Posts about Metropolitan Branch Trail
Perenially dark lights on the Metropolitan Branch Trail have frustrated cyclists for quite some time, but DDOT says they will do better in the future, and some fixes are coming in the near term.
After I wrote about lighting problems on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, DDOT spokesman John Lisle shared some plans to upgrade and maintain lighting along the trail.
Obviously they are not performing as well as we'd like and we are working with the contractor to get them all up and running again. Heather [Deutsch, in the bicycle planning group], has led this charge over the past year and the lighting team is working on it as well.
They inventoried the lights and here's a summary of what they found:Lisle also promised an update once most of the lights have been fixed.
- 22 lights were out, 2 of which were missing the entire fixture
- 4 lights with blown fuses were repaired on the spot
- 36 batteries failed the test
- 1 electronic controller failed test
- 32 fixtures were loose at the arm mount and the contractor was able to tighten all of the fixtures.
We have contacted the vendor and they are preparing to ship the batteries by [December 11th] and will make preparations to have the two missing fixtures sent at a later time. They also will replace the broken electronic controller.
In addition we are providing temporary lights for the New York Avenue Bridge Project contractor to install under that bridge to light the trail.
One challenge that has impeded fixing lights is that no group was formally responsible for this. Deutsch and the other bicycle planners, part of DDOT's Policy, Planning, and Sustainability Administration, are responsible for planning and designing new bicycle facilities, but not ongoing maintenance.
There's a group that handles streetlights, and that's part of the Traffic Operations Administration. It would be logical for them to maintain trail lights as well. Soumya Dey, acting head of TOA, said that DDOT has been operating under an emergency temporary contract for streetlights while they work out a permanent contract. The current contract doesn't encompass trail lighting, but Dey said that the new one would.
If DDOT can fix some of the lighting now, including getting some under the dark New York Avenue bridge during construction, and then make trail lighting part of some division's long-term maintenance responsibilities, we can hope trail users need not suffer for long.
The Metropolitan Branch Trail is a terrific bike facility, but without better lighting, it's too attractive for crime. Sadly, it takes repeated emergencies like robberies to get our government to pay attention.
On Tuesday night at 9 pm, I rode the off-street part of the trail from Franklin Street NE, south to M Street NE, and counted 19 overhead lights (as well as 5 lights on the ramp to street level) that were burned out, missing, or flashing like a strobe.
I stopped a police officer on the trail to ask if the police would have any more success advocating for working lighting on the trail than regular citizens would. Sadly, the officer said I should just email the city or call 311, as he had no more pull on this issue than I did.
Just over an hour later, MPD reported a robbery by 8-9 masked youth, armed with a gun, on the "1400 block" of the trail.
One would assume that's between where O and P Streets would intersect the trail, based on address ranges elsewhere. That is the location of the New York Avenue bridge over the trail, which has been bathed in utter darkness since the trail opened.
There have been constant problems with the overhead lights. The light just south of the Franklin Street overpass has been flashing like a strobe since October 2011 (over a year), and nothing has been done about it. DDOT employee Heather Deutch wrote on the MBT's Facebook page:
These are solar/LED lights. There is a 5 year warranty, with most components expected to last 10 years (i.e. batteries and lamps). This was a pilot project for us and the company is out of Florida. We have been having problems with the lights and with repairs being performed quickly. That being said, all the lights were repaired and working as of January 2012. There are, again, more lights out and we have submitted this information to the company. If you would like to contact them directly, the company is Sol www.solarlighting.com.DDOT's bicycle program has few resources, but it's still unacceptable that they aren't able to keep the lights working. If there's a warranty, there should be an employee who deals with contracts who can get the necessary work done.
In addition, it's been clear that the stretch of the trail under the New York Avenue overpass would be a particularly dark place since that segment of the trail opened in May, 2010. The excuse for not placing lighting under the bridge was that it would soon be under construction (construction began in early 2011). That construction has been ongoing for nearly 2 years, and is not expected to be complete until September 2013.
There's simply no rationale for not putting temporary lighting under the bridge. In addition to the all-too-real threat of crime, there's the current threat of severe injury because construction equipment takes up some of the space. David Poms noted on Twitter that he almost crashed into the construction material in the darkness.
The city needs to light the underpass now and until construction is complete with a long-term temporary solution, and then with a high-quality permanent solution after that point. Riders need to be able to see construction material or gangs of criminals waiting for them in the darkness.
Bicyclists, pedestrians, and the environment will all benefit when DDOT reconstructs the stretch of First Street, NE that forms NoMa's main street over the next 2 years. The stretch from Columbus Circle to New York Avenue will get new crosswalks, stormwater retention, and a cycletrack to help connect the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Union Station and the Mall.
