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When Metro closed, commuters took to the trails

When Metro closed on Wednesday, its 700,000 daily riders had to find a different way to get around. I compared data from Wednesday to the previous week to see how trail use changed.

Traffic counts from area trails, with data from Arlington County and DDOT.

Changes in trail use weren't the same throughout the region, even when comparing corridors served by Metro. For example, on the Washington & Old Dominion and Custis Trails in Arlington, which combined run parallel to Route 66 and the Orange Line, trail use increased only modestly, by roughly 10% (basically <100 more people on the Custis Trail during the AM peak, for example).

But on the trail segment connecting Crystal City to the Mount Vernon Trail, near the National Airport station (Blue/Yellow Line) and adjacent to the George Washington Parkway, trail use skyrocketed 44%, or over 300 additional travelers during just the AM peak. Most of the "new" trail users were cyclists, with cycling increasing by 62% from the previous week.

Thousands of additional pedestrians and cyclists crossed the Key Bridge between Arlington and DC, a 24% increase—even more than used the bridge during last year's 4th of July festivities. Walking remained the dominant active mode on the bridge, though the cycling bump still outpaced the pedestrian bump (32% and 21%, respectively).

These data suggest it's quite possible for people to change how they commute, with cycling in particular showing room for growth.

In DC, a final peek at the traffic monitors adds some additional nuance to the story. Pedestrian use of the Metropolitan Branch Trail decreased 17%, suggesting that a chunk of those who usually walk on the trail are using it in order to access the Rhode Island and New York Avenue Metro stations. But cycling increased by a whopping 65%, suggestive of the critical importance of active transportation options in the urban core, where many households do not have access to a car.

Tracy Hadden Loh loves cities, infrastructure, and long walks on the beach looking for cool shells. She holds a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from the UNC-Chapel Hill. By day, she is a senior data scientist at George Washington University. By night, she is an activist, a military wife, a baby mama, and proud to represent Ward 1 on the Mount Rainier, MD city council. 


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I wonder how rush hour looked different? It's possible some of this increase came from some teleworkers playing hookie and get a nice ride/run in on a beautiful day. Though I fully expect to see an uptick in bike commuting.

by David C on Mar 18, 2016 12:15 pm • linkreport

I think there should be a counter along the CCT.....maybe where CCT and Whitehurst Freeway is.

by Brett Young on Mar 18, 2016 12:20 pm • linkreport

One thing to consider is that people are willing to do things on a single day that they couldn't sustain on a daily basis. I walked 7+ miles round-trip to work and back the day of the shutdown because the weather was wonderful and I could be flexible about my work day. No way will I make a habit of that.

by Sally M on Mar 18, 2016 12:25 pm • linkreport

700,000 metro riders had to find another way to get around - and bike and ped use across these corridors increased by maybe 3,000. Minuscule, minuscule (and I say that as one of those included in the Key Bridge count).

by logandude on Mar 18, 2016 12:27 pm • linkreport


Well, we're not counting every single entry point via bike or foot. That may only count 10% (or less) of all bike/ped commuters. Meaning we're talking more like 30,000-60,000.

by David C on Mar 18, 2016 12:41 pm • linkreport

Well, we're not counting every single entry point via bike or foot. That may only count 10% (or less) of all bike/ped commuters. Meaning we're talking more like 30,000-60,000.

So on a normal day, 100k+ people use these trails?

by Scoot on Mar 18, 2016 12:51 pm • linkreport

I agree with David C. Those counters are only a sampling of a couple of key connector points, points which I usually avoid as a fairly regular bicycle commuter. If those are up there they're up all over the system. I noticed a LOT more people on Wednesday, both on foot and on bike, even on my alternative route (avoid Mt Vernon trail), and a noticeable uptick on Strava flybys - not that that's anything other than one anecdote. Also, lots of CaBi's running around.

by Jake M on Mar 18, 2016 12:52 pm • linkreport

So on a normal day, 100k+ people use these trails?


by David C on Mar 18, 2016 12:53 pm • linkreport

So on a normal day, 100k+ people use these trails?

Maybe I'm just not understanding correctly. If the usage on Wednesday was underestimated by 90% (as you claim), wouldn't that also mean that the normal usage is underestimated by 90%? Unless there is some difference between how usage was measured on Wednesday compared with a normal day.

by Scoot on Mar 18, 2016 1:04 pm • linkreport

Believe it or not, some people who bike to work also like to telecommute, so given the opportunity to telecommute (and the likelihood there would be no one else in the office for face to face interaction anyway), some undoubtedly took that option.

Add that some bike commuters and many pedestrians use those routes specifically to access metrorail.

And that deciding to bike in at the last minute is not that easy for someone who has not bike commuted for. Look at the preparations that people talk about prior to bike to work day - making sure your bike is in good shape (including tires pumped), doing a test ride of the route, making sure you have a secure place to lock it, etc, etc. I would bet most of the spike in biking was occasional commuters, including those who normally do not ride till later in the year - not people who have never biked to work before at all.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Mar 18, 2016 1:29 pm • linkreport

Why not include the 14th Street Bridge and Roosevelt Bridge numbers? I saw them on Twitter...

by VJU on Mar 18, 2016 1:38 pm • linkreport

@Brett Young

There are counters on the CCT. Here's a story on some of the usage data:

by B. Collison on Mar 18, 2016 1:52 pm • linkreport

Most of the routes aren't counted. Traffic on the CCT was at least 4 times the usual when I rode. Lots of pedestrians too. I also saw a lot more riders generally on the DC streets. None of those are counted.

by SJE on Mar 18, 2016 2:12 pm • linkreport

I don't have access to the CCT counter - and actually I didn't know it existed! I'm going to try to get access to it, though.

And, just to echo what other posters said, the numbers I'm citing here are illustrative, and not even a representative sample. What these data show are that providing infrastructure for walking and bicycling are part of building a resilient transportation system.

It's certainly true that both pedestrians and cyclists are sensitive to, for example, weather. That's why I compared last Wednesday to this past Wednesday instead of using Tuesday - there was a 10 degree difference in the max temp between Tuesday and Wednesday that ruled that out as an option in my judgement.

by Tracy Loh on Mar 18, 2016 2:43 pm • linkreport

If the usage on Wednesday was underestimated by 90% (as you claim), wouldn't that also mean that the normal usage is underestimated by 90%?

That's not what I'm saying. logandude somehow - although how is not clear - projected from these numbers that of the 700,000 people who normally rely on Metro, only 3,000 of them walked or biked. It is logandude's estimate that underestimates use.

Or he's exclusively looking at the increase in trail users on "these corridors" and then dividing that by the total metro-user population, which doesn't really make sense since many of those people - even if they walked - would never use those corridors. We could look at three lanes of the road network, and I'm confident that the increase in motor vehicle use was also probably minuscule when compared to the 700,000 metro users.

by David C on Mar 19, 2016 3:42 pm • linkreport

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