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Plans for a sidewalk and bike lane get caught on trees

While a proposed sidewalk and bike lane on Broad Branch Road has community support, possible damage to trees has sparked opposition. But it's unclear why these particular trees are worth saving.

Alternative 4 includes a sidewalk and bike lane, but would impact more trees. All images from DDOT unless noted.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and engineering firm Parsons have developed three alternatives to rebuild the deteriorated road for an Environmental Assessment. Numerous problems make reconstruction necessary: a collapsed culvert, deteriorating roadbeds, and undergrade that is crumbling into the adjacent stream, which is ecologically dead from runoff.

Alternative 2 only has room for cars, but would hurt fewer trees.

Alternative 2, costing $29 million, will rebuild only the road, adding retaining walls and stormwater retention swales. Alternative 3, for $34 million, would also include a sidewalk, while Alternative 4 adds a sidewalk and a 3-foot bike lane on the northbound, uphill side of the road, at a cost of $37 million. But it could also impact up to 460 trees, 175 more than if the road was simply rebuilt.

Environmental groups don't want to give up trees for a sidewalk

Alternate 4 is the only configuration that connects the neighborhood to Rock Creek Park. Currently, residents either have to face a hostile road or drive to appreciate the extraordinary woodland. Rebuilding the route with a sidewalk will allow residents to take advantage of the park without having to find parking.

Additionally, an uphill climbing lane would make cycling, either for recreation or commuting, significantly easier. What makes Broad Branch essential as a bike and pedestrian route is that it was originally designed for non-motorized transportation. The gentle grade and tree shade matter much more for people moving under their own power.

Alternative 3 adds a sidewalk, but no bike lane.

That's why ANC3F, which represents almost all of Broad Branch, unanimously supported bicycle and pedestrian access, as well as the best possible stormwater management. Tenley-Friendship ANC3E praised it. ANC3G voted to support Alternate 4. Testimony at the November 15th public meeting overwhelmingly supported the multimodal design.

But a number of organizations ostensibly committed to sustainability have come out in opposition to that option, primarily because of the loss of trees. DDOT's environmental assessment counts between 285 and 460 trees of at least four inches in diameter as "impacted," meaning that at least 30% of their root structure would be damaged.

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, Casey Trees, and Commission on Fine Arts member Thomas Luebke have objected both to the loss of trees and loss of a "rural" look. One person at a recent presentation said she wasn't so "macho" as to be above driving into the park, if it saved trees. Another compared the 2-lane road to the Center Leg Freeway. On twitter, one critic called Ward 3 Vision's endorsement of Alternate 4 "anthropocentric."

I like trees. Joyce Kilmer likes trees. Everyone likes trees. But if we perpetuate auto-dependent appreciation of the park so as to not risk 175 specimens of unknown quality, then we are literally missing the forest for the trees.

What is a tree good for?

The reason for saving these trees is unclear. Is it for the enjoyment of residents? The environmental benefits for humans? Is it to preserve a tree as an element of the natural world? In all three cases, building the path and the bike lane would bring more lasting ecological benefits.

To preserve an environment for its own sake is to treat it as wilderness, where humans have no more impact than other animals. In a wilderness, the tree fills many niches as part of a larger ecosystem.

The National Park Service defines "wilderness" as the lack of motor vehicles and permanent structures. A paved road frequented by commuters, flanked by houses, and altered by two centuries of use definitely does not qualify.

Broad Branch Road with the Italian Ambassador's Residence gatehouse in the background. Photo by the author.

Critics of Smart Growth see urbanization as environmental degradation, but in the aggregate, densification protects rural and wild environments by using land more efficiently, especially as runoff from roads is the most pollutant-laden kind. However, as the Sierra Club's Kaid Benfield points out, density has its drawbacks in issues of air quality, aesthetics, and volume of water pollution.

Parks like Rock Creek counteract that effect. The "smart" in Smart Growth is striking the balance between those ecological effects globally as well as locally. On Broad Branch itself, the harm from damaged trees weighs against health gains from more activity, lowered vehicle emissions, and modern runoff infrastructure.

Plus, users would actually be able to stop and enjoy the beauty of the valley. It might no longer have the "country road" aesthetic Luebke praises, but it could take on any number of looks that have worked for metropolitan parks elsewhere. Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted and his sons, who designed Rock Creek Park, knew that a roadway could complement and frame the landscape, if it is well designed.

Cladding the retaining walls in stone, as the environmental assessment indicates, is a good step in getting good quality. However, where the design requires stream-side walls, using metal railings like the ones used on the Mission 66 bridges nearby would reduce the visual impact. Using dark stone set in dark mortar would make the uphill walls more discrete.

Controls to cut down reckless driving, like speed bumps and cameras are worth considering. A proposed T-intersection at Brandywine, with added stop signs on Broad Branch, would discourage speeding around that dangerous corner. Finally, DDOT should replant trees wherever feasible, with native species.

