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Did you know Potomac Yard in Alexandria has a new trail?

The City of Alexandria has built a new multi-use trail from Potomac Yard to Braddock Road Metro station, as part of the new Potomac Yard Park. The trail provides a useful connection between the new residences and shops opening in Potomac Yard and Old Town.


Potomac Yard Trail. Photon by the author.

The trail runs along the west side of Alexandria's Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express tracks for roughly 1.5 miles, from about East Glebe Road to East Braddock Road. It is part of a 24 acre linear park that has opened in phases since 2011 with the stretch south of South Main Line Boulevard opening this year.


The new Potomac Yard Trail. Map by Google.

Residents of the growing neighborhood are already enjoying the trail. It connects them to the Braddock Road Metro station, the closest to residents in the southern reaches of the area until the proposed Potomac Yard Metro station opens. It also provides them with an all off-road bike and pedestrian route south to the western end of Old Town.


Another view of the Potomac Yard Trail. Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

Alexandria is already planning to continue the trail north to Four Mile Run and Crystal City. This will occur as the Potomac Yard shopping center is redeveloped, and it will replace the temporary trail along Potomac Avenue north of East Glebe Road. The city does not have a specific timeframe for completion yet.

Building parks early means less struggle down the line

Having the park and trail in place should allow Potomac Yard to avoid some of the issues other newly developing neighborhoods in the region face. A lack of early planning for parks in NoMa has forced the NoMa Business Improvement District to compete with developers bidding for attractive plots in and near the neighborhood's core to create some green space in the area.

NoMa bought its first plot in November, spending $3.2 million for 5,200 square feet at the corner of 3rd St and L St NE. Washington DC has budgeted $50 million for parks in the neighborhood.

Comparatively, Alexandria was able to build the first sections of the Potomac Yard Trail for only about $800,000.

Edward Russell is an air transport reporter by day with a passion for all things transportation. He is a resident of Eckington and tweets frequently about planes, trains and bikes. 

Comments

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I love the bike trail and use it pretty often. Nice job Alexandria. I think it would be great if we had bike facilities to circulate bikers around old town and more bike racks. Also, please permit Idaho stops. Stopping at every block in old town is tiring on a bike.

by Reuben J on Dec 7, 2015 2:56 pm • linkreport

I found out about this trail the other day when I biked from North Arlington to King Street Metro via Four Mile Run. Very well done! Awesome how flat it is. I'm a lazy causal biker and hate hills.

by VJU on Dec 7, 2015 3:06 pm • linkreport

Would it make too sense to put a CaBi station in Potomac Yards for people who want to bike from Crystal City or Old Town? Hopefully there are plans for that eventually with all the planned development.

by VJU on Dec 7, 2015 3:08 pm • linkreport

FWIW, NoMA and Potomac Yard aren't analogous. The former is a district marked by multiple property owners. The latter is the redevelopment of a very large at one time single property, a railyard. I presume that the master plan for the development required this project, as part of a broad set of transportation demand management measures.

I know that because Arlington argued that Rte. 1 was already at capacity, the developers are required to institute TDM measures as part of the ability to get permits for each new project.

FWIW/2, I used this development as a counter example when DC was doing the Brookland Small Area Plan, making the point that developments at McMillan and AFRH should be required to invest in transportation demand management measures and support of sustainable modes, as part of the development agreements for those sites. For whatever reason, the Office of Planning was not interested in tying transportation improvements with development approvals in association with those projects, at least as it related to the Brookland plan.

by Richard Layman on Dec 7, 2015 3:10 pm • linkreport

For whatever reason, the Office of Planning was not interested in tying transportation improvements with development approvals in association with those projects, at least as it related to the Brookland plan.

Both of those projects were well outside of the boundaries of the Brookland small area plan.

by Alex B. on Dec 7, 2015 3:18 pm • linkreport

But not in terms of the impact on transportation within the area covered by the SAP and the impact on the transit station specifically.

Since the SAP was about "how to redevelop the transit station site and property adjacent to it" that matters especially, because of the large number of shuttle buses using the station, and because of community desires to save part of the land as a "Brookland Green," a decision the city eventually acceded to.

It's bad planning to look at places in a vacuum when they are impacted by developments around them.

E.g., much of the commuter traffic on Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street is not generated by Brookland residents, is generated by WHC, and likely would be increased by developments at McMillan and AFRH.

