Small changes could make crossing Sousa Bridge safer
Anyone who has walked or biked across the Sousa Bridge, which carries Pennsylvania Avenue over the Anacostia River, knows that it is one of the most dangerous bridge crossings in DC. DDOT needs to make this route safer, but in the meantime, it and NPS can make an alternate route through Anacostia Park more efficient and desirable.
When you bike or walk across the Sousa bridge, you have 3 options when you arrive east of the Anacostia River. The 2 most-used, and also most hazardous, are the sidewalks on each side of Pennsylvania Avenue, which require crossing multiple 295 on and off-ramps.
All 5 ramp crossings have poor sight lines. Motorists can't see pedestrians or bicyclists wanting to cross and pedestrians. In addition, pedestrians and bicyclists waiting to cross can't always judge the speed of motorists on the ramps. The map below shows the dangerous crossings that pedestrians and cyclists face:
The best solution would be to make the sidewalks one each side of the bridge actually safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Unfortunately, that's almost impossible without actually reconfiguring the interchange to make it less like a cloverleaf.
The current curb ramps are very narrow and line up with sharp turns on the adjoining sidewalks, which is not ADA compliant. Cyclists can't easily navigate them. Fixing these would also help.
Meanwhile, there's a viable, and only slightly longer, third option: a bike and pedestrian work-around through Anacostia Park.
While this option seems like the safest route on a map, it is not without its share of challenges. DDOT and NPS could make this safer and more inviting, and perhaps make it a more popular option.
1. Improve wayfinding at the entrance to the path
There is a bike route sign at the start of the path. The sign is not visible if you are traveling eastbound on the bridge, as depicted in the photo above.
DDOT recently added wayfinding signs in Anacostia Park. However, if you aren't familiar with the area, it appears the path will only take you into the park. DDOT and NPS should consider adding a map at the entrance that shows how to access Pennsylvania Avenue SE via the park.
2. Repair the path
Having biked down this path, it is not a comfortable ride. The cracks and bumps on top of the steep slope can be intimidating for novice bicyclists. It's also dangerous for pedestrians with baby strollers.
In response, bicyclists have developed their own solution, and most going to the park prefer their carved path over the official one. This worn desire path has been here for years.
3. Make the area under the DC-295 bridges inviting
Once bicyclists and pedestrians enter the park, they must go under 3 bridge spans for 295. The sidewalks are in need of repair, and that could be a good first step. Another important element for cyclists would be replacing the in-line grates that can catch wheels and cause a cyclist to crash.
The bigger concern is the lack of adequate lighting along Nicholson Street SE and underneath the bridges. These photos were taken during the day. At night it is even darker. Brighter lighting and murals can enliven the area and make this route safer and more attractive.
The current interchange is really not designed to be safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and in the long run needs to be replaced with one that is more befitting its location in an urban area. Perhaps when the 11th Street Bridge is complete, some of the traffic from this area will relocate, but that alone won't solve the pedestrian and bicycle safety problem on the Sousa Bridge.
In the meantime, there are safety improvements that do not require expensive engineering solutions. DDOT and NPS can work together to make these low-cost aesthetic improvements throughout Anacostia Park to ultimately provide a safer route for pedestrians and bicyclists.
All photos are by Gerald Fittipaldi, P.E., a civil engineer from New Jersey, who met with me to discuss challenges to biking east of the Anacostia River. For additional photos, visit his DC - East of the Anacostia River album on Flickr.
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