Will the Rock Creek Trail Be Repaved Soon?

Bike up and downWe’re consistently asked by WABA members and community members when the Rock Creek Park trail will be repaved. The trail is a very popular, multi-use path in Rock Creek National Park that winds north from Georgetown into the park and connects to Beach Drive (which, on weekends, is closed to cars). It’s well-liked by runners, dog walkers, families, and bicyclists, but desperately in need of repair.

The current condition of the trail is rough, rooted, uneven, and too narrow for daily use. A ride on the trail is a bumpy one, due to tree roots cracking the asphalt. The edges of the trail have deteriorated, due to years of unattended grass and weed overgrowth. This has also reduced the usable width of the trail, which was insufficient to begin with: It was originally to be eight feet wide. In addition to the decline of the paved surface, the trail was built with 90-degree turns approaching bridges and a narrow sidewalk on the bridge near the tunnel. When the National Zoo closes its gates, trail users are forced to use the three-foot sidewalk in the tunnel. Many cyclists have chosen alternate routes because the condition of the Rock Creek Park trail has declined.

Plans to rehabilitate the trail have been in the plans since the late 1980s. Federal recreational trail funding  for design and construction was established over 10 years ago. And the federal environmental assessment planning process has been ongoing for over seven years. So why don’t we have a finished trail?

During the initial planning and scoping for the project, talks between the District Department of Transportation and the National Park Service stalled over a core issue: trail width. DDOT, as the agency funding and constructing the trail, wanted the trail to be 10 feet wide. Rock Creek Park, as the agency with jurisdictional control and administrative authority over the land, rejected widening the trail for its entire length, citing negative impacts to the environment. The negotiations stalled for years.

After much intervention from WABA and the community, NPS and DDOT compromised to widen most of the trail to 10 feet, except for a few pinch points where the eight-foot width would remain. With middle ground reached, the environmental assessment process restarted. A draft EA was released in December 2011 with a 30-day period for public comment.

Under the draft environmental assessment (download the draft here), DDOT would completely repave the entire asphalt surface of the trail and new access trail spurs. The paving would take place on a 3.7-mile segment of the Rock Creek Park multi-use trail from Broad Branch Road to P Street NW; a 0.8 mile segment of the Piney Branch Parkway trail from Beach Drive to Arkansas Avenue NW; a 0.2 mile segment of social trail from Broad Branch Road to Peirce Mill (referred to as the Peirce Mill trail spur); and a 0.5 mile segment of the Rose Park trail from P Street NW to M Street NW. Also incorporated into the EA is construction of a new, wider bridge parallel to the car bridge that crosses Rock Creek immediately south of the zoo tunnel, and a reconfiguration of the tunnel to allow for a six-foot-wide sidewalk for use during hours that the zoo gate is closed.

With no outward progress on the environmental assessment, and therefore a slowing the implementation phases of design and construction, WABA requested a meeting with Rock Creek National Park Superintendent Tara Morrison and DDOT to discuss the current status and next steps to finishing this project. Currently, DDOT is completing the final EA, which will be released to the public in the late summer/early fall. Following the EA, Rock Creek National Park must issue the decision document called a “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI—best acronym ever) for the project to move forward.

Superintendent Morrison and her staff expect the FONSI to be finished by the year’s end. Operating in parallel, DDOT has the trail project at 30 percent design but cannot get to a 100 percent complete design until the FONSI is released. In the bike/ped program’s obligation plan for federal transportation funding, DDOT has obligated to design and construction funds for fiscal year 2014/2015. DDOT is considering hiring a consultant under a design/build contract for this project, which would increase delivery but limit public input during the individual phases—especially between the design and construction phases.

WABA would like to thank DDOT and Rock Creek National Park for meeting with us and for their commitment to finishing this very important rehabilitation. We expect the two agencies to work quickly, efficiently, and effectively to deliver a completed project on time or early. The region has seen a recent renaissance of bicycling for transportation and demands on the infrastructure that support it need urgent attention to sustain that growth.

NPS Announces Safety Improvements To Capital Crescent Entrance

Georgetown

Read below for a press release from the National Park Service concerning safety improvements on the Water Street entrance to the Capital Crescent Trail.

C&O Canal National Historical Park News Release
Release Date: June 18, 2013
For Immediate Release
John Noel, Public Information Officer, (301) 491-6422

Visitor Safety Improvements along Capital Crescent Trail

DC – Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) hikers and bicyclists should anticipate construction on June 20th, 2013, as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park makes improvements to the Water Street entrance following increasing concerns for public and visitor safety.
An increasing number of cars are parking along the trail and landscaped area upstream of the Alexandria Aqueduct, leading to an increasing number of vehicles reported driving on the CCT in search of I-495 Beltway or Dulles Airport.