But yes, narrow thinking on what to do and what is possible is usually generated by static scopes of work.

by Richard Layman on Dec 7, 2015 3:25 pm • linkreport

Would it make too sense to put a CaBi station in Potomac Yard

Of course it would but the property owner has displayed no interest in supporting it.

by movement on Dec 7, 2015 3:30 pm • linkreport

Love the trail. My only complaint, and this may sound lazy, is that there is no northern connection to Braddock Road Metro from the trail. If you are coming from Del Ray or Potomac Yard, you have to walk to Braddock Road and enter the metro station from its southern/central entrance. I would love to see Alexandria invest in a separate entrance, as this would shave 5-6 minutes off a walk, which for many blue line riders, can be critical! For this to happen, there would been to be a bridge or tunnel to cross the tracks.

by Tim on Dec 7, 2015 3:30 pm • linkreport

WRT CaBi

There are two stations planned for Potomac Yard, I believe along the section of this trail north of Monroe Avenue. There are none planned for the section between Monroe and Braddock metro, but since it is only one (flat) mile from the southernmost of the two planned locations, to the Braddock Metro station (which has a CaBi station) that is probably not the highest priority place for one in Alexandria.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Dec 7, 2015 3:36 pm • linkreport

https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/tes/info/2015-10-06_Planning%20Commission(1).pdf

see Page 26

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Dec 7, 2015 3:37 pm • linkreport

Tim

It has been discussed.http://www.arlandria.org/2013/03/alexandria-proposed-budget-for-bikes.html

"$500,000 in 2015 for a study of the feasibility of building a tunnel connection under the freight rail tracks from the Braddock Road station itself as recommended in the Braddock Metro Neighborhood Plan. Completion of the tunnel would provide a new station entry from the west, minimizing the distance pedestrians must walk to access the station from the west. Currently, pedestrians must walk south to the Braddock Road underpass to reach the station. In addition, the plan recommends studying a potential future pedestrian-bike connection and a potential walking route connection to the northern gateway"

I am not sure if that feasibility study was ever done.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Dec 7, 2015 3:42 pm • linkreport

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/28585/alexandrias-elections-are-tuesday-here-are-some-candidates-views-on-walking-biking-and-street-safety/?id=28585

"(Council Member) Lovain suggests building a tunnel from the new Potomac Yard Trail to the Braddock Road station. "

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Dec 7, 2015 3:44 pm • linkreport

I am assuming the Tim I am responding to is NOT Tim Lovain.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Dec 7, 2015 3:44 pm • linkreport

What a history of transportation through this part of Alexandria - Native American trails, Colonial-era paths, turnpikes, the Alexandria Canal, the iron horses, Route 1, now the bus transit way and this trail!

by Jay on Dec 7, 2015 3:47 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the information, CrossingBrooklynFerry. It'd be great to see that tunnel completed. And no, I am not Tim Lovain ha.

by Tim on Dec 7, 2015 3:49 pm • linkreport

Nice that they did concrete edges/curbs. Just laying down asphalt without an edging doesn't hold up as well.

by spookiness on Dec 7, 2015 4:00 pm • linkreport

Braddock Road used to be my home base metro and I saw so many people circumnavigating the station to get west of it. I understand that the yard throat was still there when they built the station and a western entrance would have been very long and very expensive. But they did have a chance when CSX moved the main line from its more western alignment (there's not much left of the western alignment, but you can see if it you know what to look for) to the old yard throat to swing the main around the eastern side of the old yard.

by Another Nick on Dec 7, 2015 4:36 pm • linkreport

VJU - there is a CaBi station just north of Potomac Yards by the Harris Teeter at Potomac Avenue and Glebe. Another one closer to PY would be great, but there is one relatively close for now.

by a.k. on Dec 7, 2015 4:58 pm • linkreport

At 3:15 in this video, you can see a seam where the trail merges with a concrete path. My girlfriend was riding this trail for the first time recently and her front bike wheel got lodged in this seam and she broke her collarbone.

People using the trail may want to watch out for this.

by Brett on Dec 7, 2015 5:13 pm • linkreport

Video of the trail mentioned above

by Brett on Dec 7, 2015 5:15 pm • linkreport

Wonderful trail. It is flatout dangerous that there are a few (carshare) street signs in the trail. The many, MANY pothole and Verizon covers are quite a nuisance.

by Jasper on Dec 7, 2015 9:48 pm • linkreport

The former [NoMa] is a district marked by multiple property owners. The latter [Potomac Yard] is the redevelopment of a very large at one time single property, a railyard.