There are also a number of other projects in the area. Project managers should coordinate with the Soapstone Valley sewer replacement, 27th Street bridge reconstruction, and work with utilities to bury the overhead lines along the road.

Broad Branch Road has some very beautiful moments. A redesign that sensitively opens it to the broadest public will make the city more livable while making it easier to have a light impact on on the natural world.

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 think we're missing the obviously solution: If we add a bike lane and a sidewalk but take out the roadway for cars, we could plant more trees—and eliminate reckless driving altogether.

by Sally M. on Jan 31, 2014 1:36 pm • linkreport

Because rural roads always have a quarter mile backup of BMW's and Audis every morning.

by Crickey7 on Jan 31, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

While I love the sound of that, Sally, I don't think you could get away with a total closure. There are too many houses along the road. I do think that you could make it a one-way road, with different segments going either northbound or southbound so it's not a commuter route and keep the other lane for a trail / sidewalk. Unfortunately, this was not studied seriously.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 31, 2014 1:47 pm • linkreport

I see this as a test case for whether the Gray administration and DDOT are sincere about their desire to make DC a truly multi-modal city. This is so close to being a "no-brainer" decision, that for DDOT to cave into the silliness of the Casey Trees position and that of the NIMBYs would cement the notion that the loudest complainers win when it comes to smart growth.

by fongfong on Jan 31, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport

@fongfong - this is also a test case for Muriel Bowser who has apparently expressed reservations about this though because of the length of time for construction and not loss of trees.

Since alternative D serves 3 groups of users rather than 1 it should be a political no brainer but there seems to be a group of loud older folks in Crestwood making noise and that seems to be one of Muriel's main demographics.

by TomQ on Jan 31, 2014 2:02 pm • linkreport

TomQ: What test case for Muriel? I thought the jury was in.

-No to dedicated bus lanes on 16th Street.
-No to reductions in parking minimums.
-No to ADUs that will bring "strangers" to the neighborhood
-No to improving bus garages anywhere in her Ward
-Yes to any NIMBY request anywhere, anytime

If she hasn't said something about opposing this yet, it is simply because she is too busy espousing all her other anti-growth stances.

by fongfong on Jan 31, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

I hope they don't succeed in derailing the installation of a bike lane. Broad Branch Road is such a convenient and lovely route for me to commute by bike but I stopped using it after about 6 months. Especially northbound, motorists will always pass you around blind corners (and the road is virtually all blind corners) and I couldn't take the stress of thinking about if one of the cars erratically passing me would one day have to run me off the road to avoid an oncoming car. I just want to use it between Beach Drive and Brandywine, but instead I go way out of my way and use Connecticut Ave (and its parallel roads when possible), which is not ideal either. If it was safe to travel all the way from Beach Drive to Linnean Ave on Broad Branch it would be a wonderful route for cyclists from anywhere downtown to Chevy Chase and beyond.

I also like the idea of making Brandywine an all way stop T intersection. Its current design is kind of puzzling to me.

by mycrows on Jan 31, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

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

by NE John on Jan 31, 2014 2:19 pm • linkreport

Just sell the road off to the highest bidder, he/she can toll it, or tear it up and build homes, but that might make to much financial sense.

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 31, 2014 2:21 pm • linkreport

I'm a cyclist who rides every day in the city, and I would like more bike lanes, but trees along a stream like this are important as a stream buffer. Any rain that falls on pavement is just going to run off and add to already bad erosion problems. So it's clear to me why these particular trees should be saved. If they can't work out a way to do lanes space-wise, there should just be sharrows here.

by DE on Jan 31, 2014 2:22 pm • linkreport

@DE. Sharrows won't work here. Trust me on this.

by Crickey7 on Jan 31, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

Please visit this area. There are literally 10,000s of thousands of trees in the immediate area that will perform that buffer function.

More importantly, I understand this length of stream is effectively a dead zone anyway due to the urban run-off effect. So it is not as if this stream would be destroyed as a habitat for any living thing one way or another.

by fongfong on Jan 31, 2014 2:31 pm • linkreport

Several points in this article are quite misleading. First, Alternatives 3 (sidewalk) and 4 (sidewalk and bike lane) both connect the neighborhood to Rock Creek Park. Alternative 4 provides another connection, a bike lane, but that doesn't somehow eliminate Alternative 3.

Second, Mr. Flanagan has listed exactly two organizations that have supported Alternative 2 (at least one with all options) rather than Alternatives 3 and/or 4. That's it? This is a very flimsy construct for an article.

Did any environmental organizations support either Alternatives 3 or 4? Mr. Flanagan chooses not to say.

Finally, Mr. Flanagan suggests that Alternative 2 will not provide "modern runoff infrastructure" by setting trees against the infrastructure. This is not so. Alternatives 2, 3 and 4 include the same stormwater detention facilities.
So this is a false choice.

Nice picture, though.

by Al on Jan 31, 2014 2:39 pm • linkreport

ff - I have been there, though not on a bike, admittedly. Keep in mind also not just this stream, but the creek and river that it ultimately flows into. I'm just not going to agree with something that degrades water quality, even if in some other area it might benefit me.

