Woman crossing CSX tracks. Photo by Stephen Miller.

The Rhode Island Avenue Metro station sits high above Rhode Island Avenue, east of and above the railroad tracks. Riders who want to get to the Edgewood neighborhood to the northwest must follow a very circuitous route.

They must descend on a long, sloping, and ugly pedestrian ramp across the avenue, then curve in a sort of pedestrian cloverleaf around to the sidewalk. They must then traverse a very narrow sidewalk under the railroad tracks, with traffic speeding past and no parked car buffer.

Understandably, many people don’t want to do all this, and therefore they simply cut through the fence from the pedestrian bridge to the CSX/Amtrak railroad tracks, walk across them at grade, and end up along the new segment of the Metropolitan Branch Trail next to the parking lot of the strip mall.

More fencing didn’t stop this behavior, so DDOT did the logical thing: they designed a bridge to carry people along the most direct path from where they are to where they want to go. The new bridge will start “behind” the current Metro station, with an opening in what’s now the rear wall of the area just outside the turnstiles. It will then rise up above the tracks, cross over them, and descend back down to the Met Branch Trail.

Rendering of the proposed bridge. Image from DDOT.

A staircase will let pedestrians walk directly down to the trail and the strip mall parking lot, while a longer ramp will accommodate cyclists and people with disabilities.

Image from DDOT. The Metro station is in the lower left. The bridge is in blue, the trail in green. North is to the upper right.

That strip mall, by the way, housed a recently-closed Safeway. A better connection to transit could help retail succeeed here where it’s recently failed. Plus, the bridge adds a lot of potential for transit-oriented and walkable and bikeable development at that site and the other commercial parcels right on Rhode Island Avenue.

According to DDOT’s Heather Deutsch, CSX doesn’t allow any bridges over their property with openings in the side larger than a certain, small size to prevent people from dropping things onto the tracks. However, a tight mesh would mean that at an oblique angle, it would look opaque, limiting sight lines from the bridge to the surrounding area and from the area to the bridge. Therefore, DDOT will use a solid, transparent material to maintain visibility from all angles.

The bridge is expected to open in fall of 2011. You can see the new trail segment and the planned area for the bridge at tomorrow’s Meet the Met party on the trail, sponsored by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. The main event is right at the location of the future bridge.

There will be community bike rides to the event from places across the region, including Maryland and Virginia. Rails-to-Trails is also looking for volunteers for tomrorow’s event. You can also sign up for email updates about the trail.