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Park trails can increase bike usage east of the river

Road design, topography, and the arrangement of parkland make biking east of the Anacostia River difficult. However, that parkland also creates an opportunity to add miles of bike trails to stand in for the connectivity that on-street routes are unable to provide.

Bike in Fort Dupont Park. Photo by dannyfowler on Flickr.

In fact, there is the potential to add trails east of the Anacostia river that would equal more bike trails than the rest of DC combined. Despite this, the area's history is unfavorable to bike usage.

Most of the infrastructure east of the river was planned after the widespread adoption of the automobile. As a result it is fractured, with a discontinuous street grid which makes for traffic sewers and circuitous routes. Furthermore, the width and scale of the roads were designed around cars, making it difficult for DDOT to add in bike lanes without taking out traffic lanes or parking.

In the oldest parts of the city, DDOT has been able to add bike lanes by narrowing one wide general-purpose lane into a normal-sized lane plus a bike lane, as they did on Q and R Streets NW. That's possible because L'Enfant Plan streets weren't the same widths as modern streets, but this isn't possible in areas laid out in the automobile era.

Recent data confirms that biking east of the river is a challenge. Arlington released Capital Bikeshare data showing that there were few users in that part of DC.

We followed the news with a discussion of the issues that potential east of the river bike users face. WABA has also specifically targeted outreach efforts to improve cycling in that part of the city.

With this in mind, and inspired by David Alpert's WMATA fantasy map, I created this fantasy bike trail map based on the area east of the river. The idea is to create three north-south routes and connect them with several east-west rungs.

Click the map for an interactive version.
Green - Existing Trails | Blue - Existing Trails in need of improvement
Red - Planned Trails | Purple - Wished for trails (not in any plans)

Here is a description of each of the trails.

Anacostia Riverwalk Trail (ART). The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail network is a set of trails proposed to follow along both sides of the Anacostia River for its entire length in DC. It will stretch from the Douglass Bridge to the DC/Prince George's County boundary. On the south end it will connect to the extant section of the South Capitol Street Trail. On the north end it will connect to Prince George's County's Anacostia Trail. Two sections of this trail are already open, one from the Douglass Bridge to 11th Street SE and and another between the CSX rail line and Benning Road NE. A section that bridges over the rail line and connects to 11th Street is currently being built.

Future construction includes the section north of Benning Road, which includes the trail along the the river and another to Eastland Gardens, and a new Anacostia River crossing south of the Arboretum. This is currently undergoing Environmental Assessment review. Once completed this trail will be the first north-south route east of the river and will connect Ward 7, Ward 8, and Maryland as well as the six river crossings in DC. A cyclist in Anacostia could ride as far as Wheaton or Beltsville on the new DC/Maryland trail network. The trail could be further enhanced with a river crossing on either the current or a future New York Avenue Bridge.

South Capitol Street Trail. The South Capitol Street Trail is a trail proposed to run along the east edge of the secure facilities that line the Potomac River in far Southwest before jogging east to connect to the Oxon Hill Farm Trail. It will serve as a connection between the Douglass and Wilson bridges as well as a continuation of the Anacostia Trails. By finishing the connection between the Mt. Vernon Trail and the Anacostia Trail System it will connect Northern Virginia's system with Prince George's County's. The concept plan for this project was completed in 2010.

Cheverly Connector. This trail would run on the east and south sides of the railroad tracks that connect Deanwood with Cheverly. It isn't in any plans, but is one I think should be included in future bike plans. In DC, it would start at the Deanwood underpass, cross the Deanwood Metro station and parking lot to connect to the alley behind the northernmost section of Minnesota Avenue NE and then cross over Eastern Avenue NE on a trail bridge. In Maryland it would follow the strip of land between the CSX rail line and Addison Road to go around the Mid-Atlantic Finishing site, then pass between the Metro tracks and what will be Addison Row. From there it would cross Lower Beaverdam Creek and connect to the parking lot at the Cheverly Metro.

