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DDOT may include bikes and pedestrians on Broad Branch

The badly deteriorated Broad Branch Road in northwest Washington could become a more complete street that will accommodate pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers, as part of a much-needed restoration.

Photo from DDOT.

Winding west from Rock Creek to Chevy Chase, the 2-mile-long route does double duty for recreation and commuting. It's necessary link between upper northwest's neighborhoods, Rock Creek Park, and downtown.

Originally a market road for local farmers, most of its current infrastructure dates to the early 20th century. Patchwork fixes have only staved off a century of deterioration. Flooding has undermined the road's substructure, most dramatically in 2011, when the bridge over Soapstone Creek collapsed. Since it needs to replace the roadbed anyway, DDOT has taken the opportunity to update the design for modern uses.

The Broad Branch area. Bike routes appear in blue on the right map. Image from DDOT.

Three constituencies use the road regularly: motorists, cyclists, and joggers. The first has no real difficulty using the road, but the road and its bridges were built for smaller cars going slower. The road, after all, was originally a market path for local farmers.

Cyclists can use the road, but they have to keep to a quick pace. It's not suitable for children, deterring families from using their neighborhood parkland. Finally, there are no real facilities for joggers, let alone walkers, but they have to skirt the roadway to access Soapstone Valley, which feeds Broad Branch.

That means that currently, the Broad Branch only optimally serves motorists, mostly during rush hour. Early community outreach has produced 4 options for an Environmental Assessment. Beyond the no-action alternative, one proposal is to simply rebuild the road, altering it to improve safety and reduce the footprint.

A third alternative would add a sidewalk, while the most substantial would include a full-length bike lane in the uphill direction as well as the sidewalk. All rebuilding options would all include stormwater retention gardens and contextually-appropriate safety walls.

Sample cross-sections of each alternative between 32nd and 27th Streets, NW.

Sample cross-sections of each alternative around Davenport Street, NW.

Sample cross-sections of each alternative south of Brandwine Street, NW.

Of the alternatives, only the fourth takes advantage of the route's potential. A quiet, wooded route with a low grade is ideal for use by cyclists and pedestrians. For commuters, Alternative 4 is ideal. It includes a 4' bike lane in the uphill direction of traffic, but not one downhill.

Given the narrow right-of-way, this option is the best use of space, because cyclists on Broad Branch can often move with traffic going downhill, but only the most athletic can sustain 25mph uphill for two miles.

Making Broad Branch more convenient for cyclists will open up large swaths of upper northwest to sustainable forms of commuting. Residents won't have to huff and puff up the hills and ridges that make Upper Northwest so exhaustingly "upper." Cycling neighbors could practically coast all the way in via the bike path along Rock Creek and comfortably ride home.

The bike lane and sidewalk will also benefit locals looking for recreation in their own neighborhood. Most of Rock Creek is surrounded by steep escarpments that make access to it difficult and dangerous for residents on either end of the age spectrum. A paved sidewalk on the easy slope of Broad Branch will increase accessibility dramatically for a wide range of abilities. The valley itself would also be more usable to residents, making it more of an amenity than it currently is.

A criticism of alternative 4 is that it encroaches on the streambed and increases the amount of paving along the road. These issues should be addressed with design elements that reduce runoff. Signage at the rain gardens, as well as other sites of interest would provide an opportunity for interpretation of the park, history, and the impact of urbanization. More importantly, by making alternative modes of commuting more convenient, a complete Broad Branch road would reduce automobile pollution.

To make the most impact this project needs to be part of a larger network. The sidewalk bill is one part of this. Any plans should take into consideration the opportunity to calm traffic and improve safety by adding bike lanes on the unnecessarily wide Nevada Avenue, which is the extension of Broad Branch up a former stream valley. The potential of a Broad Branch that serves all uses should not be passed over.

Because the road needs to be so radically rebuilt, the opportunity to make these changes will not come again for many years. It is important that the road meet the ecologically sensitive needs of the population 50 years from now. Rebuilding it as a car-only route would be a serious mistake.

DDOT is interested in hearing from the public. To make that easy, any comments you post here will automatically also go to the project email address.

Neil Flanagan grew up in Ward 3 before graduating from the Yale School of Architecture. He is pursuing an architecture license. He really likes walking around and looking at stuff.  


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I jog along this road regularly, and you're absolutely right that it needs a rebuild to accomodate pedestrians and bikers as well as car commuters.

by Dan Miller on Nov 29, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

Rock Creek Park definitely needs more paths of entry to pedestrians/cyclists on both sides of the park. At the National Zoo and all points south, the park is well loved and the paths often crowded. However, the vast majority of the park is underutilized, and as the article notes, much of the facilities/bridges/roads are aging/delapidated.

