Monday, June 20, 2011

Where We Ride: Met Branch Trail

Before I had a kid, I used to be a cyclist of the “strong and fearless” variety. No road was too busy and no bike lane too narrow to stop me from getting to my destination by the most direct route. After I had my son Alex, though, it was as if I had become a newbie all over again. Suddenly I was hyperaware of every vehicle, every pothole, every pedestrian and every hazard on the road. I began to prioritize traffic calmness much more in choosing my routes.

Around the same time, I discovered the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

A little miracle in the heart of Washington, D.C., the Met Branch Trail enables Alex and me to bike from our Bloomingdale home to some of our favorite destinations while avoiding some of the city's most dangerous roads. From our house, it’s an easy four-block ride to the trail’s R Street access point. From there, we can head south to NoMa and Near Northeast, skipping the twin nightmares of New York and Florida Avenues. Or we can pedal north to Brookland, gliding over the commuter artery of Rhode Island Avenue.

The Met Branch is a huge help during our several-times-a-week commute to daycare. For those trips, we bike north on the trail to Brookland, then zigzag on side streets over the Maryland border to Hyattsville. The trail helps us bypass the commuter traffic of Rhode Island Avenue and converts the exhausting ups-and-downs of Edgewood into a persistent but manageable uphill climb.

My favorite part of our daycare commute is the trip home, when the sweat from the morning's uphill climb pays off in a long downhill run and we fly past the trees and the railroad tracks, with the Capitol dome ahead of us and Alex waving his hands in the air to feel the wind. 

The Met Branch is still a work in progress. The District Department of Transportation and numerous other partners are still working to complete the trail from Union Station to Silver Spring, Md. Even before the rest of the trail is completed, there are projects that will improve the trail's connection with neighborhoods and transit stops.

Since we live in Bloomingdale, we use the R Street NE entrance in Eckington to access the trail. For us and many others, R Street is not only a gateway to Met Branch Trail, it's an important crosstown street for cyclists, stretching nearly three miles from the Met Branch Trail in Eckington to Rock Creek Park.

The only problem is that R Street is one-way for a single block in Eckington. In order to avoid illegally bicycling against traffic on our return trips, I hop up on the curb for that one block. Although a legal maneuver outside of downtown D.C., it's not the best solution. The sidewalk is narrow and residents store their trash cans there. I’m always worried that I’m going to run into a fellow sidewalk user or knock over someone’s trash can—especially on days when we’re using our bike trailer.

For that reason, I’ve been following the recent debate over proposed changes to R Street with interest. I support the proposed addition of a contraflow bike lane to the one-way block and sharrows to the rest of R Street NE from North Capitol Street to the trail entrance. It will make this section of R Street safer for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians by slowing down traffic in this residential neighborhood—without eliminating any on-street parking spaces.

This connection may face debate and delay, but it is critical to making our neighborhoods better places to walk and bike—not to mention raise a family. The Met Branch Trail has made it easier and even more fun to bike around town with my son. I’m so grateful to have this resource, and I look forward to many more miles on the trail with him.
Crossposted at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's RTC TrailBlog and at The WashCycle.

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