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A trail from NoMa to the National Arboretum is in the works

Planning is officially underway for a new pedestrian and bike trail parallel to New York Avenue NE. The trail would run from NoMa through Ivy City and out to the National Arboretum.

A rendering of a trail section in Ivy City. Image Rails-to-Trails.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy ("RTC") just completed a study on the possibility, and DDOT and Douglas Development are now working on the first phases of planning for construction.

DDOT has envisioned protected bike infrastructure along this route since at least the 2005 DC Bike Master Plan's release, but this is the first study to analyze a particular route and provide a cost estimate. Funding for the study came from a donation from Douglas.

The study recommends a 14 foot trail width, with a minimum of 10 feet, from the NoMa Metro to the Arboretum. The trail would connect with the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) at its existing M Street NE ramp, go through the Florida Avenue Market/Union Market, and then along mostly-DDOT controlled land on the North side of New York Avenue NE.

New York Avenue trail area map. Image from Rails-to-Trails.

There are several options considered for some segments of the trail. The exact route will depend on further design and land ownership analysis, but there are some small sections that may be built this year.

DDOT is planning to build protected bike lanes in 2016 on M and 4th Streets NE along the route recommended by the RTC study. From there, local developer Kettler has a PUD pending at the Zoning Commission for several buildings fronting on to the trail.

As part of Kettler's project at 300-350 Morse Street NE called "Union Terminal" they will build 1,000 feet of the trail through an alley from Morse Street NE up to a DDOT-owned tunnel under New York Avenue. Kettler will also build a park at the South end of the tunnel to activate this currently vacant & desolate tunnel portal.

Site plan for Kettler's "Union Terminal" project, from their PUD application.

In Ivy City, Douglas Development is assembling a collection of shipping containers to become a retail and events space on land leased from the DC Government. They will build the trail section between Fenwick and 16th Streets NE as part of this project this year.

RTC is estimating that construction of the trail will cost $5 million, excluding a potential $6 million bicycle and pedestrian bridge across Florida Avenue NE. This would only be built if the developer to the South, Trammel-Crow, can incorporate the trail into their upcoming project at the Central Armature Works site.

Additional funds will be needed to acquire two parcels of land along New York Avenue. These hold a hotel, gas station, and tire shop. RTC estimates that acquiring these parcels, which total approximately 36,000 square feet, will cost $5 million.

Section of the trail through an existing tunnel under New York Avenue from the RTC study.

The next step will be starting a more formal engineering study of the various sections, which DDOT hopes to do later in 2016. The most critical portion will be along the railroad tracks where the trail will be built into the existing embankment between the tracks and road.
Tony Goodman is an ANC Commissioner for 6C06 in Near Northeast/NoMA and member of the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he is a Construction Project Manager with a Masters degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Michigan and has lived in Washington, DC since 2002. 


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Increasing connectivity to the Arboretum and in turn the Anacostia River is always a good idea. Two vastly underused resources.

by Brent Bolin on Mar 9, 2016 12:15 pm • linkreport

@Brent Bolin

Amen, brother...

by jnb on Mar 9, 2016 12:38 pm • linkreport

This is nice, but it could be so much nicer if the Arboretum re-opened their former main entrance on M St. NE. Adding a bike and pedestrian entrance near Mt. Olivet and Bladensburg would be even better.

by DAR on Mar 9, 2016 12:42 pm • linkreport

Odd. At the January BAC meeting DDOT and RTC said the study wasn't yet public and wouldn't be for awhile, but then it looks like they posted it 2 days later.

Oh well. This is a pretty cool project, but there are still a few challenges to be sorted out, most notably the Howard Johnson Hotel and gas station on NY Avenue that are in the way; but also Amtrak permission.

by David C on Mar 9, 2016 12:48 pm • linkreport

The arboretum should open it's long-closed gates, but I'm not sure it would make any difference to this trail.

by David C on Mar 9, 2016 12:50 pm • linkreport

That's a great looking proposal! At present there are some really nervous-making roads between us and the arboretum that prevent us from getting there often or taking guests who aren't very experienced cyclists.

by Ryan on Mar 9, 2016 12:52 pm • linkreport

No matter what happens here, I really think that we need to set as much space aside here as possible for future transit uses.

This would not be an unreasonable place to put a future metro extension or streetcar.

by andrew on Mar 9, 2016 1:01 pm • linkreport

Will this prevent or restrict the ability to install additional tracks here for
A) The Northeast Corridor/Penn Line Services, or
B) A future Metrorail line?