I strongly encourage them to include bicycile and foot paths in the plan for a rebuilt Broad Branch.

Does the National Park Service need to buy-in as well, since they manage the park itself?

by Adam on Nov 29, 2012 1:54 pm • linkreport

Thanks to Neil for this excellent write-up.

There is a nice piece on this issue here:

And there is a survey embedded in the 2nd paragraph which I hope folks will go and take - I voted for Alternative 4.

by TomQ on Nov 29, 2012 2:17 pm • linkreport

I live in this neighborhood and would love to see option 4 built. It's extremely dangerous to walk or cycle on Broad Branch now, and there are serious drainage problems that are constantly eroding the edges of the road.

I hope, however, that DDoT is prepared for the wrathful opposition that I'm sure some loud voices in my neighborhood will rain down on this.

by LM on Nov 29, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

While we are waiting for the rebuilding, how about clearing all the vegetation from the East side of the road. The road is very windy, and vegetation blocks sight lines, and forces peds and cyclists into the road. This is a relatively cheap thing that can be done now.

by SJE on Nov 29, 2012 2:54 pm • linkreport

I would like to see a separated bike lane too - make the rain garden 5' on both sides to accomplish this?

yes on a bike going downhill you can get a good speed up, but going downhill is also among the highest risk places for crash and injury on a bike. What if a want to ride my brakes downhill? No place for me? Shared use is not a good answer ("ride the sidewalk") - we know empirically that both bikers and pedestrians are safer when they are not forced to share a path.

by Tina on Nov 29, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

Thanks, TomQ, for the link to the Forest Hills Connection and the survey! I also voted for option 4, though I was disappointed to see a comment from one of my ANC Commissioners supporting the status quo.

by LM on Nov 29, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

Good luck getting anything with more paved surface past NPS.

by Some Ideas on Nov 29, 2012 4:12 pm • linkreport

I'd worry that a non-separated bike lane would increase the overall apparent width of the traffic lanes and make many drivers feel comfortable going faster than they already do. Reducing motorized traffic speeds seems like an obvious way to make cyclists and pedestrians feel more comfortable on the roads in the park. Has NPS given any consideration to traffic calming or speed enforcement? Or am I being naive?

by jimble on Nov 29, 2012 6:19 pm • linkreport

Alternative 4 is the best of the solutions, but I would like to see pike/ped facilities on both sides of the road. Access to and from the park by alternatives to cars is very important. I hope the National Park Service and DDOT are listening and make this a priority.

by William on Nov 29, 2012 8:46 pm • linkreport

I certainly would like to see separated facilities, but the ROW is already very constrained. Perhaps they should consider separating a cycle track at the northwestern end, but it's out of the question for the gorge areas.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 29, 2012 8:57 pm • linkreport

The same needs to happen on Park Road between Mount Pleasant and Pierce Mill. Mount Pleasant for being right next to the park has horrible pedestrian/bike access to it. The roads leading to it porter/klingle and Park are not pedestrian friendly at all and access at Harvard Rd closes when the zoo closes it's bridge. Park rd has no sidewalks at all and klingle with a sidewalk on one side but speeding cars make for an unpleasant walk. Pedestrians should have equal or better access to the park as cars.

by Johnny on Nov 30, 2012 12:34 pm • linkreport

The various alternatives are meaningless without knowing more about the environmental impact and appearance of the alternatives that require a wider right-of-way -- along with the cost and projected construction schedule.
It would be wonderful to accommodate all travel modes. But can that be done while safeguarding the there money in the budget for such a project...and can the project be completed in a way that shuts down a significant thoroughfare for the shortest period possible?
One thing that is not stressed enough in these plans is fixing the basic infrastructure in advance of Broad Branch Road falling into the creek (as it threatens to do). This roadway, built in 1839, is the oldest road in the surrounding area that still goes anywhere. A slightly older historic route, Klingle Road, was allowed to deteriorate - so some users of Broad Branch are skeptical of DDOT's plans and whether the process will take so long that it becomes moot.
To me, the first priority is to ensure the road's integrity while protecting the creek. The second priority is to allow safe access on foot to the Soapstone Valley Trail. The more complex alternatives should only be considered if DDOT can tackle such a project in an environmentally-sound, affordable and expeditious manner.

by David Swerdloff on Dec 1, 2012 6:05 pm • linkreport

But can that be done while safeguarding the environment.


is there money in the budget for such a project.