DDOT and associated contractors presented plans for the reconstruction of the road at a meeting last night. The biggest news for regional cyclists is the plan to add a a 2-way cycletrack along 1st Street from Columbus Circle to M Street NE.
The cycletrack will be 8 feet wide and separated from automobile traffic. Plastic bollards will handle that duty from the circle to K Street. From K to M, a 2-foot-wide precast concrete barrier will keep automobile and bicycle traffic separate. This barrier will be the same height as a standard curb.
Bicyclists will need to share travel lanes with automobiles on one block of M Street to get from the ramp that marks the southern end of the Metropolitan Branch Trail to the northern end of the cycletrack. Bicycle traffic will now have a much safer route to get from the National Mall to the MBT.
The project will include new crosswalks at almost every intersection. The one exception is Pierce Street, between L and M, which DDOT promises to revisit when development at that corner brings more pedestrian activity. Sidewalks will get better lighting, including Washington Globe lights along the road and teardrop lighting at the intersections. Wider sidewalks will ensure ADA compliance.
Bio-retention areas, similar to what exists on the east side of the 1200 block of First Street, will be installed where possible along the road. This will help ensure that less water pours directly into the sewer system during rains, helping to curb the volume of water that leads to combined sewer overflow episodes.
Crews will relocate a water main and do other utility work between September 2012 and Spring of 2013. The full-depth reconstruction of the road will then occur from K Street to New York Avenue, one side of the road at a time. The road will allow one-way southbound traffic at all times. From G Street to K Street, the road will simply be resurfaced.
Construction is scheduled to last 18 to 24 months, though the team expects all work to be finished closer to the 18 month end of the timeframe. That would mean they will complete the project sometime in the spring of 2014. A page with project details will be available on DDOT's website once construction gets underway.
Preliminary work has started on the Washington Gateway project, the three-
The highlight of the project is the Metropolitan Branch Trail Atrium (circled in red above).
This three story space will create a bike-friendly entrance to the project unlike anything in the DC area. It will include a paved and signed entrance to the atrium which includes LED lighting and automatic doors that will allow cyclist to ride into the atrium. There will be an automatic bike pump for maintenance; a water fountain; a refreshment area with vending machines, tables and chairs; indoor bike parking and a natural ventilation system to supplement the HVAC system in appropriate seasons.
WABA has been invited to provide programming for the space and will be allowed to use the site for staging rides. It will not be open 24 hours a day, but it will be open at most times of the day.
In addition, the project will improve the trail along the building line. The developers will replace the trail surface, landscape the area along it, and replace the solar trail lighting with lights on the side of the building. A portion of the trail will be enhanced for pedestrian use with different paving patterns and treatment to encourage trail use for commuters walking from the Metro station and to separate users.
The atrium will be at the elevation of the trail, so users will have to go down stairs or an elevator to access the plaza in the center of the site and from there access the surrounding streets. The stairs will have a bike trough as will stairs from the plaza to the sidewalk along the New York Avenue Bridge.
The first building to go up will likely be the western building, which will be residential. The developers will build a temporary 6- to 8-foot-wide paved connection from the trail to this building while they wait to build the two office buildings on the east that will include the atrium. The residential building will have indoor bike storage as well as outdoor visitor bike parking. One of the office buildings will have a fitness facility that will give commuters access to a shower.
DDOT worked with the developers on the PUD to make sure that the project would be permeable for cyclists and pedestrians, and from all appearances this has the potential to be a flagship example of how development should work with adjacent trails. I predict future Bicycle Summit tours of DC to include this as a must-see stop.
The Metropolitan Branch Trail has been gradually becoming a reality, but now its future is threatened at both ends: in the north from the Montgomery County Executive's short-sighted budget decisions, in the south by the District's laissez-faire protection of trail users.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett wants to eliminate funding to complete the trail for 6 years, which would ensure the trail serves far fewer communities and draws fewer users than it should. The lower activity resulting from the incompleteness of this trail makes it less safe, and DC has not done enough to protect trail users from crime.
The Capital Crescent Trail, between Bethesda and Georgetown, is the nation's most used rail trail with over 1 million trips annually. Bicycle commuters make many of those trips, and each represent one fewer car on the road or passenger on one of the Metro's most crowded lines. The Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) does not yet fully exist, but when complete, it will be a similarly critical recreational amenity and transportation connection between Silver Spring's transit center and the District's Union Station.
