The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Map of bike "highways" in the DC region

One challenge with bicycle maps his how complex they are, especially when it comes to the best trails. I made this more simple map, showing only the trails that are the regional biking equivalents to highways:

Most bike maps are great at the local scale, but practically useless regionally. Compare Google's highway map for the DC region with its bike map at the same scale. Notice on the highway map how the most important roads pop out, with clearly defined lines that easily show the best driving routes. Then notice how the bike map is a muddled mess of criss-crossing lines and minor trail segments.

Images from Google Maps.

At the local scale all those little trail segments can be important. But at the regional scale it's useless information. At the regional scale I just want to know where the best and longest trails are, in relatively simple geographic terms. I want a highway map for bike trails.

Thus my map, showing only the largest trails. I didn't put a huge amount of thought into it, nor did I spend a lot of time making the map as pretty as it could be. This is just an exercise.

A more dedicated and useful mapping effort might be to overlay the "bike highways" identified here atop the official regional maps, using a thick line that clearly indicates the importance of these routes. A stronger effort might also establish some objective standards for which trails to include, since arguments could be made that I left some important ones out.

But at the very least, this should help to visualize where the major biking corridors of the region exist.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Great idea! I think my main take-home would be how sad it is that there aren't more bike 'highways'. We need more infrastructure.

A couple of points: there is no bike trail in Rock Creek Park north of Broad Branch Rd. The 'highway' connecting Bethesda to Silver Spring (Georgetown Branch Trail) has been 'under construction' for the entire time I've been in DC (6 years) and would more accurately be labeled 'not under construction'.

by renegade09 on Aug 29, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

Really great effort. I'd do the 4 mile, custis and Mt Vernon as straight lines, not as the loop.

by charlie on Aug 29, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

Seems odd to call them bike highways when they're shared (often badly) with pedestrians. The Sligo Creek trail in particular.

by afeman on Aug 29, 2012 11:39 am • linkreport

Is there actually a good route through the mall area? It seems to me that it is desperately in need of bike infrastructure. In particular, getting from memorial bridge to Jefferson Dr/Madison Dr can be pretty hairy.

by alex on Aug 29, 2012 12:01 pm • linkreport

The takeway for me is that we really need more east-west connections. There are many north-south routes, but it's hard to get from one trail to another.

The purple line, east-west highway, or Benning road/H seem like good candidates.

by Jordan Boyd-Graber on Aug 29, 2012 12:06 pm • linkreport

These ideas are worth pursuing, but please put DC in the center rather than the right side of the map so that the presence or absence of trail in PG is evident. The WB&A and Henson Creek trails would show up as existing, but not being contiguous with the network. The Wilson Bridge trail should be added, and it is contiguous.

The analogy with "highways" may be a bit unfair. Bikes are allowed on most highways, so a bicycle map that shows both trails and most highways is reasonable. Cyclists do not need trail-only maps the way drivers need highway maps.
The better analogy to the trail-only bikeway map you are making would be a map for drivers showing roads where trucks are not allowed (ideally maps where neither trucks nor dangerous drivers are allowed when we finally have an enforcement policy). That map would also look odd and disconnected.

by Jim T on Aug 29, 2012 12:13 pm • linkreport

It's a very elegant and understandable map. I might have included the Anacostia Riverwalk west of the river, particularly because of how it connects other routes on the map, eg the Mall to Anacostia.

by Lucre on Aug 29, 2012 12:15 pm • linkreport

@renegade09 : the closest thing to an East-West bike "highway" would be the Q and R Street on-street trails... during my evening commute I usually spot more bikes than cars on those streets. However, still not on the same level as Rock Creek or MBT.

What's needed is a trail paralleling NY Avenue and the Amtrak ROW through NE... Would connect MBT to trails in PG.

by John Marzabadi on Aug 29, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

Yeah. Not sure why the Mall is on there, but other on-street routes are not. Getting around the Washington Monument is actually a fairly messy prospect at the moment.

Meanwhile, the Georgetown Branch trail is a bit shorter than it should be (it extends a bit beyond the (also non-existent) intersection with the Rock Creek Trail), and the WoTR portions of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail are missing.

by andrew on Aug 29, 2012 4:11 pm • linkreport

Rode most of these trails...need to check out the eastern side to PG county..just need to complete metropolitan trail from union station to downtown silver spring. the more I ride without vehicles around me the safer and better. looks good thanks

by Marty on Aug 29, 2012 4:34 pm • linkreport

This is a great start, and I'd love to see the Northeast Branch Trail labeled as well. The NEBT is approximately the same length as the Paint Branch Trail (and it's how you'd access PB from the south), and it starts at the same point as the Northwest Branch Trail. The latter could possibly be pointed out by moving labels around some, or by color-coding the trails you've highlighted, perhaps similarly to the color-coding of the Anacostia Tributary Trail System, both on the map [pdf] and, beginning last month, on the pavement.