There is money available. There's no budget yet, but the money is there if this project is approved.

and can the project be completed in a way that shuts down a significant thoroughfare for the shortest period possible?

Yes. But obviously, it won't be. Because doing that would require 100 crews working 24 hours a day (think Extreme Makeover Home Edition). So it will be done as fast as is reasonable, right up to the point where the cost of going faster outweigh the benefits.

by David C on Dec 1, 2012 10:39 pm • linkreport

I wish I was as sure as David C that all the answers will be "yes."
Shoehorning in the wider right of way seems more problematic to me. And, if budget is not going to be a problem, why hasn't there ever been money in the past to fix Broad Branch Road, which has been slowly crumbling and regularly flooding during the 27 years I've lived a few blocks away?
I hope he is right - and that the Full Monty can be accomplished before the road becomes impassable. But the proposals, no matter how wonderful they appear, have not come with details on the environmental impact or cost.
It's not as if I want the cheapest alternative. That's what we got when we finally succeeded in getting a hiking/biking path down Blagden Avenue. The result was a path that is hard for bicycles to access and an intersection at Beach Drive that remains dangerous to cross. It was a bad solution that was very long in coming. So I'm not so confident about what they can build along Broad Branch...and when.

by David Swerdloff on Dec 2, 2012 1:12 am • linkreport

I am a year-round daily bike commuter who travels between Mount Pleasant and upper Bethesda, using Broad Branch on average 2-3 times a week. While I agree with this article and support Alternative 4, I and many other cyclists will not use the side path but rather continue to ride on the roadway. Such paths are less safe for cyclists traveling at higher speeds (12-25 mph) due to natural debris, dogs, distracted pedestrians, etc. These are the same reasons that I do not use the paths along Beach Dr. within RCP, but rather ride on Beach Dr. proper. So whatever alternative DDOT adopts, I hope they improve signage indicating that bicycles are permitted on the roadway and that drivers must pass safely.

by Diane on Dec 2, 2012 9:42 am • linkreport

I bike frequently on Broad Branch Parkway, and a separate bike lane in the uphill direction would be a terrific addition.

I also hike or run on a loop route that takes me from the Melvin Hazen Trail to the Soapstone Valley trail. These two beautiful trails are some of DC's best-kept secrets, but unfortunately the only way to get from one to the other involves walking on a stretch of Broad Branch Parkway with no shoulder or sidewalk. I've had more than one close call there, and having a safe way to do that loop on foot would make a wonderful amenity even better.

by Herb Caudill on Dec 3, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

. And, if budget is not going to be a problem, why hasn't there ever been money in the past to fix Broad Branch Road, which has been slowly crumbling and regularly flooding during the 27 years I've lived a few blocks away?

There has been money. What has been missing is the political will to get it done. And I didn't say budget wouldn't be a problem. I said DC has the money. Those are two different things.

by David C on Dec 3, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport

Agreed that Alternative 4 is the best option of the lot. There are concerns about the narrowness of the corridor, however, and I'm a bit skeptical that Alternative 4 is possible- at least between Beach Drive and the Brandywine intersection. At the very least, a sidewalk should be constructed between the nearby parking lot and the eastern trailhead of the Soapstone Valley Trail.

And though this falls somewhat outside of the parameters for this project, DDOT and DDOE need to begin collaborating on stormwater retention projects around Soapstone Creek and other tributaries. The bridge failure last year was due in part to the severe flooding of Soapstone Creek, and during every major storm event, debris is washed up onto Broad Branch Road. The DC Govt must stop using these waterways as
dumping sites for its stormwater.

by DCT on Dec 3, 2012 8:37 pm • linkreport

I'm a recreational cyclist who rides over 100 miles a week in and around Rock Creek Park. Occasionally I get to Beach Drive via Broad Branch. I do that, however, only on weekends when traffic in lighter. As noted by others, the roadway is a mess and has been for as long as I can remember. That, in itself, contributes to the risks for cyclists, particularly riding up hill. It's nearly impossible to keep at the edge of the road since the worst deterioration is along the sides. I'm pleased to see that DDOT is considering improvements to the road and, of course, I urge them to adopt option four. Really, Rock Creek Park and its access roads are park lands, not commuter routes. And the first priority should be to park users, not commuters. I would really like to see access to the Park restricted for cars. But short of that option four is the best approach.

by Richard Mounts on Dec 4, 2012 6:58 pm • linkreport

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