If so, this should absolutely be opposed.

by Ryan on Mar 9, 2016 1:10 pm • linkreport

Now if only the Arboretum could expend some resources in making it have more...curb appeal? It is a great asset for the area but since it isn't exactly the most visually appealing place from NY Ave it is my perception that it is not used as frequently as some of the other national treasures (i.e. National Botantic Gardens, Teddy Roosevelt Island, etc). I think making the entrance somewhat more inviting might encourage people to visit it.

by RBAP on Mar 9, 2016 1:25 pm • linkreport

Was the southern Arboretum entrance closed because the surrounding neighborhood is mostly black, or was at the time of closure? Regardless, why not open that entrance to non-motorized traffic only?

by Dave G on Mar 9, 2016 1:38 pm • linkreport


Amtrak has to approve/allow this. It should be a simple matter for the contract to be written such that the trail will not prevent those things.

by David C on Mar 9, 2016 1:51 pm • linkreport

The Arboretum people will tell you that they are not a park or a tourist destination - they are a research facility that allows tourists. That's why they don't go for curb appeal and aren't interested in connectivity to the neighborhood. I'd love to know the history of the gate closures. When did they happen and why?

by David C on Mar 9, 2016 1:53 pm • linkreport

I agree with others that access to the Arboretum should be improved, but as David C notes, doing so would have little impact on the trail proposed in this article. The trail route shown on the map uses neighborhood streets to reach the R St gate, which is currently the main gate for the Arboretum.

I don't know the history of closing the southern entrance, but my guess would be that crime, and possibly budget restrictions, were the culprit(s). Several years ago I saw some sort of long-range planning document for the Arboretum that included opening up these access routes. That was before the budget battles resulted in closing the Arboretum on Tu, Wed, and Th. Fortunately the original hours have now been restored, but my point is that the funding to open other access points might be one of the problems. It appears that when Bladensburg Rd was reconstructed along the western edge of the Arboretum, there may have been a plan to open up an entrance there. A curb cut indicates where this access point may have been planned (I don't know when this was done but it's more than 15 years ago).

Long range plans for the Anacostia Waterfront Trail show a bridge over the river from Kenilworth Park to the Arboretum or Langston golf course (it's not clear on the maps I have seen where it would go). I hope this bridge is eventually built, and a trail extends from it to the south gate of the Arboretum and M St.

by Purple Eagle on Mar 9, 2016 1:57 pm • linkreport

The arboretum plans to reopen the Southern entrance as part of their master plan & to connect via bridge to the under-construction Anacostia trail.

As for future rail expansion, there's plenty of room for both the trail and additional tracks while still meeting Amtrak (others') safety requirements.

by Tony Goodman on Mar 9, 2016 2:02 pm • linkreport

Purple Eagle, I don't think it was as long as 15 years because it was when I used to commute that way. Also notice the traffic lights they installed, even though without the new entrance this is not an intersection. Tony is right, it's all in their most recent Master Plan.

by David C on Mar 9, 2016 2:04 pm • linkreport

Maybe I am wrong on the timing. I have been living in this area almost 15 years and I was pretty sure the reconstructed road was already finished when I moved here. But memories can be faulty . . good to hear that the access and bridge improvements are still part of the master plan.

by Purple Eagle on Mar 9, 2016 2:08 pm • linkreport

Here is a story on the closing of the southern entrance in 1992 -

Also the robot detector asked what is the next outbound station on the blue/orange/silver line from metro center. Which way is outbound from the center?

by sk on Mar 9, 2016 2:08 pm • linkreport

Thanks sk!

At that point the Bladensburg Road gate was still open. I wonder when that was closed.

by David C on Mar 9, 2016 2:25 pm • linkreport

I like this plan. I was here when the M St. NE entrance was closed and recall it was due to crime concerns.

By the way, what is with the chain link fence and inoperative traffic lights midway along the Arboretum property along Bladensburg Road?

by Steve on Mar 9, 2016 6:47 pm • linkreport

Looks like this could be a good example of bicycle-oriented development. The stretch of the trail between Union Market and Fairview, though, is located in an extremely isolated location, between railroad track and a hillside, hidden from view from the heavily trafficked New York Ave, which gets very little pedestrian activity. There needs to be some serious thought into how to make this area safe alongside with the trail development, or we will repeat the mistakes of the Met Branch trail. As part of this, there also need to be good access to Ivy City, with trail connections at Fairview & Kendall, not currently part of the plan.

Through thoughtful planning, this trail could be a critical link to a truly bicycle-oriented neighborhood. Otherwise, given the poor transit and auto-oriented streets, Ivy City will just become an even more traffic-clogged area.

by Uptowner on Mar 10, 2016 3:42 am • linkreport

I found the arboretum strategic plan online. The plan recognizes the need for improved "curb appeal" (esp along Bladensburg and NY Ave) and enhancing bicycle access, although I did not see any specific steps (e.g. "open the M St gate") spelled out. The plan also mentions the possibility of a shuttle bus from the mall or a metro station.