“In recent months we have become concerned for the safety of Capital Crescent Trail visitors at the end of the trail on Water Street in Georgetown as one serious injury and an increasing number of near-miss accidents between bicyclists and cars have been reported,” confirmed Park Superintendent Kevin Brandt, “Before another serious injury occurs we will take actions to minimize the risk posed to park visitors using the trail for recreation.”

Plans to enhance visitor safety and improve the aesthetics of this historic area include filling in all ruts and depressions in the drive-through arch of the Alexandria Aqueduct to create a smooth and level surface. Installation of a bicycle-friendly gate at the Georgetown side of the aqueduct will prevent vehicles from driving upstream and replace the single bollard located 200 feet upstream that had previously served this purpose but that was knocked over frequently by errant cars. Signage and striping to warn visitors as they approach the gate and direct them towards the 5 ½ feet-wide opening will be installed. Additional signs will be posted that alert visitors to the fact that they are leaving a non-motorized trail and entering a public road.

The grassy landscape that used to exist in this area will be restored upon project completion. Two weeks ago DC Water turned on the odor control scrubbers which will remove the smell emanating from the eight-foot-diameter Dulles Interceptor sewer line that is buried a few feet below the area where cars park upstream of the Alexandria Aqueduct, making this area much more conducive to visitor enjoyment of the Potomac River waterfront.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park is interested in your ideas and suggestions for improvements to the Capital Crescent Trail and in particular the Water Street entrance. To submit suggestions or report problems or other maintenance requirements please email John Adams, Safety Officer & Acting Chief of Maintenance, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park at john_adams@nps.gov.

Photo by Flickr user Daquella manera

Ask the National Park Service to #StopUTurnsOnPenn

U-Turn 5.23.2013

Pennsylvania Ave NW is America’s main street, and all who use it—including bicyclists—deserve to use it safely. After installation of Pennsylvania Avenue’s center median bike lanes in 2010, ridership there has increased over 200 percent—despite the lack of physical separation between bikes and cars.

Only paint separates cyclists and drivers which has, unsurprisingly, not been a deterrent to drivers making dangerous U-turns across the bike lane. Within a year of Pennsylvania Avenue’s lanes being painted, 11 of the 16 crashed recorded on Pennsylvania Ave NW involved U-turning cars.

Last fall, through emergency rulemaking, we pushed to make U-turns across the lanes illegal and for increased enforcement by MPD. Since then, there have been a number of outreach events with D.C. Bike Ambassadors and MPD police officers to educate drivers about the consequences of U-turning. According to the mayor’s office, MPD has written 62 tickets and issued about 70 warnings.

But it’s now time to fix the underlying problem: Bicycles need physical separation from motor vehicles on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The bike lanes need a critical upgrade to prevent cars, taxi cabs, and trucks from illegally U-turning across them. The mayor’s office has stated it can’t make major changes to the streetscape without approval from federal agencies, including the Commission on the Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the National Park Service.

Tomorrow night, please come to the National Park Service’s public meeting to discuss the long-term management of Pennsylvania Avenue and ask that easy changes to keep cyclists safe be implemented as soon as possiblee.

Meeting details
Wed., May 29, 2013
5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
National Capital Planning Commission offices
401 9th St. NW
Washington, D.C.
Google Maps bicycle directions
More information on the NPS website

Thank you for your help in making Pennsylvania Avenue a better bicycling experience for residents of and visitors to our nation’s capital.

Image via Flickr user jantos, from his relentless documentation of cars U-turning illegally across the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack

National Park Service to Begin Construction on Mount Vernon Trail on April 8

The National Park Service and a number of other agencies will begin to reconstruct pedestrian bridges on the Mount Vernon Trail beginning today, Mon., April 8. The project is projected to last several months and will include a closure of the trail (a detour will direct trail users to West Boulevard Drive). Read the full press release and see a diagram of the construction below.

McLean, VA –The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Eastern Federal Lands Highways Division (EFLHD), in cooperation with the National Park Service (NPS), George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP), will begin a construction project to reconstruct pedestrian bridges #13 and #14 on the Mount Vernon Trail between Waynewood Boulevard and Collingwood Road; other bridges include bridges 20, 21, and 22 further north between Morningside Lane and Tulane Lane, all in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County, Virginia.

The project will start on April 8, 2013 and will last for several months, Monday through Friday. Weekly updates to the project will be included in the weekly traffic advisory for locations of work zones.

During reconstruction of bridges #13 and #14, the Mount Vernon Trail will be closed. A detour will direct visitors to use West Boulevard drive. Visitors should follow the detour signs and exercise caution when using West Boulevard drive sharing the road with vehicles.

NPS will continue to inform the public and the media of any delays or adjustments to this work schedule. As with all construction projects, inclement weather may require adjustments to the schedules, including the possibility of postponement. Every effort will be made to accomplish the work in a timely manner. The NPS regrets any inconvenience and appreciates all visitors’ understanding and patience. The project is anticipated to be completed by fall.

mount vernon