Crikey, you are everywhere; enjoyed your posts on the great WP cold weather article). I know sharrows aren't the perfect solution. In all honesty it's the kind of road I like to avoid on a bike: Rural in nature but heavily trafficked by frantic commuters. Sucks but I really don't see a good solution.

by DE on Jan 31, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

The greenest thing to do would be to tear out the road and restore the stream bed and watershed.

Alternately you could narrow the road and serve cyclists and pedestrians and exclude cars which would also be good for improving water run-off and air quality in the park.

Someone please point to where any of these environmental groups advocated for that?

And BTW many of the trees in the area around the road and creek are listing because of constant soil erosion in large part caused by unmanaged run-off from the road these same environmentalists seem to believe is the best use of this space.

Thankfully the Friends of Rock Creek actually took some time to look at the EA and the different proposals and endorsed greater access for everyone and some tweaks to make that greater access greener - if any of the other groups in opposition did that I missed it.

And most flabbergasting to me is that the parking lots in the north end of RCP are almost always full on the weekend essentially capping the number of people who can access the park from its northern stretches - or will all of these environmental groups next be advocating for paving over some of the park for more parking?

by TomQ on Jan 31, 2014 2:49 pm • linkreport

The arguments in favor of widening Broad Branch are similar to those in favor of widening freeways, and we know what that accomplishes--increased capacity leads to increased traffic leading to arguments for more lanes. DC is quickly losing its tree canopy. Let's dedicate a lane of Connecticut Ave to bikes rather than widen Broad Branch.

by Don on Jan 31, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

Sucks but I really don't see a good solution.

Perhaps adding a sidewalk and bike lane that would allow more people to enjoy this kind-of rural/woodsy part of DC?

by drumz on Jan 31, 2014 2:51 pm • linkreport

@ Don

Respectfully, you analogy makes very little sense. I agree that adding a car travel lane does nothing but increase car travel. Here, it would mean increasing BIKE and PED travel. So you must mean that you don't support infrastructure changes that increase non-car travel.

Which is fine, if that is what you desire.

by fongfong on Jan 31, 2014 2:57 pm • linkreport

Mr. Flanagan absolutely did not suggest that Alternate 2 does not include remediation gardens:

Alternative 2, costing $29 million, will rebuild only the road, adding retaining walls and stormwater retention swales. Alternative 3, for $34 million, would also include a sidewalk, while Alternative 4 adds a sidewalk and a 3-foot bike lane on the northbound, uphill side of the road, at a cost of $37 million. But it could also impact up to 460 trees, 175 more than if the road was simply rebuilt.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 31, 2014 2:59 pm • linkreport

Why must the right-of-way expand from 33 to 47 feet? If you have to have sidewalks, why not put them next to the road and save four feet? I can hear the shrieks already -- that's dangerous! But that's been done in many places for many years, with no danger at all. This project illustrates a bigger problem in the way we build and rebuild our cities -- we separate all the functions from each other (car lanes, bike lanes, walking lanes, jogging lanes, delivery lanes, turning lanes). This not only produces ugliness (and gigantism), it's also more expensive to build and maintain. Why not have some functions, God forbid, SHARE space? Bikes and cars, for instance, done that for ages in other countries with no sign of political or moral collapse. And, in case you haven't noticed, we also indulge in over-lighting and far too many signs.

by Arnold Berke on Jan 31, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

drumz: If there were an option that did that without creating more environmental damage we wouldn't be having this discussion.

A narrow myopia does not help any group's perception in the broader community, and as a cyclist, I think it's bad for us, for instance, to be seen as wanting to pave things over at any cost for our own agenda. I don't think we are like that, but that will be the perception here.

by DE on Jan 31, 2014 3:07 pm • linkreport

To add to what TomQ said, a better way to solve the stormwater and canopy issues would be to install rain gardens on the excessively large roads that feed into Broad Branch. Road diet + canopy where we need it + less permeable surface = balance.

The Broad Branch Daylighting at the north end of the project is a good step.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 31, 2014 3:10 pm • linkreport

@ Arnold Berke - you are I'm sure aware that Broad Branch is a winding road?

And no doubt are aware how aggressively most people drive around here.

And hopefully aware that every couple of days a car ends up on a sidewalk somewhere in the DC area and that every year pedestrians are killed by cars on the sidewalk in this region?

Maybe we could have 2 way traffic on a one lane road with some small pull off areas for cars to wait for others to pass - I've been in some other National Parks where just such an arrangement has been made - and the other lane could be cyclists and pedestrians - that sounds like it would be in the spirit of what you are suggesting?

A 4 foot buffer for the sidewalk is a compromise necessitated by the narrowness of the right of way.

by TomQ on Jan 31, 2014 3:11 pm • linkreport

Bikes and cars, for instance, done that for ages in other countries with no sign of political or moral collapse.