by Jaime Fearer on Aug 29, 2012 5:42 pm • linkreport

The problem with maps like this is that they hang in empty space. This is fine with metro maps because the trains don't deviate from their rails, but a lot harder when you have to steer yourself. I am quite the biker, but I have no clue what your Arlington Loop is, nor how to get to it.

by Jasper on Aug 29, 2012 8:50 pm • linkreport

I would add Fairfax's Cross County Trail (spans the entire county from Great Falls to Occoquan Regional Park!) and the Holmes Run Trail from near Old Town to Annandale. Obviously there are lots more, but those are pretty major ones.

by stevek_fairfax on Aug 29, 2012 9:03 pm • linkreport

If these actually functioned, and were signed, as a system, then maybe I could see how a simplified diagram like this would be useful. A highway map works because the routes are signed, and it's usually somewhat obvious at an intersection which road is the highway (and thus the one on my map, with the local road left off).

Currently, even if I have a good idea where I'm going, I have a hard enough time following most of the region's trails on the ground. NPS is the worst offender, with almost no signs and countless intersections in the Rock Creek-Potomac Park system, but Arlington and M-NCPPC aren't much better. I remember that Reston has an adequate (if typically too subtle) wayfinding scheme on its paths.

by Payton on Aug 30, 2012 2:01 am • linkreport

Also, a schematic diagram with simplified geometry makes sense for transit lines or even highways, where you're "along for the ride" and not hyper-aware of things like curves. For bicycling, though, I much prefer to anticipate things like curves, turns, and the like, and so generally rely on more detailed and accurate base maps.

by Payton on Aug 30, 2012 2:03 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Sydney on Aug 30, 2012 2:29 am • linkreport

Following up on Jordan Boyd-Grabe's comment, there definitely needs to be a connection between the Georgetown/Metropolitan Branch Trail and the Sligo Creek Trail, possibly along the Purple Line.

by Frank IBC on Aug 30, 2012 7:35 am • linkreport

The reason you can't make a bike map that zooms out and shows only "big" roads the way a highway map does is that there isn't any difference between the "big" bike roads and the "little" bike roads. There's generally poor maintainence of both (apart from a very few exceptions like W&OD) and, most importantly, we don't have grade-seperated high-volume "expressways" for bikes the way we do for cars.

by Mike on Aug 30, 2012 8:14 am • linkreport

@ Mike - the Capital Crescent Trail has no at-grade intersections between Bethesda Avenue and K Street except for the one at Little Falls Parkway. It's just one, but it's a start.

by Frank IBC on Aug 30, 2012 9:19 am • linkreport

Just to put things in a bit of perspective for the War on Drivers camp, here's the major southern entry/exit point to the city on the "car highway":

And here's the major southern entry/exit point to the city on the "bike highway":

by oboe on Aug 30, 2012 10:37 am • linkreport

Great comparison, Oboe. The focus on the awkward dog-leg is a nice touch.

by Frank IBC on Aug 30, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

"I would add Fairfax's Cross County Trail (spans the entire county from Great Falls to Occoquan Regional Park!) and the Holmes Run Trail from near Old Town to Annandale."

That nicely illustrates the problems with map like this once you go beyond the big obvious "bike highways" FFX CCT is a mix of smooth paved, not so smooth paved, gravel, and dirt, and with lots of competing non bike trail users. Its a good recreational facility, but not ideal for transportation cyclists (though Im sure its used by some). And Holmes Run trail does NOT run to Annandale - it ends at the city limit - you need to go on the street to cross the run into FFX (though a new trail bridge is coming, I think) and then you need to go on streets some distance to the seperate FFX holmes run park, whose trail though paved, is has lots of buckles over tree routes and other things that might deter a transportation cyclist.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 30, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

Rails to Trails Conservancy has mapped nearly all of the local trails mentioned and also much of the national trail network. You can view the maps for free at

by Jane on Aug 30, 2012 11:59 am • linkreport

@Jane: I had a look at I'm trying my best to be polite here, but... I'm really having trouble with the idea that reducing a trail network to a set of points on a map (one for each trail) is somehow useful. And, when you click on a symbol you get a map of the named trail only.

@Dan Malouff: I like the idea of your map, but feel that the ill-connected mess that is the Google bicycle layer more accurately reflects the ill-connected mess that is the Greater Washington bicycle "network." We won't have a bike map that is both realistic and pretty until the bicycle network improves.

by Jonathan Krall on Aug 31, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

@Jonathan: RTC has mapped more than 23,000 miles of trails around the country and it's probably the most accurate trails database available. You can view RTC's entire trail network on Traillinks national map.

Go to and click on the view all trail paths in the lower right to turn on the trail layer. You can also filter results by activity, length, etc. If you zoom out you'll see the blue state markers with the list of all the trails in each state. You will, however need to register on Traillink for free to view RTC's GIS data. It's a pretty cool site once you figure out how to use it.

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