Despite the lack of on-the-ground progress for more than two years, District transportation officials say the Metropolitan Branch Trail is not languishing in planning rooms and that funding has been budgeted to complete the D.C. portion of the eight-mile, off-street bicycling and pedestrian path.
The MBT currently winds its way through Northeast Washington, rising near Metro tracks and above busy roads between Union Station and the Brookland neighborhood, about one-and-a-half miles of an asphalt-covered pathway. The final 6.5 miles from Brookland to the Silver Spring Transit Center, currently a combination of off-road and interim routes that take bicyclists onto crowded streets, are years from completion.
“We still have a gap from Fort Totten to the D.C. line,” said Shane Farthing, the executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, who has criticized the D.C. Department of Transportation for the slow progress. “It is a point of frustration that the northern segment isn’t moving a little faster and that we don’t have designs a little further along.”
DDOT is currently negotiating an agreement with the National Park Service to allow the trail to traverse federal land in Fort Totten. Funding has been established to complete construction of the trail in D.C. in the fiscal ’15 and ‘16 budgets, said Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s head of policy, planning, and sustainability.
“We are making good progress now. We’re moving forward with design. We’re going to be out in the community hopefully this fall talking about the design process and getting people engaged,” he said.
To cycling advocates, speedier completion of the Met Branch Trail will make it safer, especially after a bicyclist was beaten by a group of teenagers on his way home to Silver Spring earlier this month.
“Trails get safer the more people ride them because you have people out there on bikes, on foot, walking their dog at all times of day, and there isn’t the same opportunity for someone to do something illegal and get away with it,” said Farthing, who said the MBT sees approximately 15,000 annual trips.
Farthing said DDOT’s internal decision-making structure does not prioritize bike/pedestrian projects.
“Inside DDOT most of the bike and pedestrian expertise is put within their planning division. So once something is planned, it then has to move to their implementation and engineering division. There isn’t the same focus on bike and pedestrian issues within the engineering group,” he said.
DDOT officials declined to comment on its internal structure, but Zimbabwe said the Met Branch Trail is not languishing.
“That is certainly not our feeling from within DDOT. We’ve got a lot of projects going on in the District and we continue to make progress on all of them,” he said.