The director of the Arboretum is a neighbor and acquaintance of mine. I will ask him about these plans the next time I see him.

by Purple Eagle on Mar 10, 2016 7:31 am • linkreport

There's an introduction to the master plan that includes this stated goal:

"Build a new main entrance on Bladensburg Road that is worthy of a major public institution. The corollary to this is to close all the other entrances to the public. This entrance should be as attractive as the rest of the Arboretum experience. "

So . . improved access from Bladensburg is a good idea but I hope they re-think closing the other entrances. I could see closing R St to cars if there is a new gate at Bladensburg but it should be kept open to bike/ped use.

by Purple Eagle on Mar 10, 2016 7:36 am • linkreport

If you look closely at the proposed alignment, there is no threat to track space from the trail. The tracks are at the lowest grade, and the trail is proposed to climb up to the HoJo and then continue at that higher level.

by Tracy Loh on Mar 10, 2016 9:20 am • linkreport

Really excited about this. I'm a little unclear on the crossings on NY Ave in front of the Hecht warehouse. Are these just lighted crosswalks? If they're not lighted, it's gonna suck. People treat NY and RI aves as highways so getting people to stop at unlighted crosswalks is a nightmare.

by Timebomb on Mar 10, 2016 9:39 am • linkreport

Interestingly, the closed M St entrance is actually quite convenient to the new streetcar stops and to the planned ped/bike bridge over the Anacostia. If there were a Metro station at Oklahoma Ave...

by Dave G on Mar 10, 2016 9:51 am • linkreport

Purple Eagle, I've seen the Master Plan, but not the strategic plan which looks to have come out about 8 years later. It might be more encouraging, but as you note it's short on specifics.

I do know that when the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail was being planned they were not really interested in having it go through the park N-S (from M Street to the Conifer Road gate). They did eventually agree to accept the bridge across the river, but they won't keep the gate open longer than normal to allow for through traffic.

by David C on Mar 10, 2016 10:20 am • linkreport

While certainly an issue of concern, crime (whether real or perceived) is often a code word for minorities, meaning the black people who live near the closed M St entrance. I wonder if it would have been closed had the neighborhood been whiter ...

by Dave G on Mar 10, 2016 10:21 am • linkreport

A great idea -- in fact the trail should continue to link up with the stream valley trails in Prince George's County. I worry, though, about cyclist safety considering there have been crime problems along the Met Branch Trail. We'll have to address that issue too.

by Charles Pekow on Mar 10, 2016 10:53 am • linkreport

I would be OK with the Arboretum continuing its current hours after the new bridge is open if a trail route is built along the edge of the golf course instead. Obviously for the route to be useful to commuters it should be open early than 8:00 and later than 5:00.

by Purple Eagle on Mar 10, 2016 11:13 am • linkreport

@Purple Eagle - Such a route should be open 24/7.

by Dave G on Mar 10, 2016 2:45 pm • linkreport

It has been a while since I have been on any Amtrak or MARC train on the tracks that parallel NY Avenue. For decades, the final approach into DC was the slope up from the tracks toward NY Avenue, unloved and a place where one could see old appliances, tires, etc. -- hardly a pleasing gateway to or exit from the District. I do not know if the sloped land is Amtrak's or DC's, but I'd hope that "that mess" would be dealt with in both studies and when put into effect.

That said, there have been some safety issues along the Metropolitan Trail. This trail could have segments that are not fully visible from NY Avenue so I would like to see some discussion of safety/policing as consideration evolves and matures.

by Lindsley Williams on Mar 11, 2016 12:39 am • linkreport

Yeah, about putting a commuter bike trail inside the Arboretum - look at how well that worked out for the Rock Creek Park trail through the zoo. Access will be determined strictly by federal considerations without community input.

by logandude on Mar 11, 2016 8:43 am • linkreport

I can accept having the proposed trail going in along the south edge of the arboretum towards and over the Anacostia, across park land, if that allows it to be open 24/7. I'd still like for the M St arboretum entrance to be open during regular arboretum hours, of course.

by Dave G on Mar 11, 2016 9:06 am • linkreport

That is, having the trail go outside the arboretum, but along it's southern border fence.

by Dave G on Mar 11, 2016 9:07 am • linkreport

On the BAC we brought that (running the trail outside the Arboretum fence) up with DDOT. The problem is that then it then intrudes onto Langston golf course territory, and NPS (if you can believe it) is none too keen on doing that. In some places Crabtree Road within the Arboretum is right up against the golf course. And NPS also doesn't want to disturb Hickey Run.

by David C on Mar 11, 2016 10:00 am • linkreport

What is the problem with going along the northern edge of the golf course, especially if a high fence is built to protect trail users from errant golf balls and other such issues? If the trail has to go through the arboretum, perhaps it could be fenced off from the rest of the arboretum but maybe have gates going in that are open during arboretum hours?

by Dave G on Mar 11, 2016 12:00 pm • linkreport

In a world of infinite money and unlimited permission it is absolutely doable.

In the real world where NPS and the Arboretum are resisitent to giving up their land to DDOT for the use of a trail, and where DDOT may not have the money to build fencing and move walls it is difficult.

by David C on Mar 11, 2016 12:05 pm • linkreport

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