The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Trail network emerging east of the river

DDOT recently released plans for over 16 miles of trails east of the Anacostia River that will create an extensive, highly-connected network that few areas can match.

Marvin Gaye Park trail. Photo by the author.

The plans cover the Oxon Run, St. Elizabeths and South Capitol Street Trails. DDOT is also working on a new 11th Street Bridge crossing, new sections of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and closing the gap in the recently rebuilt Marvin Gaye Park Trail.

Tentative plans to extend trails into near Prince George's county and to rebuild the Suitland Parkway Trail create an opportunity to build on this network.

Much was made in the media during the mayoral election about bike lanes and how they fed "the perception that outgoing Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was more attuned to the concerns of affluent parts of the city."

It is true that there are few bike lanes in Wards 7 and 8 when compared to the L'Enfant city. But much of this is due to the original design of the roads, which comes from when they were built.

Roads built before the introduction of the automobile tend to have odd widths for car travel, leaving extra space that can be requisitioned for bike lanes, while roads in newer parts of the city were built with cars in mind, leaving no unused space. As was demonstrated on Pennsylvania Avenue last year, it is politically easier to narrow a single 17-foot lane to 12 feet with a 5-foot bike lane than to remove a lane of traffic.

In order to meet their goals that everyone in the District live within a half mile of a bike lane or trail, DDOT is adding miles of trail in neighborhoods under-served by bike lanes. In contrast to bike lanes, DDOT is building most of its trails in the eastern half of the city.

Several projects are under construction now.

Over the past year, construction has been ongoing on a 3-mile long section of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail (ART) from the Douglass Bridge to the existing section in the River Terrace neighborhood. More than half of it has already been paved and the last section awaits completion of a project to shift Anacostia Drive away from the river.

An under-construction bridge over the railroad tracks will complete the trail from Firth Sterling Avenue to Benning Road. A future, 2-mile long section of the ART from Benning Road to the DC Boundary is being designed now.

When the 11th Street Bridge is completed it will replace a narrow 4-6 foot bike/ped path with a 14-foot active transportation lane that connects the ART on both sides of the river.

Joining these projects as currently-underway is the Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue Great Streets project. That will close a gap in the 2-mile long Marvin Gaye Park trail, which itself went through a complete rebuild and upgrade from 2006-2009. The Pennsylvania Avenue SE Great Streets project will also include parallel bike facilities.

Meanwhile, DDOT is preparing to move forward with three additional trail projects that will add or upgrade 11 miles of trail in the southernmost part of DC.

Map of planned bike trails modified from a DDOT image.

The current Oxon Run Trail runs from South Capitol Street SE to 13th St SE in the Washington Highlands area. The new, 5 miles of trails would extend southeast to the DC-MD line and connect with the trails in Oxon Hill Farm NP and northeast to Southern Ave (and the Metro station there) where, with help from PG County, it will connect to the Suitland Parkway trail.

The Oxon Run trail involves several upgrades and extensions. There will be a full trail on both sides of Oxon Run, much of it widened to 10' and repaved. The existing bike/ped bridges that cross the stream would also be widened and improved. Many sidewalks in the park will be reconstructed and new ones will be built. In some places the trail will be rerouted to make it straighter.

Bike lanes will be added to Southern Ave and Mississippi Ave to serve as the northern section. Four new bike/ped bridges will be built across Oxon Run and its tributaries. A new trail section from Joliet St SW to Blue Plains Dr. SW will create another connection to the Wilson Bridge route. In addition to the trail projects it will include several storm water management elements. Bioretention ponds and other such landscaping will reduce the amount of street-to-stream storm-water flow. The whole project would cost $10.7 million.

A second trail project is a transportation improvement related to the already underway redevelopment of St Elizabeths as the Department of Homeland Security headquarters. In order to serve the thousands of new workers there, a new road along the west side of the campus is planned. The access road will connect Firth Sterling with Malcolm X Avenue and then with MLK Avenue just north of the intersection with South Capitol. A parallel 8-10 foot wide trail will be built on the east side of the 1.7 mile long access road.

With the South Capitol Street trail, the trail off the Douglass Bridge and the new streetcar station, the intersection of South Capitol and Firth Sterling Avenue will become a significantly more important transportation hub, especially for pedestrians and cyclists.

Another sidepath will be built on the north side of Malcolm X Avenue from the South Capitol Street trail to MLK Avenue. Furthermore, bike lanes will possibly be added to a rebuilt MLK Avenue.

Finally, the South Capitol Street trail project will build a new, 4.25 mile long, 8-10 foot wide trail where currently there is none. Cyclists may currently go south on the roadway, but there is no way to go north and no place for pedestrians.

The trail (in solid orange on the map) would start at the intersection of South Capitol and Firth Sterling. It would cross the streetcar tracks at grade and then continue on the west side of South Capitol and Overlook Avenue. Just before Laboratory Road the trail would cross to the east side of Overlook, then cross Laboratory and follow along the south side of that to Shepherd Parkway. It would then become a sidepath along Shepherd Parkway, Blue Plains Drive and DC Village Lane to the existing trail connection to Oxon Hill Farm.

The trail would be, in some places, pinched between the federal facilities' fences and the roads, with bus stops and other obstructions creating more pinching. To overcome this, DDOT plans to remove lanes from the parallel roads in some places, narrow the lanes in others or, sometimes both. Their traffic analysis shows that this will do little to lower the level of service for drivers while creating enough space for a safe trail.

In addition, an interim connection (in light blue on the map) would be built between South Capitol and the Oxon Run Trail. It would be an on-road route using sharrow lane markings along Halley Pl, 1st St and Atlantic St SE.