I'm not so concerned about political and moral collapse. You're probably right about that. I am concerned about streets that aren't as safe for pedestrians and cyclists as they could be.


Similarly myopic is the view that a stand of trees is automatically more environmentally sound than adding options to a transportation network that would make it that much easier to travel without a car, ensuring a safer and cleaner city. That's Neil's point, that the groups opposed aren't considering anything larger than the trees themselves which naturally leads to the conclusion that there are no good solutions.

This situation calls for balance. And options that only assume that the status quo of only cars be allowed to operate here isn't balanced at all.

by drumz on Jan 31, 2014 3:15 pm • linkreport

@ Arnold

"But that's been done in many places for many years, with no danger at all." Got some facts on this? So you are telling me that where cars and bikes mix it is not more dangerous for the bike. Or where there is inadequate sidewalk space, life is not more dangerous for peds.

"Bikes and cars, for instance, done that for ages in other countries with no sign of political or moral collapse." Huh? You don't mean Denmark, or Germany, or any of the dozens of European countries where the infrastructure is separate?

It is easy for a non-cyclist to tell a cyclist to tough it out heading uphill on a two lane road. Even the strongest cyclists in town are terrified of this stretch of road. I am imagining you've not ever done this.

by fongfong on Jan 31, 2014 3:17 pm • linkreport

The community sees trees and a stream, and thinks healthy ecosystem to be protected. It's not healthy. The streambed has suffered decades of unnatural flow conditions because urbanization covered much of the watershed in impervious surfaces. The forest itself suffers from an unbalanced food chain as the entire top tier of predators is gone. The deer population goes through a boom and bust cycle that results in a generation of sapling trees being wiped out every few years.

The objections to a rather modest bit of roadwork on the grounds that it will detract from some kind of sylvan paradise is based on an incorrect picture. What's more, modern stormwater retention methods will amerliorate any increase in runoff. And the benefits to the intended users of the park, rather than commuters in cars, will be huge.

by Crickey7 on Jan 31, 2014 3:25 pm • linkreport

@Arnold Berke You make a very good point. The ROW is definitely too wide and the cost too high. Anyone who has ridden on the street knows that car and bike sharing in this stretch is problematic. Anyone who has ridden south of this stretch knows that sharing the path with pedestrians is not that big a deal. Since there is unlikely to be much pedestrian traffic, why not put bikes and peds on the same path and get rid of the difficult to maintain grass strip at the curb which is more of a city street detail anyway. A 39 ft ROW would be less expensive and impact fewer trees.

by Ron Eichner on Jan 31, 2014 3:29 pm • linkreport

Yes, tree removal is often disconcerting.

But let's keep in mind that NEW trees can be planted to ameliorate any temporary aesthetic challenges incurred during the installation of very beneficial, long-term public amenities.

This seems like a no brainer. Sidewalks and bicycles lanes will greatly enhance the Broad Branch community. With guarantees for tree replacement, it is win-win situation.

by Sage on Jan 31, 2014 3:40 pm • linkreport

@ Ron Eichner

For the same reason pedestrians object to cyclists riding on the sidewalk. It ain't safe for anyone so to mix bike and peds together tends to ignore the physics of the situation.

To suggest that because there are no peds taking their lives in their hands with today's structure means they won't use the sidewalk in the future is hard to prognosticate. But if taking the sidewalk meant getting buzzed by a bike or being force into the street to avoid a bike, I see a fatality in your future.

by fongfong on Jan 31, 2014 3:43 pm • linkreport

@ Ron Eichner I think you haven't spent too much time on the multi-use trail in RCP if you think it is adequate and enough other people agree that the MUT is being studied. And enough bikers agree that many stay on the road south of Broad Branch.

Also please remember that the proposed bike lane is only for the north/west bound lane and bikers headed south will in some cases probably use the sidewalk so what you are suggesting is already likely to be what happens but it will be happening on a 6 foot sidewalk rather than the 8 foot multi use trail that you referenced.

So you would put 2 way bike traffic (and on a road with a significant grade which makes even good cyclists wobble) and pedestrians on a 6 foot sidewalk with no buffer next to a winding road? Sorry no sale here.

The question of how many people will use the sidewalk is a fair one but if other paths in similar density northern neighborhoods are any guide most likely the sidewalk will be used by runners to access the park and will be used in good numbers.

by TomQ on Jan 31, 2014 3:43 pm • linkreport

@Neil Flanagan

My mistake. But this sentence doesn't help your cause.

On Broad Branch itself, the harm from damaged trees weighs against health gains from more activity, lowered vehicle emissions, and modern runoff infrastructure.

All three serious alternatives include modern runoff infrastructure (there is a fourth- a no build alternative). In fact, Alternatives 3 and 4 add impervious surface, which will increase the runoff. Removing trees will worsen the problem.

by Al on Jan 31, 2014 3:44 pm • linkreport

As a cyclist, I say remove 460 trees from a forest in order to give park access to walkers and bikers where currently only cars have access. It's undemocratic to restrict the park road to car traffic only. Traveling by foot and bike instead of driving will more than offset the environmental impact of the tree removal. And the walkers and bikers will actually be able to enjoy the forest, unlike the motorists who have the windows up and the climate control on while their cars spew pollutants.

by likedrypavement on Jan 31, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

Ok, how about this "Close The Road", let nature eat the road. Is that so far outside the realm of possibility?