This would create a straight connection between eastern Cheverly and DC. It could also serve as a connection between the ART, via a Nash Run Trail, and a planned trail along Lower Beaverdam Creek. Following the creek all the way to the Anacostia would be almost impossible as it would necessitate negotiating the trail under the Metro tracks, two sets of rail lines and MD-201 while passing through an in-use industrial site. There could be issues with the Addison Row development, as it appears to be very close to the Metro tracks.

Nash Run Trail. Nash Run is an Anacostia tributary that starts in Farimount Heights in Prince George's County, passes under the Deanwood Recreation Center and Metro station and into Kenilworth Gardens. There is no trail along this stream in any plans, but again it is one I think should be included in future bike plans. A trail could be built to follow this stream. It would connect to the ART at Anacostia Avenue before turning east along the above ground portion of the stream south of Douglas St NE. It could go over 295 on the extant pedestrian overpass and then through the tunnel under the rail lines. On the east side of the tracks, it would become an on-road route along Nash Road NE, Leroy Gorham Drive NE, and Nash Place NE, where it would connect to Robert Gray Elementary School and Fairmont Heights High School.

The WB&A Rail Trail. Prince George's County currently plans to build an "on-road" trail along MD-704 from the southern terminus of the WB&A trail in Bowie to the District line. As MD-704 is built on the old WB&A right of way, this would be a continuation of that trail. Once in the District, the trail could be routed on-road west along Dix Street NE to the Marvin Gaye Park Trail and south on Eastern Avenue NE to the Chesapeake Beach Rail Trail and the Watts Branch extended trail.

Chesapeake Beach Rail Trail. Maryland has plans to build a trail from the DC line to Chesapeake Beach, MD, following the old Chesapeake Railroad route (though not always on the old railbed since the line wasn't railbanked). A very short section of the trail exists from Crown Street in Seat Pleasant to the shopping center on East Capitol Street. If extended west to the DC line along an extant social trail, it could be easily connected to the east end of the existing Marvin Gaye Park Trail, which runs parallel to the old railroad in DC.

Marvin Gaye Park/Watts Branch Trail. The Marvin Gaye Park Trail is an existing, and recently rebuilt, trail that runs along the banks of Watts Branch. It could be extended to both the west and the east along the stream. It could go west through the Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE underpass and along Deane Avenue NE to the ART and from there to the new bridge across the Anacostia.

It could also expand east into Prince George's County, where the name of the trail may change, along the two Watts Branch tributaries that form the stream just inside the District. A trail along the western tributary would pass the planned Walmart and the Capitol Heights Metro before going through the Capitol Heights neighborhood. The trail along the eastern tributary would pass through park land. Both trails could end at different locations along Rollins Avenue where they could connect via bike lanes.

Boundary Bikeway. Moving cyclists along the east side of the District is trickier than the west side. There is no linear park and the only road that goes through, Southern Avenue, is considered a poor road for cyclists. While one option may be to make Southern more friendly with bike lanes or cycle tracks, an easier option might be to build a bikeway on the first roads across the boundary in Prince George's County. Using the streets Akin, Able, Boones Hill, and Arcadia and connecting them with short trails as needed, a bikeway could be built connecting the trail along Watts Branch to the one at Oxon Run. A bike/pedestrian bridge over Pennsylvania Avenue would finish the connection.

Pennsylvania Avenue Trail. As part of the Pennsylvania Avenue Great Streets concept plan there was a proposal to run a multi-use trail along the side of Penn from the old railroad tracks to Southern Avenue. This trail would have connected the Shepherd Rail Trail on the east side, with the Fort Circle Trail in the middle and the Boundary Bikeway and Oxon Run Trail on the west.

