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Rock Creek Park trails slated for fixes

The National Park Service and DDOT hope to make Rock Creek's pedestrian and bicycle trails better by adding some connections, fixing some problem spots, and possibly widening the trail.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

At an a public meeting, NPS and DDOT presented alternatives from their Environmental Assessment for three areas. On the Rock Creek Park Trail (RCPT), there are two options besides a no-build option.

Alternative 3 would widen the trail to 10 feet. Alternative 2 would widen it a little in places, but not much, leaving most of the trail less than 10' wide, often far too narrow for users.

Both options would would repave the trail, create new connections to adjacent streets, and realign the trail at curves and approaches. They would improve the safety around several bridges, add drainage and erosion control and improve the grade in places.

These options would also add a new trail along the Piney Branch Parkway from the RCPT to Arkansas Avenue.

A related project involves the Rose Park Trail, which runs along the west side of Rock Creek Park from P Street to M Street, including through Rose Park at the northern end.

NPS plans to either resurface (Option B) or resurface and widen (Option C) this trail. Both of these options would create a better connection to M Street, where a Capital Bikeshare station might end up, and other connections as well.

There is also a proposal to move the RCPT closer to the river in the area between Pierce Mill and Blagden Avenue. The trail would replace what is now a "social trail" and the existing trail would be replaced with a gravel "interpretive trail."

The biggest project is rebuilding 3.7 miles of the RCPT between P Street and Broad Branch Road. It would create new connections to P street, Arkansas Ave, Blagden Ave, Broad Branch Road and Porter Street; realign the trail around the various bridges over the Creek; and improve the grade below Calvert street;

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.
The project would also improve the crossings over Shoreham Drive, Jewett Street and the Zoo entrance, and create a better crossing of the Creek south of the Zoo tunnel, where the sidewalk is extremely narrow.

Obviously, I think the more ambitious options are better for both the RCPT and the Rose Park Trail. I have no opinion on the realignment.

Almost all of the public comments were in favor of the widening and repaving options, with two exceptions. One, a man from Friends of Rose Park (F.O.R.P.), opposed widening or realigning the trail, but did not voice any opposition to letting cyclists use the trail. Another wants Klingle Road reopened.

The man from F.O.R.P. was pretty angry about the trail widening. During the open house, he raised his voice at a few rangers and DDOT employees because NPS had promised F.O.R.P. that they would not widen the trail (which is apparently true, though I doubt it applied in perpetuity).

During the public comment section, many commenters noted that the trail is already a multi-use trail, not a pedestrian path as F.O.R.P. wishes to label it. One commenter noted that Rose Park has been the site of several recent crimes and that having more trail users (cyclists) might discourage crime.

The man from F.O.R.P. was also concerned about a very large elm in the park also mentioned in the Georgetown Current article. I'm confident the trail can be widened and rerouted to not only avoid harming the tree but in a way that helps it.

Those who favored the project still had other suggestions including:

  • Keeping the zoo loop open 24/7/365
  • Making sure that detours caused by construction were well signed and easy to use
  • Keeping the trail maintained (signage indicated that the trail is currently cleared of snow; is that true?)
  • Building a fence to separate the Rose Park trail from the playground and using brick pavers to slow down cyclists
  • Creating an elevated crossing of M street at the Rose park trailhead
  • Making mountain biking legal in RCP which would allow NPS to tap into some free labor
  • Creating a connection from Harvard Street to the trail
  • Looking at the section from M to P street
  • Improving drainage under Porter Street
  • Building bike parking at every NPS facility trail users might visit including bathrooms
  • Allowing CaBi into the park

The EA will be finished by late spring with another public hearing in the summer and a decision in the fall. If you'd like to comment on this project, you can do so here.

Cross-posted at The WashCycle.

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.  


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Sounds like this would be good not only for recreation but also for commuters, especially the increased street connections.

by Gavin on Feb 24, 2011 10:45 am • linkreport

The plan does not seem to address the gap in the paved trail between Military Road in the north to the intersection of Beach Drive and Broad Branch Road to the South. Only on weekends when Beach Drive is closed to motor vehicles can you ride a bike or walk on a paved path between those points.

by George Gauthier on Feb 24, 2011 10:51 am • linkreport

If the pace and methodology of their current project on the Parkway is any indication, expect the trail upgrades to take an eternity to complete, and expect the existing trail to become hazardous and borderline unusable while the work is being completed.

by Ron on Feb 24, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

This is going to be fantastic! Obviously the wider trails would be better, but it looks like they're going to add a bunch of new connectors to surface streets no matter what. I agree that this would be great for commuters -- I commute from Petworth to Dupont now, and even though it would add on a few miles I might take a renovated Rock Creek Park trail most of the way if there were an easier way to connect to it during heavy traffic times.

by G on Feb 24, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

The man from F.O.R.P. was pretty angry about the trail widening. During the open house, he raised his voice at a few rangers and DDOT employees because NPS had promised F.O.R.P. that they would not widen the trail (which is apparently true, though I doubt it applied in perpetuity).