-That is exactly what happened to Klingle Rd(same configuration approximately a mile south of here), and guess what Washington DC didn't collapse into a black hole, what a surprise.

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 31, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

ANC 3F had a resolution later than the one linked. It explicitly endorsed Alternate 4, but also added a few recommendations designed to lessen the impacts of the road reconstruction. It was also unanimously approved. I am trying to get the final resolution and have it posted to the ANC website, where it should have been all along.

The D.C. Sierra Club, I'm a member of the board, has not taken a stance on the Broad Branch Road reconstruction. There are those who wish to see the trees protected and others, such as me, who want to have people enjoy the park other than through a car windshield. The Sierra Club's position may already be moot due to time.

On the intersection of Brandywine, I believe a traffic circle will help retain the existing pocket park, calm traffic, and make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

by Bob Summersgill on Jan 31, 2014 3:52 pm • linkreport

@ TomQ Southbound bikes on sharrows, northbound slow and wobbling bikes on a shared path with pedestrians. It really sounds pretty workable for a route that is unlikely to be heavily used by pedestrians, especially at peak automobile times.

by Ron Eichner on Jan 31, 2014 3:56 pm • linkreport

DE, I commuted to work by bike this morning on Broad Branch and was passed by a car maybe a foot from my bike. Its a matter of time until a cyclist gets hurt on Broad Branch from the poor design combined with crazy drivers.

I love trees too, I even have some in my yard, and their fall leaves are busy decomposing in my compost pile.

However, Broad Branch could be much safer for cyclists. Unwillingness to trade some trees for safety, and probably a lot more people traveling the road by bike, doesn't make any sense.

@Fongfong, The stream is not effectively a dead zone. Its not in great shape, but it still has a lot of critters.

by turtleshell on Jan 31, 2014 3:58 pm • linkreport

reduce both car lanes to 8' and keep the bike and ped facilities.
8' lanes will slow traffic down and enhance everything while saving trees.

by Richard on Jan 31, 2014 3:58 pm • linkreport

@Tom Q

Kudos to Rock Creek Conservancy (formerly Friends of Rock Creek's Environment) for their careful consideration of the alternatives.

Let's look at the two (2!) organizations called out in this article. Casey Trees is an environmental non-profit is entirely concerned with the protection, care and planting of trees. So it is not surprising that they oppose the removal of over 150 trees.

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club is a non-profit that has operations in the mid-Atlantic region, and in DC, its concerns are the hiking trails in Rock Creek Park. PATC did support a sidewalk on Broad Branch, but not those envisioned in Alternatives 3 and 4. It supported one that linked a hiking trail with Beach Drive (this was one of the options in Alternative 2). That detail was omitted from the article.

Somehow I can't get too upset about two non-profits choosing not to fully support a significant expansion of the ROW. Particularly when one of them is oriented toward the protection of trees!

Did any other environmental organizations weigh in on this?
This seems like someone is trying to invent a divide where little evidence of one exists.

by Al on Jan 31, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

@Ron Eichner - we also want whatever we put in there to be appealing to the additional users it will hopefully attract and walking adjacent to the road is not appealing to most people nor is sharing space with cyclists - this only sounds appealing to the trees.

We require buffers for a good reason.

But if we are compromising standards why not narrow the travel lanes to 9 feet? Two way traffic flows on 30 foot wide streets throughout DC which effectively have at most 9 foot wide lanes?

by TomQ on Jan 31, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

I'm in favor of Alternative 4, but my idea would be to convert the road to one-way for motorists and use the other lane as a two-way multi-use path. The road could change directions depending on time of day to coincide with rush hour traffic.

Here's my idea on Streetmix:

(Note: the stone wall is represented by the bollards, and the curb/gutters are represented by the medians.)

by bobco85 on Jan 31, 2014 5:01 pm • linkreport


I floated that idea a couple of years ago and it went nowhere.

by Andrew on Jan 31, 2014 5:09 pm • linkreport

Oddly enough, building The Alternate 2 Option B sidewalk that PATC supports would result in a 14-foot retaining wall in one of the most prominent locations, exactly the kind of aesthetic intrusion Luebke objects to. Whose narrow focus is right?

