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New Metropolitan Branch bike trail designs move the 8-mile trail closer to done; #bikedc weighs in

The trail will run past an existing community garden

The MBT along Blair Road

Part of the MBT - Blair Road at Quackenbos St NW

The District Department of Transportation Saturday presented preliminary design plans for parts of the Metropolitan Branch Trail that will link existing off-road segments in Northeast DC with the Maryland border.

The MBT is an eight-mile bike trail running from Union Station to Silver Spring, through NoMa, Eckington, Brookland/Edgewood, Fort Totten, Takoma, and Takoma Park. Parts of the trail, notably the section from 8th and Franklin streets NE to the NoM metro station, are already off-street, while other parts temporarily use existing streets.

The new designs will connect an existing off-street portion of the trail north of the Brookland metro to Takoma, almost entirely off-street. 

One of the least pleasant on-street parts of the interim MBT is a steep hill that passes a trash transfer station north of Brookland. For perhaps obvious reasons, this part of the bike ride has been nicknamed "The Big Stinky" by cyclists. The proposed plans will eliminate the hill and pass the transfer station to the east rather than the west, in what The WashCycle blogger David Cranor says is "as elegantly as possible," given that on the other side of the trail is an active rail line.

The improved trail also will zoom past a community garden in Takoma (with a small bumpout for vehicular loading and unloading) and up past Blair Road NW, all separated from cars by a wall, grassy strip or both. Construction should begin in 2017.

We asked a few DC cyclists and cycling advocates what they thought about the plans.

David Cranor, The WashCycle and Bicycle Advisory Committee member:
In some cases, the alternatives chosen have not been the best options for trail users, but in each of those cases that is due to opposition from the National Park Service. I'm really happy with it and excited about a 2017 groundbreaking.

Brian McEntee, @sharrowsDC and author of Gear Prudence, the city's best weekly cycling advice column:
I like the design a lot. The current interim MBT is on-road, but most of this is off-road trail. The separation from car traffic is a really big deal for a lot of people who would be bike commuters, but aren't due to safety concerns.... I think what I'm looking forward to the most about the build is just more people being able to take advantage of the MBT. I know that there have been some safety concerns, but more users means more 'eyes on the trail' and that should hopefully ameliorate things. Also, the idea that you'll be able to ride through the heart of the city from Takoma to Union Station (more or less paralleling the Red Line) creates a level of bicycle and pedestrian connectivity where there hasn't been before. NoMa, Rhode Island Ave, Brookland, Fort Totten and even Takoma are seeing increased development and thousands of new apartments coming online in the next few years. Giving those residents both a great recreational facility that doubles essentially as a 'bike highway' to downtown is a really big deal and really smart investment. 

Phil Koopman, co-owner/director of advocacy for BicycleSPACE:
I’ve ... been personally working for the trail since it was first proposed by Pat Hare and Paul Meijer (among other early supporters) and a regular rider along the route since my days living in Takoma Park back in the ‘80s.  The completion of the trail is a long time coming (and will still be awhile before it’s completed, alas).  But at least we are seeing concrete progress in getting the planning done, which is a prerequisite to getting the trail built.

The bypass around the industrial areas and Ft. Totten park is going to make a huge difference for more casual riders...Still, the at-grade crossings of Riggs Rd., New Hampshire Ave., and—to a lesser extent—Piney Branch Rd. will be over high-traffic roads with only crosswalk/signals for the trail.  Ideally, there would be bridges over these streets, though that would certainly cost more and require more planning and cooperation from other interests, particularly from the National Park Service in the area from Ft. Totten Metro to Blair Rd. 

Overall, we are looking at a pretty decent facility that should encourage many more people to bike and walk all along the route.  It’s too bad that they couldn’t get it all fully separated from vehicle traffic, particularly in the most congested area around the Takoma Park Metro.  But it is progress and will hopefully be a foundation for future improvements once it’s in place and being used.


Read more articles by Rachel Kaufman.

Rachel is the managing editor of Elevation D.C. She also covers tech, business and science for publications nationwide. She lives in Brookland.
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