Marvin Gaye Park trail. Photo by the author.

DDOT recently released plans for over 16 miles of trails east of the Anacostia River that will create an extensive, highly-connected network that few areas can match.

The plans cover the Oxon Run, St. Elizabeths and South Capitol Street Trails. DDOT is also working on a new 11th Street Bridge crossing, new sections of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and closing the gap in the recently rebuilt Marvin Gaye Park Trail.

Tentative plans to extend trails into near Prince George’s county and to rebuild the Suitland Parkway Trail create an opportunity to build on this network.

Much was made in the media during the mayoral election about bike lanes and how they fed “the perception that outgoing Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) was more attuned to the concerns of affluent parts of the city.”

It is true that there are few bike lanes in Wards 7 and 8 when compared to the L’Enfant city. But much of this is due to the original design of the roads, which comes from when they were built.

Roads built before the introduction of the automobile tend to have odd widths for car travel, leaving extra space that can be requisitioned for bike lanes, while roads in newer parts of the city were built with cars in mind, leaving no unused space. As was demonstrated on Pennsylvania Avenue last year, it is politically easier to narrow a single 17-foot lane to 12 feet with a 5-foot bike lane than to remove a lane of traffic.

In order to meet their goals that everyone in the District live within a half mile of a bike lane or trail, DDOT is adding miles of trail in neighborhoods under-served by bike lanes. In contrast to bike lanes, DDOT is building most of its trails in the eastern half of the city.

Several projects are under construction now.

Over the past year, construction has been ongoing on a 3-mile long section of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail (ART) from the Douglass Bridge to the existing section in the River Terrace neighborhood. More than half of it has already been paved and the last section awaits completion of a project to shift Anacostia Drive away from the river.

An under-construction bridge over the railroad tracks will complete the trail from Firth Sterling Avenue to Benning Road. A future, 2-mile long section of the ART from Benning Road to the DC Boundary is being designed now.

When the 11th Street Bridge is completed it will replace a narrow 4-6 foot bike/ped path with a 14-foot active transportation lane that connects the ART on both sides of the river.

Joining these projects as currently-underway is the Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue Great Streets project. That will close a gap in the 2-mile long Marvin Gaye Park trail, which itself went through a complete rebuild and upgrade from 2006-2009. The Pennsylvania Avenue SE Great Streets project will also include parallel bike facilities.

Meanwhile, DDOT is preparing to move forward with three additional trail projects that will add or upgrade 11 miles of trail in the southernmost part of DC.

Map of planned bike trails modified from a DDOT image.

The current Oxon Run Trail runs from South Capitol Street SE to 13th St SE in the Washington Highlands area. The new, 5 miles of trails would extend southeast to the DC-MD line and connect with the trails in Oxon Hill Farm NP and northeast to Southern Ave (and the Metro station there) where, with help from PG County, it will connect to the Suitland Parkway trail.

The Oxon Run trail involves several upgrades and extensions. There will be a full trail on both sides of Oxon Run, much of it widened to 10’ and repaved. The existing bike/ped bridges that cross the stream would also be widened and improved.  Many sidewalks in the park will be reconstructed and new ones will be built. In some places the trail will be rerouted to make it straighter.

Bike lanes will be added to Southern Ave and Mississippi Ave to serve as the northern section. Four new bike/ped bridges will be built across Oxon Run and its tributaries. A new trail section from Joliet St SW to Blue Plains Dr. SW will create another connection to the Wilson Bridge route. In addition to the trail projects it will include several storm water management elements. Bioretention ponds and other such landscaping will reduce the amount of street-to-stream storm-water flow. The whole project would cost $10.7 million.

A second trail project is a transportation improvement related to the already underway redevelopment of St Elizabeths as the Department of Homeland Security headquarters. In order to serve the thousands of new workers there, a new road along the west side of the campus is planned. The access road will connect Firth Sterling with Malcolm X Avenue and then with MLK Avenue just north of the intersection with South Capitol. A parallel 8-10 foot wide trail will be built on the east side of the 1.7 mile long access road.

With the South Capitol Street trail, the trail off the Douglass Bridge and the new streetcar station, the intersection of South Capitol and Firth Sterling Avenue will become a significantly more important transportation hub, especially for pedestrians and cyclists.

Another sidepath will be built on the north side of Malcolm X Avenue from the South Capitol Street trail to MLK Avenue. Furthermore, bike lanes will possibly be added to a rebuilt MLK Avenue.

Finally, the South Capitol Street trail project will build a new, 4.25 mile long, 8-10 foot wide trail where currently there is none. Cyclists may currently go south on the roadway, but there is no way to go north and no place for pedestrians.

The trail (in solid orange on the map) would start at the intersection of South Capitol and Firth Sterling. It would cross the streetcar tracks at grade and then continue on the west side of South Capitol and Overlook Avenue. Just before Laboratory Road the trail would cross to the east side of Overlook, then cross Laboratory and follow along the south side of that to Shepherd Parkway. It would then become a sidepath along Shepherd Parkway, Blue Plains Drive and DC Village Lane to the existing trail connection to Oxon Hill Farm.

The trail would be, in some places, pinched between the federal facilities’ fences and the roads, with bus stops and other obstructions creating more pinching. To overcome this, DDOT plans to remove lanes from the parallel roads in some places, narrow the lanes in others or, sometimes both. Their traffic analysis shows that this will do little to lower the level of service for drivers while creating enough space for a safe trail. 

In addition, an interim connection (in light blue on the map) would be built between South Capitol and the Oxon Run Trail. It would be an on-road route using sharrow lane markings along Halley Pl, 1st St and Atlantic St SE.

The whole $5.7M project would be built in four phases, some of which need to be coordinated with the rebuilding of DC Village and proposed improvements to I-295/ South Capitol Street, as a part of the DHS redevelopment of the St Elizabeths property.

Once all of these projects are completed, moving around Wards 7 and 8 by foot or bicycle will become an increasingly safe, easy and pleasant experience. They should help to increase bike commuting to the government facilities along the river and at St. Elizabeths and provide new recreational opportunities.