Design is process of balancing non-commensurable interests. Stormwater management is not objectively more valuable than pedestrian access - or beauty, or cost, or canopy, and so on for a hundred factors. In the post that followed the headline, I argued that Option 4 achieves a balance that Option 2 does not. Especially when when

I find it telling that you took a sentence that specifically invokes compromises and compensations between multiple goals and chose to focus on one factor, to see if it can break down my argument. But it can't because it's not about treating the stream as a one-dimensional water flow problem, like a sewer.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 31, 2014 5:18 pm • linkreport

* Especially when the amount of runoff that this particular sidewalk would add is a minuscule fraction of what the overbuilt road network dumps into the sewers that feed Broad Branch.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 31, 2014 5:20 pm • linkreport

Impervious surface seems to be a nonissue. All of the alternatives will send stormwater runoff to rain gardens or other green treatments. All of the alternatives will improve the water quality in Broad Branch. The environmental assessment says the beneficial impacts to water resources will be similar no matter which alternative is selected.

So the main impact will be visual: the road will be about 50% wider. The trees will not create the same tunnel effect; they will be set back farther from the road. It will look more like a country route and less like a country lane. It will be a noticeable change.

One thing that concerns me is the increased width of the road might lead to more speeding. I hope the lane striping will be extra visible.

by Laurence Aurbach on Jan 31, 2014 7:29 pm • linkreport

I guess I'd like to see people, when the word "safety" comes up, to not be so knee-jerk, which has led to so much mischief in the way we design roads. We should remember that we have brains capable of making decisions, that design itself can't always do it for us. My preference would be to repave the road, correct any drainage problems, and then leave the damn thing alone. And we should stop assuming that every single one of us has to be made happy in situations like this. Some of us, at some point, have to accept the word "no."

by Arnold Berke on Jan 31, 2014 8:26 pm • linkreport

This is such a beautiful stretch of park. It's a shame not to give people a chance to walk it safely. Trees grow back.

by Thayer-D on Jan 31, 2014 8:45 pm • linkreport

@ Arnold

Works for you. Enjoy continued drives through the park. But I don't really get your logic. Brains will make cars less likely to run over pedestrians? How's that working out so far?

by fongfong on Jan 31, 2014 9:24 pm • linkreport

@Neil Flanagan

I couldn't agree more with the argument that proper design involves balance. Broad Branch Road is a tough place to achieve that with its narrow corridor and array of problems.
Your opinion is clear, and I certainly respect that. In fact, I happen to concur that Alternative 4 offers the most benefit for users.

We part ways with the unnecessarily divisive and somewhat silly approach of calling out two small non-profits for their focus on their own worthy missions. I doubt PATC would have commented if the Soapstone Valley Trail didn't intersect with Broad Branch Road. If there was some consensus by environmental organizations around opposing the alternatives, that would be different. But there clearly isn't. Rock Creek Conservancy supports Alternative 4 and DC Sierra Club members have as well. But perhaps that wouldn't make a very powerful hook for the article.

I'm afraid that you've missed the point about the selected sentence. I found it deceptive due to its suggestion that modern stormwater infrastructure (among other benefits) must be weighed against tree loss at Broad Branch when no such choice exists. The infrastructure is planned for all three alternatives. The choice is elsewhere.

*Let's try again. All three serious alternatives include the same stormwater infrastructure. The differences are in the pedestrian access, cyclist access, tree loss and impervious surface. Others may include aesthetics. One can argue that the advantages of providing greater pedestrian and cyclist access outweigh the disadvantages of tree loss and of widening the impervious surface by 10 feet from top to bottom, but it will have a negative impact on the stream.

Now, let's advocate for reducing the impervious surface in the area by narrowing the roads in the Broad Branch watershed and for protecting the headwaters of Broad Branch. Have you seen the parcel of park land between 36th Street, Nevada Ave and the strip including Politics and Prose? It's awful.

by Al on Feb 1, 2014 1:02 am • linkreport

Ugh. Apparently the "environmentalists" pretty much drive everywhere and think everyone else should as well.

Regarding the design, a 4 foot bike lane next to 10 foot car lane is absurd. Get rid if the bike lane and gutter and make the sidewalk a 12 foot wide, shared use path. Same right if way, but a much more useful facility.

by TransitSnob on Feb 1, 2014 7:41 am • linkreport

I don't think there would be too much argument from readers on this website to reducing the impervious surface in the area by narrowing roads in the Broad Branch watershed. Ultimately the issue boils down to whether the park should be a park and accessible by those who happen not to be using a car, or if walking and biking should continue to be a hazardous exercise.

In the context of a part with tens of thousands of trees, the potential loss here is, in my option, more than offset by the environmental benefit of being able to access the area in a non-car manner.