A lot of NoMa was once a railyard too. Everything between 1st, N, the rail road and K was a railyard. (The north part was "the coal yards" and then south of that was cement plants, a govt warehouse and terminal storage). There also used to be a road called "Colfax Street" between L and M.

by David C on Dec 7, 2015 9:49 pm • linkreport

@David C -- When I first started commuting along 1st Street NE, the freight yards were still there though mostly if not entirely abandoned. In the former coal yards an old trestle for unloading coal from railcars to trucks still stood; it's been eerily reincarnated as the N Street colonnade of the ATF building. (Alas, I don't remember Colfax Street.)

by A Streeter on Dec 7, 2015 11:56 pm • linkreport

@Brett, use Alexandria's call.click.connect service to report it. They're very responsive to most things.

http://request.alexandriava.gov/CCC/#tab=Find

by Nick on Dec 8, 2015 7:31 am • linkreport

David C. -- not true actually. Look at the plat maps. There was a rail track through there, but where the railyard is today was a neighborhood. (FWIW, I ran a historic preservation study of the neighborhood in 2001-2002.) There was a railroad track through there (the Metropolitan Branch) but not a railyard. One was constructed as part of the creation of Union Station.

And again, the comparisons are faulty. The RFP railyard was sold in one piece, although since broken up. More importantly, its future development was shaped by a master plan.

By the time the city designated the NoMA area as a location for transferable development rights from downtown, the properties were long in control of a disparate number of owners. And the process didn't require any design review etc.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2011/10/noma-revisited-business-planning-to.html

The NoMA plan (something I got ANC6C to ask for back in 2003 maybe, the plan was finished in 2005) wasn't proscriptive in the same way the master plan was for the RFP railyard.

I wasn't that involved in the planning process, and I knew less then anyway. I like to believe that if I had known more about parks and open space planning at the time that there would have been better provision in both the H St. plan (2002) and the NoMA plan (2005) for such.

Then again, DC doesn't do comprehensive planning at the sub-city scale. "Small area plans" are not comprehensive plans with a specific framework for dealing with "everything," comparable to how Arlington or Montgomery Counties create "sector plans." They are more what I call "build out opportunity identification, analysis, and management plans. A lot is missed in the DC planning process when it comes to "areas," districts, "sectors," and neighborhoods. (DC uses the term "areas" to refer to the sub-city scale of planning, not sectors.)

by Richard Layman on Dec 8, 2015 7:58 am • linkreport

but yes, there were railyards north of New York Ave./Florida Ave. Where the FedEx building was the old B&O Freight Terminal. And there were rail tracks on what is Morse Street Extended in the Union Market area.

But while these areas are part of NoMA because they are north of Massachusetts Ave., the bulk of NoMA and what people consider NoMA pretty much ends at Florida Ave. And there weren't railyards there, before the construction of Union Station.

by Richard Layman on Dec 8, 2015 8:01 am • linkreport

Regarding the lack of a "northern connection" to Braddock Rd Metro, that item is on the city's wish list. It was mentioned occasionally during my time on BPAC and when I attended Transportation Commission meetings, but was never funded. A more direct connection between King St Metro and the King St Amtrak/VRE station was always considered a higher priority.

by Froggie on Dec 8, 2015 8:14 am • linkreport

Potomac Yard also much bigger. 320 acres. Equal to about 15x the size of the "Union Market" district.

http://articles.latimes.com/1991-08-26/news/mn-937_1_potomac-yard

by Richard Layman on Dec 8, 2015 8:21 am • linkreport

I ride this trail everyday and really like it for the most part. There are a few unsafe street crossings behind the Potomac Yards shopping center but in a few years, the trail will go behind the Regal and connect to the Mt Vernon Trail. Now if only they would extended it south to Eisenhower Ave...

@Brett sorry to hear your girlfriend literally hit upon some of the design flaws. Unfortunately, the trail pavement was not well done because it fills unevenly around the numerous street light boxes, making for a bumpy ride, and all the manhole covers are in the trail too.

by Zack Rules on Dec 8, 2015 9:42 am • linkreport

Look at the plat maps. There was a rail track through there, but where the railyard is today was a neighborhood.