That's a frequent issue which comes up in all type of activities in the District where neighborhood agreement is required to permit an exception to happen. Neighbors get promised something during the application/development phase and then once the agreement is made to go forward conditional on that promise a reason comes up to negate that promise. The whole Voluntary Agreement thing between Hank's and its neighbors is a good example of that. While it may seem reasonable to think 'circumstances change and it's okay to re-evaluate the situation afterwards, the hard truth is that people stop putting trust in the promises themselves when they see no volition on the part of the District (or the NPS in this case) to enforce/adhere to promises made. And this leads to what we then look at as naysayers when the only way to prevent abuses is to stop the whole project from the get go. Getting back to the Rose Park. I've ridden the trail there and can easily understand why the people using it as a park wouldn't want vehicles careening through there. The trail cuts right through the heart of the park where you have young children playing on one side and a ball field on the other. Any cyclist going through really should either slow down to a 'walking' pace ... or walk their bike through. The Friends of Rose Park probably saw the possibility of cyclists careening through as a problem back when that trail get paved and probably didn't want it to be paved ... but agreed on the condition that it be kept narrow so that traffic would be slow. Now fast forward some 5 or 10 years and you're seeing that promise pushed aside. I can understand why the guy was yelling. He was right. A promise should be a promise ...

by Lance on Feb 24, 2011 10:59 am • linkreport

In my dreams - this trail and the Cap Crescent Trail along the Potomac - would have solar-powered lighting that would extend light on the trail about two hours beyond sunset.

by Capt. Hilts on Feb 24, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

@Capt. Hilts: Although that'd be difficult to do because they're in shaded areas, I'll add my support to that notion. Having lighting on the MBT is a godsend.

by andrew on Feb 24, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

As is typical, Lance's description is inaccurate and misleading. NPS never needed or obtained FORP's approval for the project. Here's the history: in 2000 when NPS planned the bike trails for Rock Creek, building a trail up to Rose Park and widening the path through Rose Park were included. FORP objected. In the end, NPS simply dropped the Rose Park part of the plan. They built the Rock Creek path and the ramp up to Rose Park. The path through Rose Park was untouched. During discussions over the path, NPS did state that they agreed that the path should stay as-is, but it squarely opposed FORP's request to banish bikers from the park. The original project is done. There is no binding agreement from NPS. No final decision was made vis-a-vis Rose Park. It was simply dropped from the project. Everyone knew that something ultimately would have to be done about the path, but no agreements were finalized about what specifically to do. Now they're finally reevaluating the project. It makes sense that thy should consider all options, including widening the path.

Frankly I think it shouldn't be widened, but that bikers should be permitted. Simple signage telling bikers to slow down would go a long way towards minimizing biker-pedestrian conflicts without excluding one use that a group of neighbors simply don't like.

by TM on Feb 24, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

Trails and parks are actually a good place to get away from overhead lighting. There's plenty of it in the city already. My vote would be to minimize artificial lighting in parks. As for signage telling bikers to slow the f**k down. I wish this was enough. Being a pedestrian/jogger on some local trails is a bit like taking your own life into your hands. And this comes from someone who is both a biker and a pedestrian.

by aaa on Feb 24, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

PLEASE WIDEN THE TRAILS TO 10 FEET! As it is they are congested and it really becomes dangerous where it runs so close to the road. With DC's population growing and becoming more bike friendly it's also important to consider that trail use will definitely increase in the coming years. So if they are going to repave the trail then now is the time to widen.

also: "•Creating a connection from Harvard Street to the trail "
This needs to happen. A ton of cyclists and joggers access the trail from Harvard street yet the only safe way to link up with the trails from there is through the zoo. The problem with that is they close their gates all the time. Not just when they are closed but when they are hosting events etc. That forces everyone to dodge speeding cars on rock creek parkway and last year a jogger was hit doing just that. Ideally a pedestrian bridge could connect Harvard to the trail so we aren't reliant on the zoo.

As for realigning the trails away from the roadway. I'm all for that wherever possible. It really takes away from the fun of using the trails when you are sucking exhaust a lot of the time. Either way trail upgrades are long overdue and I hope the NPS doesn't phone it in.

by John on Feb 24, 2011 12:20 pm • linkreport

I've ridden the trail there and can easily understand why the people using it as a park wouldn't want vehicles careening through there. The trail cuts right through the heart of the park where you have young children playing on one side and a ball field on the other.

We can prevent careening without preventing cycling. And the trail does not run through the "heart of the park." It runs along side the fence at the edge of the park.

by David C on Feb 24, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport

Can't express strongly enough how much the proposed trail is needed on Piney Branch connecting RCT and Arkansas. Its a short section, .25-.50 mi., but I was nearly hit there so often I had to change my route, which became a major barrier to bike commuting.

