “park prescriptions”, a program where doctors send patients outdoors for physical and mental benefits. One of the objectives of this ride was to make residents aware of this fantastic park, a resource some don’t realize exists right in their backyard. Additionally, local community members learned to get more comfortable on a bike after a prolonged absence with the help from WABA educational instructors. The Oxon Run ride provided a valuable forum for community members to learn about who else is riding in their community and provided WABA insight into residents’ feelings about cycling safety and benefits. A number of bicycle commuters came out to talk about their challenging rides along the Suitland Parkway–a trail that is currently in need of cleanup due to a large amount of broken glass and overgrown limbs along the trail. Other neighborhood residents came with their toddlers in tow, disappointed they didn’t hear about the event sooner to inform more of their students and neighbors. The Oxon Run event was WABA’s first ride this summer as part of our East of the River initiative after several mobile bike repair clinics and classes to get everyone ready to roll. Other rides slated for later in this summer include a bike carnival and tour of the St. Elizabeths Historic Campus and the first annual Lion Ride through historic Anacostia and Anacostia Park.

Bicycling Ignored in Minnesota Avenue, NE Plans

Generally speaking, streets are reconstructed only once a generation. If that is the case for Minnesota Avenue, the next generation cyclists east of the Anacostia River will still have no bicycle facilities on the area’s main north-south connection. Minnesota Ave. is a major thoroughfare and transportation corridor, connecting neighborhoods from Deanwood to Anacostia.  It connects neighborhoods to the Metrorail Station, multiple Capital Bikeshare locations, the new Benning Road Library, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and Marvin Gaye Trail, and the proposed bikes lanes on East Capitol St., NEView the area in a Google Map. DDOT has been working since 2007 to design a new streetscape for the grand avenue as part of the Great Streets Initiatives. The current project area is bounded by A St. SE and Sheriff Rd., NE. There is no space dedicated for bikes in the plans. Bicycling is growing among the communities along Minnesota Avenue and throughout DC’s neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River despite being comparatively underserved in on-road bicycle facilities.  The District has provided new trails that have proven popular, and people are choosing to ride.  To complete the area’s sole continuous north-south roadway connection (other than the freeway, which is of no use to bicyclists or pedestrians) without space for people on bikes would be a wasted opportunity. DDOT has rightly encouraged cycling through many of its projects and its initiatives.  It should not undercut its success and the safety of those people who do ride bikes by leaving them out of the plans for Minnesota Ave. Now is the time to demand better. DDOT will be hosting a meeting on Tuesday, June 19th at 6:30 pm at Friendship Edison PCS/Woodson Senior High School Cafeteria (4095 Minnesota Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20019). Come and speak out for safer streets for all: bikes included.