DDOT has been actively rebuilding Pennsylvania Avenue SE for over a year, and as sections have been completed, it's clear that there is no associated muti-use trail or cycletrack. There is a wider sidewalk, but it can't really be called a bike facility. Since there is unlikely to be a second bite at that apple for a while, the next best option is to connect the short distance from Fort Circle Trail and the trails in Maryland with a trail either along Pennsylvania Avenue or through the apartments on the south side above the buried Fort Davis tributary.

Shepherd Rail Trail. The dormant Shepherd Industrial spur rail line could be converted into a rail trail running from the South Capitol Street Trail all the way to Fort Dupont. Though the trail would run parallel to the ART, it would be on the east side of the Anacostia Freeway, where people live, thus serving a different constituency.

It would tie into the ART at both the north and south ends of the rail spur and also intersect the St. Elizabeths Access Trail, Suitland Parkway Trail, Pope Branch Trail, and Fort Dupont Trail. This trail was originally to be built in conjunction with the streetcar but was abandoned when the right-of-way was deemed unsuitable for the streetcar. Nonetheless, it is in the District's Bicycle Master Plan. Building it would require railbanking the existing right-of-way, which CSX reportedly wants to keep.

Fort Circle Trail. The Fort Circle Trail is a mostly-unpaved trail running from the Anacostia Community Museum at Bruce Place and Raynolds Street SE in Fort Stanton Park to the Marvin Gaye Park Trail at Hunt Place NE. The current trail is the only single-track trail in DC and is popular with mountain bikers. There have been some proposals to extend and improve the trail. DC should create a paved trail in line with those plans to complement the single-track trail. In addition, I propose some other enhancements not currently in any plans.

In the center, Fort Davis Drive could be widened with bike lanes, a cycletrack or a sidepath. In other areas a paved trail through the parks could be created or improved. On the south end it could be extended from its current endpoint to the Suitland Parkway Trail near 20th Street SE and then to the Congress Heights Metro. A spur from the Anacostia History Museum could connect to W Street SE . A second spur could connect through Fort Stanton east to Pomeroy Road SE and the Suitland Parkway Trail. It could then cross Suitland Parkway and travel uphill along the stream flowing from St. Elizabeths' east campus, where it too could connect to the Congress Heights Metro Station, Alabama Avenue, and, via 13th Street, to the Oxon Run Trail. The Fort Circle trail would become the critical "center leg trail" of the east of the river trail system.

Oxon Run Trail. Oxon Run is another stream that starts in District Heights, MD, but instead of flowing into the Anacostia, it turns south to the Potomac. It forms the route for Pennsylvania Avenue in Maryland, then crosses the DC/Maryland border and runs along it. It crosses into DC near the Southern Avenue Metro station, back into Maryland at Oxon Hill Farm and back again into DC just before emptying into the Potomac River. A pair of unconnected trails currently follows the lower portions of the stream in DC and Oxon Hill Farm.

DC has plans for improving its section from entry to exit and better connecting it to the Oxon Hill Farm Trail. PG County plans to extend it from the DC line to the Naylor Road Metro station where it would connect to the Suitland Parkway Trail.

In addition to these plans, NPS should upgrade its old, substandard trail in Oxon Farm, and PG County should consider extending the trail farther. Room exists to extend the trail north along the stream past Lincoln Memorial and Cedar Hill Cemeteries, then across Pennsylvania Ave at Arcadia Ave (where the Boundary Bikeway ends), and then along the North side of Pennsylvania Avenue to Penn Crossing.

Suitland Parkway Trail. The Suitland Parkway Trail is a bike trail along the north side of the Suitland Parkway from Pomeroy Road in DC to a dead end just west of Southern Avenue. On the west end it connects to the Anacostia Metro and the ART via an on-road route. PG County has plans to extend the trail into Maryland as far as the Branch Avenue Metro Station where it will connect to the extension of the Henson Creek Trail.

