More people would use the Metropolitan Branch Trail if… more people used the Metropolitan Branch Trail. That’s the “aha” coming out of a study that started this spring, and it’s a thought that’s likely to guide efforts to make the trail more inviting and practical to use.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail, just south of Rhode Island Avenue. Photo by Malcolm K. on Flickr.

The MBT is already quite popular, and with good reason: it provides a straight-shot connection between Union Station and Brookland, with a number of entry points along the way that include an entrance to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro stop and a connector to the R Street bike lane.

But some people worry that the trail is unsafe, and others say they’d like it to be more aesthetically pleasing.

In an effort to better understand exact concerns, the NoMa Business Improvement District, along with Edens, the JBG Companies, and Level 2 Development, has partnered with the District Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Police Department to run the MBT Safety and Access Study.

A key part of the study is an ongoing online survey that asks participants why they use (or don’t use) the MBT, which segments of the trail make them feel insecure and why, what nearby destinations they wish the trail would connect to, and what types of improvements they would like to see along the trail.

The crowd at a community meeting to discuss possibilities for the MBT. All images from NoMa BID unless otherwise noted.

People feel safer on the trail when they’re not alone

While they’re still not finished collecting responses, the groups behind the survey held a public meeting in mid-June to share what they had found so far, along with preliminary possibilities for changes along the trail.

Most people travel the trail by bike, and the most common reason to use it is for getting places “other than home or work.” After that comes exercise, then commuting to work, then leisure.

Around half of the trail users surveyed indicated that they feel most comfortable on the trail during morning or afternoon rush hour, or when they are with two or more people at mid-day.

Not surprisingly, using the trail alone at night is when a majority of users feel least comfortable on the MBT. A large majority of the total respondents suggested that simply having more activities and increasing the number of people on the trail would significantly improve their sense of security. Better lighting and increased visibility on the trail were the next most favored improvements, while things like security cameras and emergency call boxes were identified as seemingly less effective measures.

To make the trail better, make it more connected

At the June meeting, the groups running the study outlined three key steps for addressing people’s concerns: making the trail itself better, connecting it to more parts of the city, and adding neighborhood activity close by.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail framework presented at the public meeting.

Making the trail better could mean adding things like new lights, call boxes, and mile markers. A number of trail users have also suggested realigning it at R and S Streets so that it doesn’t turn so sharply.

A portion of the framework showing opportunities for new lighting, mile markers, and green space.

Connecting it could mean adding entrance points at streets that people on bike and foot already frequent. Personally, I’m hoping these efforts will also make the trail more obvious to drivers at existing access points. At some of them, like where service vehicles sometimes cross the trail at W Street, there are no stop signs and vines make it hard for drivers to see people walking and biking on the trail.

A portion of the framework showing connections between the trail and nearby streets.

Adding neighborhood activity could mean a nearby bike station in Brookland or a garden in Edgewood.

NoMa BID and the rest of the organizations running the survey hope to release a report later this summer that includes final recommendations. If you haven’t filled out the survey yet, you can do so here.