I think the author's point is, if that were a true concern, then looking at the alternatives holistically would yield one of two different conclusions, either Alternative 4, or the alternative the maintains or reduces the current footprint of the roadbed and removes the priority for automobiles from the equation. Since that alternative wasn't seriously considered, it, in my opinion, leaves alternative 4 as the best "environmental" option.

by William on Feb 1, 2014 7:44 am • linkreport

Fongfong: Yes, that is what I meant. Proper use of brains, and that includes eyes, would indeed reduce accidents. I was trying to point out that design alone can't accomplish that, though we seem to think it will. But since distractions tend to rule us these days, maybe it's too much to ask for people (and that includes drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians)to simply look and listen.

by Arnold Berke on Feb 1, 2014 10:49 am • linkreport


That's disappointing. What was the reasoning for rejecting that idea?

by bobco85 on Feb 1, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

It is important to read the Environmental Assessment report. The authors are experts and they exhaustively studied the potential environmental impacts of the four alternatives. The report is very detailed. I don't think one should adopt an opinion on this issue without such study. I read the entire report before I voted on this issue as an ANC Commissioner. What I learned was that Alt. 4 (sidewalks/bike lanes) will not have a deletarious impact on the surrounding environment, that the "trees" to be destroyed or damaged in the construction process are in many cases not much (4" diameter, invasive species), although in others they are more substantial indigenous trees, but the process, when completed, will result in more indigenous, healthy trees being planted, and the overall runoff situation into the stream and park will be improved, such that the project, on the whole, will actually be a positive environmental benefit to the park. Maintaining the status quo is actually a bad choice for the health of the stream and park, as the current runoff situation is a negative. So as it turns out, those opposed to the project would actually hurt the park, while those in favor, would help it. The important point here is not adopt an opinion based on a short article or in line with a general philosophical feeling you may have about the "environment." The "Lorax reaction" is not particularly helpful compared to environmental science. I was surprised, and am surprised, how many people with strong or fixed views on this issue have not read the EA. Envirnmental scientists have an expertise that deserve our attention and deference, be it with regard to the consensus that global climate change is real, or with regard to whether a sidewalk/bike lane will or will not have a positive or negative impact on the adjacent environment. With a degree of respect and deference for science, my own vote on this issue was heavily influenced by that objective EA report. The EA report also reminds us that this area is not a pristine natural area. It has a long history manipulation by human development. At one point or another, nearly all of the trees in this area were felled. The status quo situation is actually the outcome of some fairly poor choices made many decades ago, before the advent of environmental science. But we can only go forward from the status quo. The reality of the status quo is that this is a heavily travelled road with a road badly in need of reconstruction. The roadwork is the vast bulk of the cost and the roadwork alone will impact many trees. The *incremental* impact of adding a sidewalk/bike lane at the same time is not overly significant, would fulfill a public good, would not have a negative impact on the adjacent environment, and the overall project would in fact improve the environmental health of the adjacent environment. Also big picture, this is a park within a city, so the public policy balance is quite different from, say, protected federal forestland in the Shennadoah. In the middle of a city, we have to strike a different balance, for the broader public good, and while any project like this must satisfy the standards of an EA, this one in fact did. ANC opinions probably don't count for much on these sorts of projects, but that, anyway, is why I voted in favor of alternative 4.

by Gary Thompson on Feb 1, 2014 11:36 am • linkreport

Neil Flanagan’s thoughtful article may have created a false impression that environmental groups generally oppose construction of a bike lane and footpath along Broad Branch. The article failed to mention that Rock Creek Conservancy, which is devoted to the welfare of the Rock Creek watershed for public enjoyment, has endorsed the construction of a bike lane and footpath as necessary for safe, non-motorized public access to Rock Creek Park. The Conservancy did not, however, endorse any specific alternative floated by DDOT.

Rock Creek Conservancy is indeed concerned about tree impacts in the Broad Branch Valley, where the lush tree canopy helps to keep the stream cool, to the benefit of native flora and fauna. In order to minimize tree impacts, the Conservancy has urged DDOT to consider narrowing the footpath and to have it terminate the at Brandywine Street. This balanced approach “connects the neighborhood to Rock Creek Park” while preserving much of the tree canopy that helps make this national park a pleasant refuge within the city.

by Rick Morgan on Feb 1, 2014 2:29 pm • linkreport

I read the Rock Creek Conservancy's comments before writing this post and found them to be very insightful. I'm sorry to give the impression that ALL environmental groups oppose the options I believe are necessary.

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 1, 2014 3:56 pm • linkreport

With all due respect, Mr. Morgan, ending the trails at Brandywine Street are fine for the people who live or want to park in Forest Hills, but for people in Chevy Chase and further north, it is simply forcing bikes and pedestrians to go up the (very steep) Brandywine hill and then to Linnean and north. It seems reasonable for the Conservancy to make this suggestion, but in reality, it is not one of the options as proposed, so it is completely meaningless.

How about we just close Broad Branch Road at Brandywine Street and let people drive that route and the bicyclists and pedestrians can use what remains?

Same could be said of the suggestion on local listservs that vehicles use Broad Branch and bikes/peds use Ridge Road. How about the opposite, since Broad Branch has the most favorable climb out of the park?

by William on Feb 1, 2014 5:27 pm • linkreport

I concur with William that Broad Branch Rd provides the most favorable climb out of the Park for cyclists. That's precisely why Rock Creek Conservancy supports completion of an uphill bike lane ALL THE WAY to Linnean Ave, toward Chevy Chase. Terminating the footpath (only) at Brandywine St would still provide a much-needed non-motorized access point for Forest Hills and adjacent neighborhoods while preserving more of the valley's tree canopy. The Conservancy has offered this balanced approach as a way to reconcile protection of trees in the Broad Branch Valley with a compelling need for bicycle and pedestrian access.

by Rick Morgan on Feb 1, 2014 9:39 pm • linkreport

Why does the sidewalk have to be adjacent to the road? Why couldn't it meander BETWEEEN the trees, instead?