Prince George's County shouldn't stop at Branch Avenue. It should continue the trail east along the Parkway and upper Henson Creek all the way to Andrews Air Force Base. Once the Maryland section is built, DDOT will likely upgrade the almost-unusable trail in DC. Improvements to the on-street route should be included in the South Capitol Street plan.

St Elizabeths Access Trail. The St. Elizabeths Access trail is a trail to be built along the east side of the access road to the DHS facility at St Elizabeths. It would start at the intersection of the South Capitol Street Trail and Shepherd Rail Trail at Firth Sterling Avenue SE just east of the Anacostia Freeway and would end at the intersection of South Capitol Street and MLK Avenue. There it would connect to the Oxon Run Trail and, again, to the South Capitol Street Trail.

It will create a parallel option to the South Capitol Street Trail that is on the residential side of the Anacostia Freeway. This is to currently being built with part to open in 2013 and more to open in 2014.

Pope Branch Trail. Pope Branch is a short stream running parallel to and south of Massachusetts Avenue SE. It runs through park land and is only crossed by four roads along the way. A trail along this stream could connect the Fort Circle Trail to the Shepherd Rail Trail. It could also connect to many of the streets along the park to tie in the neighborhoods between Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Avenues.

Fort Dupont Trail. In Fort Dupont Park there is a partial loop trail. The trails that exist there are mostly unusable and need to be upgraded - especially along the north side. On the south and east, the trail could be replaced with a sidepath along Fort Davis and Fort Dupont Drives.

The trail could also be extended east, past the Fort Circle trail, to Alabama Avenue SE and, with a bicycle boulevard on a couple of blocks on Beck Street SE and Vine Street, to the Boundary Bikeway. To the west the trail could be extended along the stream that flows through the park, to the Shepherd Rail Trail and through the south side of the railroad's DC-295 underpass to the ART. Currently, there is nowhere for a cyclist to cross DC-295 between Pennsylvania Avenue SE and Benning Road NE, and Pennsylvania Avenue is not for the timid. This would create a new crossing and a direct connection the entire way to Maryland.

Piney Run Trail. Piney Run is a stream that starts just south of Hebrew Cemetery on the DC/Maryland border and then flows on the south side of Benning Road before going underground just south of Fort Mahon. Though most of the stream is buried, it's route can still be used to build a trail connecting the Boundary Bikeway at Abel Road in Maryland to the Fort Circle Trail in Fort Chaplin Park, and connect the Fletcher Johnson and Benning Park Recreation Centers along the way.

Hillcrest Connector trail. A connector trail through Hillcrest could use an assortment of parks and green space to connect the Hillcrest neighborhood to the Fort Circle Trail and the Naylor Road Metro Station where the Suitland Parkway and Oxon Run trails meet. The trail could run on the north side of Naylor Road SE from the Metro station and along the edge of 30th Street SE to a point just south of Fort Baker Drive. The trail would then use an unbuilt road, for which the ROW still exists, to cross Naylor Road and connect to the Fort Circle Trail. In addition, this trail could easily connect to any future Skyland development.

Benning Road Cycletrack. Currently, Benning Road is the only place between Pennsylvania Avenue and Bladensburg where pedestrians and cyclists can go from west of the river to east of 295. This uncrossable span of river stretches nearly 4 miles. Traffic moves fast on Benning Road, so much so that it has a speed camera on it. Most cyclists use the sidewalks to travel from the river to Minnesota Avenue NE. On several occasions cyclists have been hit on the sidewalks along Benning.

To make this connection more desirable a cycletrack should be added along the south side of Benning Road between the Anacostia Bridge and the railroad bridge and from the railroad bridge to the Fort Circle Trail.

Henson Creek Trail. This is the only trail listed that doesn't connect directly to DC. This trail currently runs from Oxon Hill Road to Temple Hill Road in Prince George's County and is already planned for extension to the Branch Avenue Metro Station. A further extension along a tributary of Henson Creek through District Heights could connect the trailheads of the Oxon Run Trail and two Watts Branch Trails.

