Anacostia River Trail & Kingman Island. Image by Caroline Angelo used with permission.

The Capital Trails Coalition (CTC) has been working with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy on a network map to illustrate its vision of a robust multi-use trail network throughout the Washington region.

The developing trails system—depicted here as of August 2017 and comprising approximately 676 miles of trails—consists of popular, established trails like the Capital Crescent Trail and hundreds of miles of planned trails that will provide greater connectivity and access to trails across the region. The CTC network will evolve over time as trails are added or removed, and as communities refine their local networks.

CTC released the map in September, and while it’s a work in progress that will continue to evolve, it lays out an exciting vision of what our region’s trail network could be.

Trails system as of August 2017. Image by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and Capital Trails Coalition used with permission.

Here are a few observations:

It would be transformative for Prince George’s County and eastern access to DC

While there are several long bike highways connecting Montgomery County and Northern Virginia to DC, there are basically none in Prince George’s County besides the Anacostia Tributary Trail System and Anacostia River Trail, which aren’t nearly as far-reaching.

The CTC network would correct this imbalance. It calls for completing the Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis Trail to Bowie and the Chesapeake Beach Railway Trail to Upper Marlboro. Plans exist to extend both trails further but CTC’s footprint includes only the DC metropolitan area.

Additional radial trails would feed into the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Trail, Suitland Parkway Trail, Marvin Gaye Trail, and Anacostia Tributary Trail System, with circumferential links forming a large grid over the county’s western half.

With a network like this, many Prince Georgians would, for the first time, have access to a safe, convenient space for active travel–whether for transportation or recreation.

Trail mileage in Prince George’s County would more than double under the planned network.  Image by Capital Trails Coalition used with permission.

It would connect trail-rich but isolated suburbs to the regional network

There are a few places like Bowie, Maryland and Burke, Virginia that already have decent off-street trail networks, but because they don’t connect to other places, they’re used mostly for recreation and local trips. By connecting them to the CTC network, these existing trails would become not just places to take an evening walk, but access points to a region-wide transportation system.

This neighborhood trail in Bowie, MD would get more use if it connected to a complete regional network Image by Google Maps.

It would serve almost every major activity center in the region

The CTC map reflects one of its major trail criteria: connectivity to activity centers like transit stations, parks, and shopping areas. (You can read more about the CTC’s network inclusion criteria here and here.) The map shows new trails to existing centers like Fairfax and National Harbor, but also to areas of planned growth like Suitland Metro, Westphalia, and Addison Road Metro.

It is the result of a coordinated effort by the Capital Trails Coalition and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Together, they defined the network, compiled and reviewed 70 planning documents (all proposed trails already appear in some kind of municipal plan), and gathered and refined separate GIS data from the six municipalities within CTC’s footprint.

These efforts will not only benefit this project, but can provide guidance for future projects. The CTC is one of eight trail networks the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is working on nationwide as model projects to catalyze the development of more trail networks. The tools, templates, and best practices developed for these projects can simplify the process for others.

You can sign up for updates from the Capital Trails Coalition here. Special thanks to Kelly Pack from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy for providing information for this post.

Drew Ackermann is a Prince George's County native living in Northeast DC with his wife and two kids. He is a graduate of the University of Washington's Master of Sustainable Transportation program and spends too much time playing Mini Metro.