The whole $5.7M project would be built in four phases, some of which need to be coordinated with the rebuilding of DC Village and proposed improvements to I-295/ South Capitol Street, as a part of the DHS redevelopment of the St Elizabeths property.

Once all of these projects are completed, moving around Wards 7 and 8 by foot or bicycle will become an increasingly safe, easy and pleasant experience. They should help to increase bike commuting to the government facilities along the river and at St. Elizabeths and provide new recreational opportunities.

David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he's lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Council for DC.  


Add a comment »

Speaking of the ART, does anybody have any idea when the new bridge over the CSX tracks is due to be completed? I was just down there over the weekend, and the project looks very stalled to me. Basically unchanged from 4 months ago.

by andrew on Jan 5, 2011 12:22 pm • linkreport

Just wondering: does DDOT have a procedure in place for snow plowing/removal on all these new trails they're building? Will it fall to Parks & Rec? Especially if these trails are successful and local residents begin to rely on them for transportation, it'll be vital that they're cleared quickly.

by Ted on Jan 5, 2011 12:38 pm • linkreport

"Furthermore, bike lanes will possibly be added to a rebuilt MLK Avenue."

This would be a very welcome development, particularly along the racetrack section through the St. E complex. 

by intermodal commuter on Jan 5, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

The reason there are less bike lanes in Wards 7 and 8 is mostly because of the way the roads were originally built?

Really? I'm not sure I understand this point.

But, here I was thinking that focusing on areas west of the river was more a priority because of the political support building bike lanes would bring.

Oh and the fact that this issue was not a priority for my fellow residents. If I had a choice, I would much rather have the trails than the bike lanes.

by HogWash on Jan 5, 2011 1:17 pm • linkreport

What's the timeline on this?

by Teyo on Jan 5, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

The reason there are less bike lanes in Wards 7 and 8 is mostly because of the way the roads were originally built? Really? I'm not sure I understand this point.

I guess the point is that those neighborhoods are not being ignored, it is just that DDOT has been putting in bike lanes where they can do so easily (though more and more they are willing to remove lanes to add bike lanes). Areas west and north of the L'Enfant city also have few bike lanes.

by David C on Jan 5, 2011 6:29 pm • linkreport

Can't wait for that South Capitol Trail to go in!

The existing Suitland Parkway trail doesn't even pass the laugh test. It's narrow, crumbling apart, usually covered in grass trimmings, and comes frighteningly close to the Parkway in several locations. NPS or DDOT must get that thing fixed up and slow down the traffic too before anyone with a slight amount of sanity can enjoy it.

Good to see the planned expansion of the Oxon Run trails. There's a good amount of greenspace between southern Avenue and Suitland that I've always thought seemed a good location for a formal trail. The Oxon Run Trail stretch along Southern Avenue should also not be mapped as a "current" trail - it is a narrow sidewalk.

by PJM on Jan 5, 2011 8:15 pm • linkreport

When I saw the headline on this article, I got excited at the prospect of finally being able to bike downtown safely on a pleasant route. No such luck. Why no trails in the area near the Minnesota Avenue or Deanwood Metro stations? Or any area that would come reasonably close to Cheverly/Hyattsville. I've lived here for five years and feel trapped in my car without decent bike routes.

by Cheverly cyclist on Jan 6, 2011 12:13 am • linkreport

The trail from Bladensburg Waterfront to DC is planned to open this year (spring?) - hopefully the DC side will not be delayed - which is planned to connect to the trails mentioned as well providing access to the Anacostia Tributaries etc

..."Or any area that would come reasonably close to Cheverly/Hyattsville. I've lived here for five years and feel trapped in my car without decent bike routes.
by Cheverly cyclist on Jan 6, 2011 12:13 am"

by MRBC on Jan 6, 2011 9:40 am • linkreport

Cheverly, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail will connect Cheverly with DC and connect - via other routes - to the Minn Ave metro and Deanwood metro. Also there are plans for a bike trail along part of Minn Ave. This article is not 100% inclusive of everything DDOT has planned, as that would be a multi-part series.

To whoever asked, sorry I don't know any timelines.

by David C on Jan 6, 2011 10:27 am • linkreport

Do you, or anyone else, know of a plan to make the commute into west of the river by way of East Capitol Street easier? There is no connection directly from E. Cap. over to RFK and direct into capitol hill unless it's by car. Riding your bike under that Minnesota Ave. bridge would be like Frogger and if you ride down to Benning bridge, it takes you out of the way, likewise for riding down to Penn. I am looking for a way to get into the west city via E. Capitol. Why isn't there a way to ride East Capitol all the way in?

by Linda on Jan 6, 2011 1:08 pm • linkreport

I've not heard anything about that. There are plans to push under the Anacostia Freeway with the railroad tracks though.

by David C on Jan 6, 2011 1:18 pm • linkreport

Excuse me but this is about the most exciting thing I've heard in a long time. I mean the possibilities are endless in reguards to alternitive traveling, the connection to Minnesota avenue can be made very simple by traveling parellel to the CSX rail line. Why stop with one crossing of the river with all of the bridge work going on now lets get innovative with it.DPR doesn't have the equipment to maintain the paths, DDOT does, and make sure thepaths are done with asphalt and not cheap milling for longevity. When I look at some of the paths in VA. I'm encouraged with how tastefully they're done. These trails have the potential of curtailing a large fraction of the traffic from our streets and improving overall health throughout the area and giving us more time to segway into the bike lane mapping strategy.

by Anothernative on Jan 6, 2011 11:26 pm • linkreport

i'd love to see concrete progress happening on the suitland parkway trail. the fact that it dead-ends into a pile of dirt at the district border just sucks.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jan 10, 2011 10:06 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us