This network could create one of the most bikeable and walkable communities in the country, tie neighborhoods together, and bring all the benefits of active transportation to the eastern part of the city. It would involve a lot of paving, but if designed with stormwater management projects and daylighting of streams, the impact on water quality could be offset or even improved.

Cross-posted at The Washcycle.

David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he's lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Council for DC.  


Add a comment »

Yes, yes and yes to Fort Dupont & Hillcrest trail. I've hiked both recently and they are poorly maintained. There are down trees and the trail isn't always obvious.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on May 31, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

This would be awesome!!

Sad to hear that Pennsylvania Ave is not going to be so great after all.

There are some places EOTR where there are wide lanes, with speeding cars, where painting a bike lane would not mean taking away an all-vehicle lane. Painting a bike lane (or even a shoulder!) would clearly signal to drivers to stay more to the left (and not pass so close), and might also help with some traffic calming. I'm think of Naylor Rd in particular, btwn Minnesota & Good Hope.

by jj on May 31, 2011 11:40 am • linkreport

Honestly, I doubt I'd go over to the east of the river still. Dont want to get shot.

by violins on May 31, 2011 11:55 am • linkreport

Well, I rode over there almost every weekend to research this. I was by myself and I remain unshot. Mostly people didn't notice me. Occasionally people wanted to talk to me or cheer me on like I was part of some road race and got lost. But no shooting. You should check it out sometime. Maybe during the 50 states ride when you can ride with a large group.

by David C on May 31, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

Does anyone know about the status of the pedestrian bridge being built across the CSX railroad on the west bank of the river?

There's been little to no progress on it during the past year.

by andrew on May 31, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

Regaring the red on Anacostia river trail between Penn ave and the 11st bridge. This trail is mostly open now (some construction fencing still blocks parts of it (and for no apparent reason) but it's easy enough to ride on Anacostia drive. (and was just restored to 2 way traffic)

by Kolohe on May 31, 2011 12:02 pm • linkreport

Oh, and I can add one new "wish list" trail easily: A bike/pedestrian bridge alongside the CSX Rail Bridge on M St SE. It'd definitely be a much safer and friendlier river crossing compared to the current options, and would be the easiest and most logical place to put a bridge.

The new local span of the 11th St bridge will also increase the viability of bicycle commuting from EoTR considerably. The new bike lanes on 11th St SE WoTR are *awesome.*

by andrew on May 31, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

Interesting map and clearly a lot of work to but it together! My only complaint is it's a bit hard to associate your proposed trails with the map -- any way to color code it.

by charlie on May 31, 2011 12:10 pm • linkreport

At the core of the biking discussion is connectivity. East of the River is tremendously advantageous if only for the connectivity. David, thanks for undertaking this research. A year or two ago there was a multi-agency and jurisdictional study called the CapitalSpace Initiative, which aimed to streamline local and federal parkland usage and connect the expanse of parkland in Wards 7 and 8. Do you know where that project is?

by Sylvia C Brown, ANC7C04 on May 31, 2011 12:14 pm • linkreport

charlie, if you go to the google maps version, you can click on each line and it tells you which trail it is.

by David C on May 31, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

andrew, I know that I have seen a sketch of just such a trail. I think it was in the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative report from 2000 or so, but I haven't seen that online in years, and don't have a pdf copy of it.

by David C on May 31, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

The South Capitol trail is a great idea, and would make a bike lane on M St. SW even more useful. With a bike lane on M st SW and one on South Capitol, you could go from U St. all the way to Bolling without leaving a bike trail. Connections like this make the whole city more bikeable.

by Dan Miller on May 31, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

This is a great post with an awesome map and lots of detail that I will read after work. One question though: is it possible to show the trails overlaid on a map showing topography/hills? My big concern about EOTR cycling is hills, since I have grown lazy and accustomed to flat rides through much of the L'Enfant old city.

