Want to ride a bike from Virginia to DC via the Wilson Bridge Trail? Sounds simple enough, right? Guess again. Thanks to poor planning and neglect, it’s far easier said than done.
This sidewalk gap between Harborview and National Avenues is filled with loose gravel. Photos by the author.
Biking into DC from Alexandria and Fairfax, you ride across the Wilson Bridge and onto a trail. Then, official maps show a bike route which involves a few turns to reach the DC-295 corridor.
However, to do that, cyclists either have to make an illegal left turn on the road. Taking the sidewalk is no better, because there are large gaps in the sidewalk full of gravel which are difficult to ride on.
The bike route to the Wilson Bridge. Image edited by the author from Google Maps.
How the connection is supposed to work
You can see the bike route in the above map. It first continues parallel to Harborview Avenue (A) and ends at Oxon Hill Road. From there, you should be able to turn left onto Oxon Hill (B), left onto Bald Eagle Road (C), and then hit an access road (E) that leads to the Oxon Hill Farm Bike Trail (F) toward DC Water, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, the US Naval Research Lab, and a handful of neighborhoods.
But here’s the problem: Northbound cyclists on Oxon Hill Road can’t legally turn left onto Bald Eagle Road (C). To get to Bald Eagle, they must either make an illegal left turn, continue up Oxon Hill and detour via Indian Head Highway (a major road), or ride north in the southbound Oxon Hill Road bike lane.
The other option is to ride on the sidewalk that runs along the west side of Oxon Hill Road. But even if we set aside that we’re talking about having no choice but to bike on the sidewalk— which shouldn’t ever be the case—there are two unfinished driveways on Oxon Hill that cross the sidewalk route, each leaving a vertical drop of about four inches.
Roots of the problem
These problems aren’t random. They’re the result of decisions made by the National Park Service and, more recently, the Maryland State Highway Authority.
In 2010, NPS blocked an effort to create a direct bicycle and pedestrian route along I-295 between the bridge and DC Water’s home on Overlook Avenue. Such a trail would eliminate this entire problem altogether, and its absence undermines the Wilson Bridge Trail’s value.
As for the Maryland SHA, there is no left turn option from Oxon Hill Road onto Bald Eagle because of a 2013 SHA project to open Oxon Hill Farm Road, which created a shortcut to allow freeway traffic from the westbound Beltway to bypass Indian Head Highway en route to southbound Oxon Hill Road.
Deciding to do this meant not building Oxon Hill Farm Road to connect Forest Heights, Sachem Drive, and surrounding neighborhoods. And another Oxon Hill sidewalk gap, this one between National and Bald Eagle, has been left for so long that dirt and vegetation are beginning to stabilize the gravel.
Both issues show the SHA’s underlying culture of neglect for neglect for cyclists and pedestrians.
One Fairfax cyclist, Paul Bernhardt, has found his own solution to the problem: Rather than commuting to work along Oxon Hill Road, he simply rides along the I-295 shoulder. Bernhardt’s willingness to take such a dangerous route to avoid the mess around Oxon Hill Road pretty much says it all.
“I’m not going to ride two extra miles up and down a big hill just because they were too stupid to build the trail. I’m riding where the trail should have been in the first place.”