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Midday Mugging Prompts Placement of Mile Markers Along D.C. Bike Trail

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A lonely stretch of the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Northeast D.C.
WAMU/Martin Di Caro
A lonely stretch of the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Northeast D.C.

The midday mugging of a 29-year-old woman on a bicycle is leading to changes along the popular Metropolitan Branch Trail in Northeast D.C.

The July 13 robbery and other recent incidents exposed a hole in the District’s response system: Trail users calling 911 may not be able to receive prompt help without providing the dispatcher a precise location.

The solution: mile markers.

DDOT spokeswoman Michelle Phipps-Evans shows one of the new signs. (WAMU/Martin Di Caro)

The markers will be posted every tenth of a mile along a 1.6 mile stretch between L and Franklin streets — the off-street, finished portion of the Metropolitan Branch Trail that sees about 1,200 daily users and runs adjacent to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station and CSX freight tracks.

“For the average person who doesn’t use the trail often or maybe isn’t aware of their surroundings, a street sign or a street below you may not orient you,” said Garrett Hennigan, an outreach coordinator with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. Street signs and other major landmarks were coded into the 911 dispatch system to help police locate trouble along the trail. The mile markers will be geo-coded to add another layer of information for trail users.

“It is an urban trail. It goes through a lot of different neighborhoods. It goes through four miles of the city. Of particular concerns on the trail, visibility is not always that great and sight lines can be tricky. You don’t always know what you are biking up into,” Hennigan said. “But I think despite all of that the best solution for a trail like this is for it to be busy.”

After the July 13 mugging Hennigan’s group, the District Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Police Department and dispatchers from the Office of Unified Communications met to discuss safety issues. DDOT says the mile markers will be posted within a month.

“Sometimes it is difficult for someone who calls 911 to communicate exactly where they are on the trail,” said Jim Sebastian, a DDOT transportation planner. “We have street signs every block or so, but there are long stretches of trail with no intersecting streets.”

“Every [mile marker] will be geo-coded and then the dispatcher will be able to pick that up on a map and send it to the police,” Sebastian said.

DDOT also is working with the NoMa Business Improvement District on a study of trail access and safety that may be released in the next couple of weeks.

“That will have all kinds of ideas for improving trail safety, things like cameras, signage, programming to get more people on the trail for activities, finishing the trail so we can have more users. The more users, the safer it is,” Sebastian said.

The Metropolitan Police Department provided a statement about its efforts on the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

“Mountain bike officers are assigned to the Metropolitan Branch Trail and patrol it regularly. When incidents have occurred on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, the community is alerted through the Fifth District listserv,” said MPD spokeswoman Gwen Crump.


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