So happy to see plans for more connections to trail from streets.

Wish there was a plan to put a bike path on Park Rd connecting RCT to DDOT bike lane on Park Rd. (westbound lane ends abruptly when road crosses onto NPS land making a very dangerous passage from there to RCT and/or closed off Beach Dr.)

by Tina on Feb 24, 2011 12:29 pm • linkreport

I agree with both George and Tina. There should be a better connection from the Pierce Mill area uptown to Military Road (or Broad Branch) and, improving Park Road to facilitate connectivity from Pierce Mill east of the Park would be a major improvement.

by Andrew on Feb 24, 2011 12:42 pm • linkreport

@TM 'During discussions over the path, NPS did state that they agreed that the path should stay as-is

And THAT agreement is now being renegged upon ... which is what I said. Funny, I thought you said I had it wrong?

by Lance on Feb 24, 2011 1:00 pm • linkreport

@TM NPS never needed or obtained FORP's approval for the project.

You know that's not really true. While technically NPS can do anything it pleases on its property, politically it needs to take into account its stakeholders. And the neighbors there are stakeholders. NPS had to get their 'buy in' ... maybe you don't view that as 'approval', but I do ... especially when you're dealing with a neighborhood that is well organized and knows how to make itself heard.

by Lance on Feb 24, 2011 1:05 pm • linkreport

@David C 'We can prevent careening without preventing cycling.

Did I say we should prevent cycling there? No. I simply said it should be done very slowly and with care there ... at a pedestrian's pace if there are park goers there. These are recreational paths, there's no reason for anyone to be in a rush.

by Lance on Feb 24, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

I oppose overhead lighting AND widening the trails. Both excess lighting and superwide paving dramatically reduce my enjoyment of the woods/park (some of which will of course have to be mowed down to widen the trails).

by Glenn on Feb 24, 2011 1:15 pm • linkreport

Because there's a difference between agreeing and forming an agreement. NPS's position six years ago was partially consistent with FORP's position. In that sense, they agreed. But there was no agreement. And certainly not a "neighborhood agreement [that is] required to permit an exception to happen." Nothing went forward. No conditions were agreed to. This is nothing like Hanks.

by TM on Feb 24, 2011 1:16 pm • linkreport

@Glen, try getting off the paved/lighted "super highway" bikepath and onto a dirt path (day or night!) to really enjoy the woods!

I love RCP passionately for the access to the woods it provides - quality woods with old growth and varied terrain. But to get there I expect to have to get off the RCT, which I use as a (really nice) transportation trail.

by Tina on Feb 24, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

+1 for a connection on Piney Branch. I complain a little inside every time I go down it. Although personally, I'd forego the new trail if they'd just put in speed bumps.

by mark on Feb 24, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

We're not talking about super-bright 24/7 lighting. We're talking about solar-powered LEDs that would give commuters a safe extra hour or two in the morning, and at twilight.

Also, the Klingle Road guys are almost starting to become amusing in their persistence. It's been 20 years!

by andrew on Feb 24, 2011 4:22 pm • linkreport

@andrew-yes, that would be nice especially in Dec and Jan

by Tina on Feb 24, 2011 4:48 pm • linkreport

Wait, wait, are we actually witnessing the NPS doing something that benefits DC? WOW! Keep the vibe NPS, keep the vibe!

by Jasper on Feb 24, 2011 8:26 pm • linkreport

Andrew, I overheard someone talking about lights last night, but I got the sense that it was a non-starter with NPS. But it would probably help with commuters.

by David C on Feb 24, 2011 9:12 pm • linkreport

Im sure some kind of agreement could be reached for lighting.

That is, year round, lights are only kept until 8pm. So in the summer, they never even turn on, and in the dead of winter, theyre on for 4 hours.

Same can be had in the morning. Maybe lights from 6:30am until the sun is out. Depending on dst and the date, the lights will be on an hour or not at all.

by JJJJJ on Feb 25, 2011 6:20 pm • linkreport

Mountain biking legal in RCP? What a moronic idea. I just went for a jog in the park on a dirt trail and ran into - or should I say nearly got run over - by TWO illegal bikers, one was screaming down a hill, weaving from side to side kicking up all kinds of debris, i.e. eroding the trail. Had I not gotten out of his way I could have been seriously hurt. What if I had a dog, or children or been less able?

You can see the impacts of off-roading mountain bikers by the trails they leave in the woods. They can bike somewhere else but RCP does not have the staff to monitor them and meanwhile they demonstrate with regularity that they can't be trusted. I don't see joggers, hikers or equestrians acting this way. Yes, I do see people with their big, mean, scary dogs off leash but, after them, the mountain bikers are the most prone to hurting me while I jog or walk through the woods.

I don't care how much labor they would provide. It's not worth it and they're not trustworthy. They're like off-road vehicle users out west in my opinion.

by Tom on Mar 4, 2011 7:02 pm • linkreport

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