Trail advocates, neighbors, and the governments of DC and Montgomery County have vetted plans and agreed to a common vision for a continuous, safe, off-road trail connecting multi-modal transportation hubs in Silver Spring and the District.
But this year, the Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett's budget cuts all construction funding for the MBT for the next 6 years. This breaks the county's promises to complete the trail.
Empty words don't define a county's priorities. Budgetary commitments do. The County Council must ensure that the county respects the community's efforts to reach this shared vision by restoring the funding for the trail.
Meanwhile, the District's portion of the trail faces its own challenges. DC rightly pushed ahead to build the southern portion of the trail on its own. The existing segment from Monroe Street to M Street is a gem. However, until it connects all the way to Silver Spring, the trail won't draw as many riders as it promises.
Without that activity, the trail remains somewhat isolated and needs police attention to maintain safety. Police officials have periodically told trail advocates and neighbors that they are increasing patrols, but this commitment remains reactive and inconsistent.
Several community groups have worked diligently to bring more activity to the trail. Groups like the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Rails to Trails Conservancy, and Kidical Mass have run programming on or near it to keep eyes on the trail. But special events only do so much.
Two weeks ago, a trail user was mugged and shot. But I have seen no increased police presence nor heard any new communication on trail safety, either to in my professional capacity as executive director of the region's largest association of bicyclists or in my personal capacity as a trail neighbor. Last week, I was trailside for nearly 6 hours over 2 days giving out bike lights and trail safety information. In that time I did not encounter a single law enforcement officer on the trail.
We need better. Safety is as much a part of the larger vision for this trail as the laying of asphalt. The lack of safety can undermine this community resource just as easily as a capital budget cut or construction flaw.
The vision is clear. The plan is complete. DC and Montgomery leaders: It is time for you to get serious about funding, building, maintaining, and protecting this long-awaited amenity in the eastern portions of your jurisdictions, just as you funded and built the Capital Crescent Trail decades ago, and ensure that it is a safe, usable place for cyclists, runners, and pedestrians.
Tomorrow night at 7 pm, the Montgomery County Council will host a public hearing on the proposed budget and its capital plans. This is the community's chance to testify in support of the trail, and to ask councilmembers to keep the MBT a priority keep the county's commitments. If you are unable to attend and testify in person, you can send an email to the Council here.
On the District end, we must continue to push MPD to understand the importance of this trail and the need for a real maintenance and public safety plan. Construction is not the end of the work involved in making a trail succeed. It is just the beginning. We must continue to push DDOT, DPW, and MPD to live up to their responsibilities to the trail and its users. That push will come through ongoing dialogue, communication with trail users and residents, and push for accountability led by those of us who value the trail and its success.
Trail supporters need our leaders in both the District and Montgomery County to be accountable to the full vision of the trail, and we must do our part to remind them of that vision and keep them aware of the greater goal. The next major opportunity to do so is tomorrow night in Rockville.
DDOT is considering a 3-block cycle track on 1st Street, NE from K to M Streets to help people biking between the Metropolitan Branch Trail or NoMa and Union Station and places farther south.
The off-road segment along west side of the railroad tracks currently runs from L Street in the south to Franklin Street in the north. However, it has a set of stairs just north of L, so cyclists using this portion will generally get on and off at M Street.
From there, users continuing south toward Union Station can go west to 1st Street NE, which leads to the Metro station, the Bikestation, Columbus Circle and more. DDOT is reconstructing the segment from K Street north, and has designed this cycle track for the portion up to M.
According to Mike Goodno of DDOT, they aren't looking at extending the cycle track north of M because because of parking and hotel drop-off issues north of M Street. That means that someone riding southbound on 1st Street from NoMa will have to cross over somehow to get to the cycle track, either by queueing up in front of the traffic on M Street and then turning right into the track, or turning left onto M, or crossing as a pedestrian at the crosswalk.
A few streets cross the segment in question. Drivers can turn right from the northbound lanes or left from the southbound lanes across the track. Therefore, turning conflicts might be an issue. Goodno says they haven't yet decided how to handle these turns.
There are also a few curb cuts accessing the adjacent properties, like the Greyhound bus terminal. The diagrams show some of these potentially being closed. The project wouldn't immediately close them, but DDOT would want to work with property owners to locate any curb cuts on side streets instead as those properties are redeveloped.
The project is currently slated for 2013 or 2014. DDOT also hopes to continue the cycle track south of K eventually, though that is not part of this current project.
They're interested in hearing feedback. What do you think of the plan?
The R Street NW bike lane is an important east-west thoroughfare for cyclists in DC, stretching from Massachusetts Avenue NW to Florida Avenue NW. The only gap remaining is 6 blocks between Florida Avenue and the Metropolitan Branch Trail. DDOT hopes to fill this gap soon.
