Today, people using the Metropolitan Branch Trail have to make two sharp turns at R Street NE to stay on the trail. The NoMa Business Improvement District has plans to “soften” the route by making it straighter and to add a small park alongside it.
A conceptual drawing of the softened curve on the MBT and the new small park at R Street NE. Image from NoMa BID.
After the NoMa BID studied how to make the MBT safer, it called this corner of the trail “the single most cited area of concern on the trail for personal safety, rider comfort, and placemaking.”
In addition to softening the curve at R Street, the BID also plans to build a long-planned Q Street connection to the trail as part of its new large park, temporarily dubbed the NoMa Green. The connection will shorten the walk to the MBT, the Metro and shops in NoMa for nearby residents.
“It’s going to be a single whole in the end,” says Robin-Eve Jasper, president of NoMa BID, on the new plot and the NoMa Green.
“We really need to get the designer for the NoMa Green on board and then we can ask, ‘optimally what does this all look like?’” she says of the two spaces, which will be designed together.
Other improvements may be made to MBT as part of the green. NoMa has received proposals from designers that include raising the trail where it passes the green to increase separation and widening it to reduce bike-pedestrian conflicts, says Jasper.
MBT users should not expect immediate changes. While NoMa is working to hire a designer now, both the new plot and green will need to go through a design and public comment phase before construction can begin. At best, that will be at the end of 2017.
A developer donated the land
Developer Foulger-Pratt made softening the curve on the MBT possible. The company is giving the 23,000 square foot plot to NoMa while reserving the right to build a parking garage underneath it as part of a coming development.
While the garage could delay construction to at least 2018 and require a temporary rerouting of the MBT, it is better than the alternative, which would be no change at all.
NoMa has used all of the funds it budgeted for land acquisitions, says Jasper. It has spent $17.2 million of the $50 million it has for parks from the District government to acquire land for the green and a new Third Street park at L Street NE.
The remaining money will go toward designing and building NoMa’s system of parks. These includebrightening four underpasses under the throat tracks to Union Station and a mid-block “meander” between North Capital Street and First Street NE, in addition to the other spaces mentioned.
“The likely scenario is we end up with a temporary condition that is somewhat suboptimal on the northern piece for six months to a year,” says Jasper on the impact to the MBT if Foulger-Pratt goes forward with an underground garage.
The developer would pay for a temporary rerouting of the trail, she adds.