Marine Marathon at Long Bridge Park. Image by ericwc1 used with permission.

DC wants to rebuild Long Bridge, which carries trains across the Potomac River between Arlington and DC. The plans used to include a separate bridge for walking and biking, but now it may not be built at all.

The Long Bridge is an aging railroad bridge that the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration are either rehabilitating or replacing. The 2013 Long Bridge study created several alternatives for its potential replacement, many of which included a bike and pedestrian path.

The replacement project is continuing to move towards completion of the Environmental Impact Statement, slated to be finished in 2019. Unfortunately, recent presentations show planners may not be including a bicycle and pedestrian facility after all. Even if it is included, it will provide the bare minimum in connectivity.

Here's what's happening with the Long Bridge project

Last spring as Phase II was being completed, the bike/ped facility was not included within the purpose and need statement, leading the Washington Area Bicycle Association (WABA) to worry that it was “too narrowly focused on the needs of freight and passenger rail.” The bridge currently serves freight, Amtrak, and commuter trains.

WABA added, “A Long Bridge replacement without a high-quality trail is a wasted, once-in-a-century, opportunity.”

Then, last month as part of Phase III, DDOT and the FRA, the project's leaders, presented the results of the level II screening, which eliminated all but two of the nine original options. In the presentation, they make clear that the “feasibility of bike-pedestrian crossing opportunities continue to be evaluated, but were not screened as part of the Level 2 Screening using Purpose and Need.”

It's still not clear there is a strong commitment to including a bike and pedestrian path to the Long Bridge, and even one they do present is lacking in ambition. The only requirements of the crossing are that it:

  • Provides 25 feet clearance between bridges over the river
  • Avoids the Department of Defense facility
  • Connects to the existing bike-pedestrian network
  • Has less than five percent slope on the ramps from the crossing to the existing trails

The three bike/ped crossing options presented include a separate downstream or upstream bridge, or a crossing attached to the Long Bridge.

Long Bridge Bike-Pedestrian Crossing Opportunities

The designs do the bare minimum

These alternatives would all connect the Mt. Vernon Trail to Ohio Drive, which is fine but not much of an improvement over the current sidepath on the George Mason Bridge. Prior plans in Virginia and DC call for a facility that would instead extend to Long Bridge Park on the Virginia side and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail on the DC Side.

This is the bare minimum a bike and pedestrian path should do. The fact that connections across the George Washington Parkway or the Washington Channel are not considered has drawn criticism of trail advocates.

Long Bridge Park with connection to Mt. Vernon Trail

There are better connectivity options

Arlington already plans to build a connection from Long Bridge Park to the Mt. Vernon Trail. Since this area is included even in the new, smaller Long Bridge project area, it would make sense to do this all together at once. Then we can avoid a bridge crossing that ends at trail level and a Park connection that ends at trail level somewhere else. Advocates are calling for a crossing that stays at rail level all the way, with one bridge down to the trail, as opposed to the ramps currently planned.

Crossing ramp options on Virginia side

This seems like a no-brainer, but continuing the path at rail level across East Potomac Island and the Washington Channel and then connecting it to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail at Maine Avenue would add a lot of utility to the facility, especially if it included a ramp on the channel side of the island. This would better serve cyclists and pedestrians who currently cross the Mason Bridge and go south on Maine, while also creating better connection to the island.

It could naturally connect — at least for pedestrians — to the existing adaptively reused bridge over Maine Avenue (named the Rosa Parks Bridge when it opened in 2008).

The new DC Rail plan called for studying the “unused/lightly used” right-of-way on the north side of the railroad from the west side of the L’Enfant Station to the parking lot at the southeast corner of 14th and D SW for a possible rail with trail and that corridor is entirely within the study area. DDOT should look at the possibility of using the Rosa Parks Bridge and new facilities to extend the trail through the corridor, either at rail level — as called for in the Rail Plan — or at street level, as recommended in the Southwest Ecodistrict Plan.

If feasible, this would allow for connections to the Portals V development, L'Enfant Plaza, and Hancock Park.

Unused rail line in Southwest DC Image by the author.

This is a once in a century opportunity to add a first class bike/ped facility to the Long Bridge, one that will connect Crystal City to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail just upstream from the new Wharf. We shouldn't pass on that chance lightly. Planners are accepting comments on the alternatives at until January 16, 2018.