National Harbor to cyclists, pedestrians: Drop dead
Saturday was the official opening of the Wilson Bridge active transportation crossing. It's hard to find a better facility in the region. Beginning at the Mount Vernon Trail on South Washington Street in Alexandria, the path is wide and spacious to accommodate all users, the kiosks along the route are informative and the view north is spectacular. On the Maryland side, the bridge over the Beltway is beautiful and the curving ramps down to ground level, while steep, are not too sharp. Everyone who worked on this project, including engineers, advocates, politicians and planners, should be congratulated for a job well done.
However, the honeymoon comes to a screeching halt upon reaching the pathway that leads to National Harbor. The trail connection is crushed asphalt; after a short distance the trail enters National Harbor property and changes to a crushed clamshell surface trail known as the Harborwalk. Upon reaching the "downtown" of National Harbor, cyclists on Saturday encountered a security guard ordering them to dismount. While the guard was friendly, the presence of a uniformed officer whose sole duty is to tell a cyclist not to ride her bike hardly makes a place bike-friendly.
Bicycle advocates are dissatisfied. Jim Hudnall of the Oxon Hill Bicycle and Trail Club said that "more will be done to improve the [National Harbor] connection, but it is not clear who will do what" to improve the section between the Wilson Bridge trail and National Harbor property. Noting that this section was until last Wednesday "mostly mud" and that the crushed asphalt "was a quick fix done at the end of last week," Hudnall is not sure why the trail was not paved to the National Harbor property line in the first place. Eric Gilliland of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association calls the new Wilson Bridge crossing an "incredible facility" but is also not satisfied with the Maryland side. "The connection into National Harbor needs to be paved and signed and more bike parking is needed at National Harbor itself," he says. In addition, "the connection from the end of the National Harbor access trail at Oxon Hill Road to Oxon Hill Farm and the Oxon Run Trail needs to be made a priority." WABA is also calling for the elimination of the 10 mph speed limit on the Wilson Bridge trail and the repeal of rules limiting bridge access to between 5:30 am and midnight.website's directions page, which has detailed freeway directions and a small link to a Metrobus schedule for the route that serves its facility. There is not a single mention of walking or biking.
Let's put this in perspective. For car drivers, this would be like driving on a new freeway, only for the off-ramp to the nearby mall to suddenly become a dirt road. Then, after driving down the dirt road to the mall, a posted guard tells drivers to get out of their cars. He then says that the mall's management had no idea a new freeway was opening, didn't expect people to drive there, that there isn't any parking and that they don't ever plan to pave the dirt road since it looks pretty the way it is. If that's unacceptable for our automobile infrastructure, this is unacceptable for our active transportation infrastructure.
We already knew that National Harbor was designed and built with minimal consideration for transit access. Now we also know that the same amount of thought was given to those who arrive by bike and on foot. Despite claims by Rocell Viniard of National Harbor that "we are thrilled to welcome the cyclists to National Harbor and are making every effort to make it as convenient as possible," it seems the only types of customers National Harbor has bothered to accommodate with any level of seriousness are those who arrive by car or boat.
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