Image by the author.

We posted a version of this post on June 4, 2014. We're republishing it now with updates.

Update: Five years ago, I began a mission to restore the Foundry Branch Bridge in Georgetown and turn the Palisades Trolley Trail into a path for people walking, bicycling, and walking dogs. Now, with the help of a variety of organizations and individuals, we're close to the finish line.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is currently studying the trail. It will render a decision at the latest by the end of 2019 on whether or not my idea of a five-mile trail from the Palisades Rec Center to Prospect and 37th street overlooking the Potomac River is a feasible idea.

Project survey area by DDOT.

Inside the Palisades boundaries, there are currently zero bike lanes, and the roads are dangerous for cyclists. There are four schools along this trail, and as DC pursues Vision Zero, it is important that children have a quality option to cycle to school. The Trolley Trail only has two major streets and one minor street within this corridor, and could provide a safe option for students to commute.

However, first the trail needs to be more usable. The trail and bridge currently suffer from neglect. Pepco trucks are frequently driven on the trail, damaging the grass and contributing to the erosion problem. The good news is, you can help make a better trail a reality!

On Thursday, March 7, DDOT will present a plan for the trail at 7 pm at the Palisades Neighborhood Library, and you can weigh in! On March 22, the Mayor’s agent will hold a hearing to determine if WMATA can demolish the Foundry Branch Bridge.

Original: During DC’s streetcar era, the Glen Echo line ran from Georgetown to Glen Echo Park along a path through the Palisades. But for 52 years, this land has lain dormant. It could turn into a trail to get people on foot and bike between these neighborhoods.

The right-of-way is 3.11 miles from Georgetown to Galena Road in the Palisades, which is one block north of the Palisades Recreation Center. The District government owns the part west of Foxhall Road, in the map below. Pepco currently uses the land to access utility poles. Some residents use it for jogging, walking, or pet exercise.

However, gaps split up the trail. It had a number of trestle bridges which fell into disuse and neglect. They were demolished in the 1970s. There is also no agency consistently maintaining this right-of-way. There are no trash cans. Fences are broken. Storm drainage is inadequate, and the trail is eroding.

Photo by Doug Dupin.

And yet, as one walks along the trail, the views along this trail are the best in all of DC. The scenery overlooking the Potomac River is stunning.

The trail was once wide enough to accommodate two trolleys, about 25 feet. On this section, the trail would need to be paved, and the bridges rebuilt. Even with paving just 10 feet wide the trail could have room for bicyclists, joggers, and others to enjoy this resource.

There is some community opposition to paving and to restoring the bridges. Some people who live near the trail have posted signs arguing the trail is better in its “natural” state.

Photo by Doug Dupin.

East of Foxhall Road toward Georgetown University, there has been little opposition to restoring the trail. On that section the trail rises over Glover Archbold Park on the Foundry Branch bridge, one of four remaining bridges from the old Glen Echo Trolley line and by far the largest.

Image by the author.

From there, the trail would continue past Georgetown University’s campus and then to Prospect and 37th Streets. WMATA currently owns this section of the trail.

There is already a trail in this area, the Capital Crescent Trail along the C&O Canal. However, that is much lower in elevation. It doesn’t easily connect to neighborhoods along the way, and ends down below the Whitehurst Freeway. The trolley trail, instead, would stop one block from the top of the Exorcist steps. One resident, after walking this section of the trail, exclaimed, “Now I can ride my bike to the Apple Store on Wisconsin Avenue!”

Maryland is currently retrofitting one trolley bridge at Glen Echo Park as part of the MacArthur Boulevard bike path, and the Foundry Branch Bridge is likely salvageable as well. Residents are waiting for a report from WMATA about the condition of the bridge.

The Palisades and communities along MacArthur Boulevard have limited transit options, with only periodic service from the D5 and D6 buses. At the same time, parking and traffic are continual problems in Georgetown. The Glen Echo trolley trail could offer a sustainable transportation option to Palisades residents and visitors, while improving connectivity to Georgetown.

Here’s a 15-minute video showing what it’s like to traverse the trail today:

 

Brett Young has lived in Chicago and Los Angeles, and has been a resident of Washington, DC for eight years. By day, he is a IT contractor for the federal government. He has become fascinated by how effective cycling can move residents over great distances while avoiding traffic. He feels that there are many great projects waiting to be built in DC to improve the region.