On Saturday morning, local ANC Commissioners hosted representatives from DDOT to meet with residents of Eckington and Bloomingdale to discuss their proposal to complete the direct connection for cyclists between the MBT and Rock Creek Park.
The proposal calls for a combination of sharrows and protected bike lanes between Florida Avenue and the MBT along R Street. According to DDOT representatives, the choice of sharrows, rather than bike lanes, was one of necessity because much of R Street through Bloomingdale and Eckington carries two-way traffic rather than one-way, rendering the street too narrow to incorporate bike lanes.
R Street is one-way eastbound on the block between 2nd Street NE and 3rd Street NE. Westbound cyclists cannot legally remain on R Street, and either have to go out of their way, or bike on the sidewalk here. The proposal calls for a separated contraflow bike lane on this block. This design is similar to that of 15th Street NW, where a lane of parking provides a buffer between cyclists and traffic.
One goal of this project is to increase safety for both cyclists and drivers, especially for drivers on southbound 2nd Street NE, where the column of parked cars would obscure their ability to see oncoming cyclists.
Among residents in attendance, the proposal for sharrows along R Street was uncontroversial. Residents noted the unobtrusive nature of the markings, a sample of which was displayed by DDOT representatives, and that the sharrows will provide another welcome impetus for motorists in the area to slow down and be mindful of bicyclists and pedestrians (speed humps are already installed on this stretch of R Street).
Of more concern to the gathered residents was the overall traffic volume in the neighborhood, particularly the truck traffic emanating from industrial areas along the MBT and railroad tracks, as well as from the FedEx facility at Florida and New York Avenues NE.
The ANC Commissioners present spoke of past agreements with these companies to limit the use of local streets for through-traffic, and how those agreements have been forgotten or ignored over the years. They also noted the difficultly of imposing weight-restrictions on R Street because of its status as a major east-west route and collector street.
Ultimately, attendees and DDOT representatives recognized the value of sharrows is more symbolic than physical. Unlike separated bike lanes, sharrows don't provide any physical protection to cyclists, who are still vulnerable to dooring or being squeezed by traffic.
Still, the sharrows provide an important psychological benefit, letting drivers know bicyclists are present and have a right to the road, and letting cyclists know they are welcome on the street.
As the next step in their process for community input and approval, DDOT will present at an upcoming ANC meeting. The ANC may hold a vote on the issue, though such a vote is not required for DDOT to move forward.
If approved, the project itself will be relatively inexpensive. Each sharrow marking runs about $75 and costs another $75 to install. Approximately two markings in each direction will be installed per block. Barring significant opposition within the community, DDOT representatives estimated the project could be completed before Thanksgiving.
Other events coming up include the Kidical Mass bike ride, a gathering on Met Branch Trail safety, a streetcar happy hour, and Arlington's Capital Bikeshare expansion meeting.
For the Anacostia day, we will meet at the museum at noon for a brown-bag lunch and networking hour. From 1-3 pm we will divide into two groups for a guided tour of the museum and the art gallery.
Space is limited, so registration is required for tours. RSVP here.
The Anacostia Community Museum is located at 1901 Fort Place SE. The W2 and W3 buses from the Anacostia Metro Station stop across the street from the museum. There is also a free shuttle from the National Mall.
This Saturday, June 18, is Kidical Mass, the monthly family-friendly bike ride. This month's starts at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Brookland at 10:30 and heads up to Mt. Rainier for a pool party. For those farther south, there will be a bike caravan going from Capitol Hill and stopping in Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Edgewood.
There are two great transportation-related events on Wednesday, June 22. From 4 to 7 pm is a Met Branch Trail safety open house at the 4th and S pocket park along the trail, organized by GGW contributor and Rails-to-Trails coordinator Stephen Miller. MPD and DDOT officials will talk with riders about recent safety and dispatching problems on the trail.
The Guardian Angels are also organizing trail safety patrols, and will talk with trail users at the event. They need people to sign up to patrol, which you can do at the event or online.
After that, bike or ride Metro (because the streetcar isn't yet running) over to the Sierra Club's streetcar happy hour at Ray's the Steaks, 3905 Dix St. NE by the Minnesota Avenue Metro, starting at 6 pm.
Finally, Arlington's meeting on CaBi expansion is Monday, June 27, 7 pm at the Arlington county offices at 2100 Clarendon Blvd, Cherry and Dogwood conference rooms.
You can find these and other events on the Greater Greater Washington calendar. If there's something else we should know about, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get it added.
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