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Cyclists Push For Completion Of Metropolitan Branch Trail

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One of the "interim" segments of the Metropolitan Branch Trail that runs along the road in Northeast D.C. This route includes bicyclists having to ride the wrong way on a one way street.
Martin Di Caro
One of the "interim" segments of the Metropolitan Branch Trail that runs along the road in Northeast D.C. This route includes bicyclists having to ride the wrong way on a one way street.

The intersection of Fort Totten Drive and Gallatin Street NE doesn't look like a bike trail, with dozens of smelly trucks coming and going at a trash transfer station.

But the intersection is technically part of a heavily traveled bike path: the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The rest of the 8-mile trail is one of the nicest bike paths in the D.C. region. But bicycling advocates want to know why there's been no progress for two years on extending the proposed path between Union Station and Silver Spring.

"I just look forward to a day when we're not standing at a busy street corner with trucks and trash vehicles rolling past and when we can be doing this from a nice, quiet safe trail-side location," says Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, as he stands at the busy intersection.

Pressuring DDOT for action

Farthing hopes that day comes within two or three years. The Metropolitan Branch Trail is actually a completed off-road bike path, with its southern segment starting at Union Station and running to the Brookland neighborhood in Northeast. 

But the remaining three segments are a combination off off-road and "interim routes," which forces cyclists to leave the path and crowd onto city streets. One of those spots is in Fort Totten. 

"In a couple of places it actually goes up relatively steep hills. In one place, it goes against traffic," Farthing says of the current setup. "I do think for kids and novice cyclists who might want to try this connection …  where you are sent in to oncoming traffic is intimidating."

Bike advocates want the District Department of Transportation, Metro, and the National Park Service to work out land use issues stalling the trail's completion. They say there should be no obstacle to completing the segment between Riggs Road NE and the Montgomery County line.

"We'd like to see DDOT pushing harder on that," Farthing says. "We think it is something that with a concerted effort by the District Department of Transportation we could see progress very quickly."

Competing interests affect progress

But DDOT says there are legitimate reasons why the trail isn't progressing quickly, namely, funding and land use issues. 

"Some of what we face is a challenge of resources and dealing with multiple trail projects moving forward at the same time," says Sam Zimbabwe who works in DDOT's planning and policy office. "And this is probably one of the most challenging sections of the trail in terms of dealing with competing needs of the right-of-way." 

The prediction that the trail could be finished in two to three years is "optimistic," Zimbabwe adds. 

Concerns remain over trail's end

There are also land use concerns about where the trail would end in Silver Spring. The group Montgomery Preservation Inc. is unhappy with a plan to run the trail between a building that houses a B&O Railroad museum and Metro's Red Line tracks. 

They're also concerned about a proposed bicycle bridge over Georgia Avenue that would block views of the historic railroad bridge. The MBT is part of the county's master plan and the Montgomery County Council has approved funding. 

"The county council, county executive, and bicycling community are all interested in completing the design and construction and opening up this important part of this heavily used trail,” says Bruce Johnston, the chief of Montgomery County Department of Transportation's division of transportation engineering.

Even though the trail is only partially complete, 11,500 trips were taken on the Met Branch Trail last year, a sign that residents are trying to make bicycling at least part of their daily commutes.

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