Also, maybe this has been said, but the Bikeshare bikes don't strike me as particularly well suited for hills. The gear ratio is too low to pedal downhill and the bike so heavy that uphill is a real workout. Uphill into the wind on those monsters is a nightmare.

by Ward 1 Guy on May 31, 2011 1:17 pm • linkreport

@JJ.... Naylor is perfect for bike lanes. That's the route I take to avoid dieing on Good Hope Road.

@David C.... One thing to note about the bike lanes on Pennsylvania Ave SE. The wide sidewalks were supposed to have a painted bike lane. They were removed, in addition to bike racks, from the construction plans because "the community" didn't want them. They were concerned about pedestrians and bikes on the same path. The unfortunate part is the anti-bike lane voice was louder that the pro-bike lanes. Hopefully in a few years we'll get another bite at the apple.

The connections from East-to-West across the bridges really need to be improved. The Sousa Bridge is the perfect storm for a bike/ped to be hit by motorist exiting I-295.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on May 31, 2011 1:22 pm • linkreport

It is interesting to see what is there, what is in poor shape and what is planned. What is really interesting to me is the wish list. Take off the purple trails and suddenly the network becomes much sparser. Imagine if those purples were all in place and the connectivity throughout south eastern DC!

by John H. on May 31, 2011 1:28 pm • linkreport

Ward 1 guy-
Click on the map to open Google maps than zoom to at least the 4th level out from max zomm-in then select 'Terrain' out the upper right hand corner boxes (it will probably require pressing "more" first)

You'll get a general idea of the terrain. And my brief (so far) experience biking from Alexandria to work in Prince George's county, you're right about EOTR. Unless you can follow the creek beds, there's a lot of comparitively sudden near 100 ft changes in elevation as you cut across the neighborhoods.

by Kolohe on May 31, 2011 1:39 pm • linkreport

Yes, NY Ave all the way! East Capitol Street too! All bridges east!

The railroad, kenilworth avenue and 295 have been constructed to not allow much movement from one side to the other unless an automobile is used. Time for that privation of infrastructure to be fixed.

by Rte 1 on May 31, 2011 1:41 pm • linkreport

YES! I have been pushing for a bike trail that will allow me to get from E. Capital St into Capital hill. This would really be a break through! I would love to bike to work.

by WhoSaidWhat on May 31, 2011 2:03 pm • linkreport

Hard as it may be to fathom, the goal of the proposed trails isn't to get more people to travel EOTR (and epseially not people with a bad attitude). The goal of these trails (and better bike facilities in general, such as a bike lane on Naylor Rd) should be to make biking an option for people who live/work/visit EOTR.

by jj on May 31, 2011 2:30 pm • linkreport

Veronica, that's interesting about Pennsylvania Avenue. I never heard anything about that - I guess that's what happens when Ward 8 has no member of the Bicycle Advisory Council.

by David C on May 31, 2011 4:19 pm • linkreport

@David C.... Penn Ave from 27th to Southern Ave is Ward 7 on both sides. I thought we had a representative on the bike council. Although, I'm not sure if we had one at the time. It was such an ugly battle that DDOT promised not to do anything to encourage biking.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on May 31, 2011 4:21 pm • linkreport

Whoops. You're right. Not sure if the Ward 7 rep was on the council at that time. Still, it got absolutely no coverage in the MSM.

by David C on May 31, 2011 4:28 pm • linkreport

Some of your purple "wished for" trails in PGC are in fact proposed trails which exist on a county planning map I found somewhere. It might only exist in hard copy, but I have a copy at home and can scan it for you.

by Froggie on Jun 1, 2011 9:20 am • linkreport

David: In a perfect world, if I'm ever appointed the emperor of DC, I'd give you an unlimited budget and appoint you to get this plan built. Pronto.

Great ideas!

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jun 10, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

Ditto, Ms V.

by CCCA Prez on Oct 3, 2011 1:37 pm • linkreport

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