Pedestrian and bicycle transportation initiatives would create better regional connections

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Two initiatives, endorsed by the TPB at its January meeting, join the five generated by the TPB’s Long Range Plan Task Force to form the basis for Visualize 2045’s aspirational element. These two additional initiatives focus on bicycle and pedestrian projects. The “non-motorized” initiatives supplement the five initiatives focused on other forms of transportation.

The two bicycle and pedestrian initiatives are regional in scale and would play a big role in connecting many parts of the region’s transportation system. One project, would complete a network of bicycle/pedestrian trails encircling the region’s core. The second would make it easier for people on foot or bike to access Metro or other transit stations.

National Capital Trail builds on past work

The first initiative is focused on completing a network of bicycle trails known as the National Capital Trail. The endorsement builds upon the work of the TPB’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee and multiple partner organizations like the Capital Trails Coalition, a group made up of government agencies, non-profits, parks departments, business improvement districts and more. The TPB’s endorsement is a reminder that these trails are not just for recreational use but are also a vital part of the region’s transportation system, serving commuters and other travelers.

Katie Harris is the trails coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and works closely with the coalition. Speaking on the TPB’s endorsement she noted that “paved trails are transportation corridors for thousands of people every day. The approval of the National Capital Trail by the TPB shows that this region takes active transportation seriously.”

The TPB endorsed the National Capital Trail, also known as the “bicycle beltway.” The trail needs 21 miles to be completed. (TPB)

The idea, going back to the 1990s was to have a trail that encircled the region’s core. It has often been referred to as the “bicycle beltway.” Over the course of a year, the TPB’s Bicycle Beltway Working group identified a trail network for the project. In 2017, the National Park Service highlighted it as the core project featured in its Paved Trails Plan. That plan gave the idea a new name—National Capital Trail.

This map shows a network of trails that the National Capital Trail could link to.  The TPB endorsed the inner center portion of the this map.  That inner portion would connect 36 activity centers and 26 Metrorail stations.  (Capital Trails Coalition)

The trail is 60 miles long but there are gaps of 21 miles yet to be constructed. Three miles of the trail also need upgrades. The trail connects 36 of the region’s activity centers and 26 Metrorail Stations. These connections show how important the network is to helping people get around on foot, by bike, and being able to connect homes, jobs, shopping, and more.

Walking and biking to transit stations

The second initiative is focused on accessing transit stations by walking or biking. Generally, most people will only be willing to walk about a half a mile to reach a transit station. And while some stations are easily accessed on foot others have barriers like highways or are missing sidewalks. These barriers make it harder, longer, less comfortable, and often dangerous to walk to a station.

These “walkshed” maps show how some Metrorail stations are easier to access on foot than others. These images show a half -mile radius around Gallery Place and Landover illustrating how difficult it is to walk to the Landover Metro Station. (TPB, WMATA)

In 2015 the TPB studied 25 rail stations in the region to see how well they could be accessed on foot. Continuing that work, WMATA developed a full inventory of its stations, which identified and prioritized planned projects for better and safer sidewalks or other infrastructure.

In approving the station access initiative, the TPB called attention to WMATA’s prioritization as an example of the types of projects the region should implement near high-capacity transit throughout the region. The concept does not only apply to Metrorail – it also calls for improved pedestrian and bicycle access to commuter rail, light rail, and bus rapid transit.

Now that the TPB has endorsed these two initiatives and the five from the Long-Range Plan Task Force, it is up to TPB member jurisdictions, transportation agencies, and planning agencies to take on these ideas to inspire projects, programs, and policies that support them.

These ideas will also be considered as factors for the TPB in choosing projects for the Transportation Land-Use Connections (TLC) program, and transportation alternatives program. These concepts can be used as a basis for local projects that can have a big impact on the regional transportation system.

For these two bicycle and pedestrian initiatives, small changes like filling a trail gap or adding a sidewalk could go a long way toward better connectivity throughout the region.

Cover photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

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