I am looking at the plat maps. From 1921. I'm talking about the area west of the current rail line - not where the rail yard is now. But I think I've seen the old railyard there on maps as recent as the 1970's.

by David C on Dec 8, 2015 10:11 am • linkreport

I do like the trail, and use it frequently to bike to work in DC.

I am concerned about safety near the playground. You often get cyclists traveling the quite fast, and kids and parents also use the path when using the playground or getting in and out of cars. Both use the same path.

However, in addition to the marked, multi-use path, there is a wide sidewalk, running parallel to the path, close to the railroad tracks and away from the road and playground. I've always wondered if it would make more sense if that sidewalk and the multi-use path were swapped, keeping cyclist away from pedestrians using the playground or getting in and out of cars.

by Rich on Dec 8, 2015 10:13 am • linkreport

I'd second what @Rich said above regarding the trail near the playground. We enjoy the playground fairly often with a 5 and 2 year old, and have to be extra careful when getting to and from the playground. We take the parallel path when we can, but sometimes that just isn't practical. I haven't ridden the path yet so I don't know if there are any warning signs about the playground.

The playground area is nice, with 2 separate areas, one more geared towards younger kids and the other more for older ones. Between is a nice fountain that kids can cool off in during the warmer months.

by another Josh on Dec 8, 2015 11:11 am • linkreport

I use this trail in the summers for running and workking out on the stations next to Braddock. Love it. It also connects to Mt Vernon trail with the path.
http://www.harrisgroupluxuryhomes.com/?s=bike

by Patricia Harris on Dec 8, 2015 12:48 pm • linkreport

This trail will be really nice in 5-10 years with mature tree growth.

Does anyone know if the city has any plans to make accessing the east side of the tracks (e.g. Slaters Ln) any easier?

Otherwise it'd be nice if all of the lights in Potomac Yard park actually worked.

by The Other Patrick on Dec 8, 2015 2:45 pm • linkreport

The trail is pretty nice for my morning (northbound) commute. Smooth, level and lightly used. My chief gripe is that it ends abruptly at East Glebe Road and there's no apparent connection to the bike lane that appears on Potomac Avenue once it crosses into Arlington County.

The PM (southbound) is often a white-knuckled experience for the reasons already pointed out:

  • Utility ducts peppering the southbound lane bumping up the ride (or encouraging unsafe swerving).
  • Parked cars whose passenger doors open into the travel lane.
  • A heavily used playground that has a lot of inattentive pedestrians. I've narrowly missed a few munchkins who had been obscured by shrubbery until they popped out on the path.
The playground area is a particular worry since so many families seem to drive to the park and the parents who are [un]loading their vehicles are often too preoccupied to notices their toddlers who wander aimlessly into traffic.

​Like Rich, I routinely wonder why the park planners didn't place the multi-use​ trail along the railroad to avoid creating all the safety hazards that exist today.

by Seano on Dec 8, 2015 3:03 pm • linkreport

what Rich and Seano describe I call "designing conflict in." Of course the point of planning is to "design conflict out."

by Richard Layman on Dec 8, 2015 4:26 pm • linkreport

I beleive the reason the walking path is beside the RR while the MUT is beside the road are twofold

1. The walking path is designed to provide a view of the RR - the whole park has a RR theme

2. Cyclists are more likely to value a straighter, shorter path.

The real answer to the playground problem should be to have an on road bike facility as well as a MUT. That Alexandria is not pro-bike enough to have done that though, hardly makes them unique - they would have to be cutting edge to do that, given the current levels of biking in the City.

The next best thing may be warning signage by the playground - for both MUT users and MUT crossers.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Dec 8, 2015 4:51 pm • linkreport

Other Patrick

I believe there is something in the draft Bike Ped master plan about the need to improve the intersection at Slaters and the Parkway.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Dec 8, 2015 4:52 pm • linkreport

I appreciate the promenade along the tracks; it's especially fun for me when I catch sight of the Tropicana Train.

Had the pedestrian zone been along Potomac Ave and the MUT along the tracks, I would fully expect some cyclists to opt for the straighter, shorter path, so creating the same hazards that we have today. And they would do so legally since cycling on the sidewalk is legal in Alexandria (outside of lower King St).

I just don't understand (I do but I don't) how Potomac Ave could have been laid out without a provision for bike lanes. And I'm reminded of this every time I cross Four Mile Run into Arlington where a bike lane "magically" appears.

by Seano on Dec 9, 2015 9:44 am • linkreport

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