Especially in areas like this, road designers need to think imaginatively to fit the project to the area's context, not just do business as usual.

by Z. Fechten on Feb 1, 2014 9:51 pm • linkreport

I stand corrected, Mr. Morgan, thank you. I do like the idea that a pedestrian facility meander as needed, rather than be a traditional sidewalk. Perhaps there is a solution there?

by William on Feb 1, 2014 11:36 pm • linkreport

Seems weird to me that we need a sidewalk at all. There is a parallel dirt path on the other side of the stream. I sidewalk is for 'functional transportation--shopping, getting to work, etc. Any pedestrians walking on Broad Branch are doing it for recreation. A parallel dirt path will suffice. That would narrow the right of way.

Second, Rock Creek's watershed is at least 70% impervious. From a water quality perspective this is one dead waterbody. Until we deal with the impervious surfaces up stream, worrying about buffering broad branch runoff is a red herring.

by Brett on Feb 2, 2014 3:22 pm • linkreport

Bicycles are not allowed on most unpaved paths in RCP, Brett. Further, I doubt the dirt path actually connects the neighborhoods to the park, nor does it extend the length of the proposed sidewalk (in fact, I'm sure it doesn't.

by Crickey7 on Feb 3, 2014 9:39 am • linkreport

@William: the excavation necessary to create a stable trail bed will kill even more trees if the trail is winding through the woods. If it is outside of the runoff controls of the road project it will cause additional erosion, probably more than the road itself if modern runoff controls are implemented on the road. Natural trails through the woods sound good, but unless they are extremely lightly utilized they are actually very hard on the woods, and maintenance-intensive.

by Mike on Feb 4, 2014 7:59 am • linkreport

The alternatives presented in this EA have made us short-sighted. What we really should be asking ourselves is, "Is Broad Branch Road the best place to add a bike/ped connection into/through Rock Creek Park?" and, if it's not, "Where does the addition of these bike facilities make both environmental and fiscal sense?"

For over a year, DDOT has been in the process of stepping back from myopic, project-based planning and asking these types of questions - for all modes of transportation - in their moveDC plan: "a bold and implementation-focused new vision... for the DC region." moveDC's proposed draft transportation master plan does not show bike lanes or paths proposed for Broad Branch Road. It instead shows a proposed bike lane on Linnean Avenue, a road running slightly parallel to Broad Branch Road, with a proposed bike/ped trail connecting Linnean Avenue to the existing Rock Creek Park Trail along Beach Drive(through the park).

I say we accept the needs for an environmentally-sensitive rehabilitation of Broad Branch Road and start discussing when the city can construct a bike lane in a better location - on Linnean Ave - which could accommodate bike facilities in both directions.

by Nellie on Feb 4, 2014 10:51 am • linkreport

"Is Broad Branch Road the best place to add a bike/ped connection into/through Rock Creek Park?

DDOT says Yes. It is. Which makes the second question moot.

by David C on Feb 4, 2014 10:57 am • linkreport

Yes, why not go with a 12' hike/bike sidepath (perhaps with a dividing, broken yellow line) and no bikes lane(s) at all? Or is it better engineering to have the uphill bike lane?

by DaveG on Feb 4, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

@DaveG: because the cyclists should be encouraged to ride in the street rather than endanger pedestrians on the side path. Sidepaths are generally a terrible facility for both cyclists and pedestrians and should only be used when there isn't a better option (not the case here).

by Mike on Feb 5, 2014 9:00 am • linkreport


You may or may not be familiar with riding conditions on this road during rush hour. I am. Even the strongest cyclist can go only about 12-15 mph here. Cars should be going 25 tops, less on the numerous curves, but often go 35 mph even around curves. And indeed, there are lots of curves. Only an idiot would try to pass a cyclist on a curve, especially a blind one. It's never, ever safe. You would be shocked at how many idiots there are every day.

The problem stems from the use of this road as a commuter feeder onto Beach Drive, a use it is poorly suited for and which runs directly counter to the Park's charter. We cyclsits accept that political realities are such that this cannot change. But other thigns can, starting with making Broad Branch into the kind of road that accomodates the type of users for which the Park is really intended.

by Crickey7 on Feb 5, 2014 9:09 am • linkreport

@Crickey7: that speaks to why a climbing bike lane is appropriate, not that the downhill-speeding cyclists should be on the sidewalk.

by Mike on Feb 6, 2014 9:05 am • linkreport

I drive that stretch frequently, and used to cycle it. There are thousands of trees. Taking out a couple of dozen will not hurt the park in any way. Add a sidewalk and bike path!

by Dan Gamber on Feb 13, 2014 8:56 am • linkreport

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