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A history and accounting of bicycling policy in Washington, DC

Ralph Buehler and John Stowe wrote a chapter on bicycling in the recent book Capital Dilemma: Growth and Inequality in Washington, DC. The chapter covers the history of bicycle planning and policy in Washington from 1970 to the present.

It focuses on the time period since the late 1990s when the District of Columbia’s population and economy increased strongly. Bicycle planning in the region has its roots in the 1970s, but experienced a hiatus in the 1990s, and has witnessed a ‘renaissance’ since the late 1990s. In the 1970s and 1980s, local jurisdictions focused their bicycle policies on the provision of off-street paths—often shared with pedestrians. Since the late 1990s, all jurisdictions have greatly expanded their on-street bicycle lanes and implemented other innovative programs. Washington, DC, Alexandria City, and Arlington County have implemented more bike-friendly policies and have been at the forefront of experimenting with innovative measures. In spite of the progress, many challenges for cycling remain. Area cyclists are predominantly male, between 25 and 65 years old, White, and from higher income groups. Cycling appears to be spatially concentrated in neighborhoods of the urban core jurisdictions that experienced strong population growth. Moreover, the network of bicycle paths and lanes is still fragmented and often requires cyclists to mix with heavy or fast moving car traffic. 

You can read the whole chapter here

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Also, today is the 11th Anniversary of the Washcycle. Back then WABA was moving offices, NPS was studying a proposal to extend the Mount Vernon Trail to the American Legion Bridge and I was complaining about how it had been 6 years since the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Met Branch Trail, but it still wasn't finished. Luckily that's not an issue anymore. 

One Common Unity Peace Ride - Oct 15

On Saturday, October 15th you, your friends, family and colleagues are invited to get on your bikes and pedal for peace in support of One Common Unity – one of the DC area’s most successful and dynamic peace education organizations. Since 2000, OCU has been combating violence and building peace, particularly with at-risk youth, through social and emotional education, arts-based empowerment, mindfulness practices, and unconditional love. Participating in the OCU Peace Ride is an opportunity to support and sustain this work!

The recommended starting location for the ride is the East Falls Church Metro station (orange and silver lines). From there you choose to complete one of four distances placed along the same route – 15 miles to Herndon (VA), 30 miles to Leesburg (VA), 55 miles to Harper’s Ferry (WV), or 120 miles to Berkeley Springs (WV).

The early stages of the ride (miles 0-30) take cyclists on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail  – one of the region’s safest and flattest bike trails. The longer distances (miles 30-120) take riders through the rolling hills of Virginia wine country, along the Potomac River in Maryland, through the battlefields of Antietam, and over mountain ridges in West Virginia, eventually ending in Berkeley Springs.

The finish line for each distance is a local restaurant where OCU staff will greet you and other riders to celebrate your biking journey and provide you with some free snacks and drinks. You are also encouraged to purchase a full meal at the restaurant, in which case 15% of your check will be donated back to OCU. If you choose to do one of the longer rides you are encouraged to stop and take a break at the earlier finish lines along the route to rest your legs, meet other riders, and grab a snack.

OCU will also be providing a shuttle service for riders and their bikes back to the East Falls Church Metro station. So bike as far as you can and we will get you back home.

More history on the Kenilworth Landfill Site

I have a blog post over on GGW about how I think DDOT and NPS should formalize the shortcut across Kenilworth Park that many trail users (and you know its not really open yet, right? I'm disappointed to be running into so many people out there) have been taking instead of riding through Mayfair. Anyway there are quite a few things that had to be dropped because GGW doesn't like rambling posts full of lengthy sidebars. Here are a few of my thoughts that didn't get in. 

The best solution might be to build the temporary trail and then just keep it, at least the part in Kenolworth Park South. A "road to trail" conversion if you will. Then you'd have a local route on the east, a scenic route along the river and the express route on Deave Avenue. But just doing the temporary trail until the river trail is built would be a big improvement.

Longer History

Kenilworth Park between the gardens and the power plant started out as a tidal marsh. It was filled in with material dredged from the river by the Army Corps of Engineers between 1912 and 1916, the same time and way that Kingman and Heritage Islands were built. It became the Kenilworth Open Burning Landfill, the principal solid waste dump for the District of Columbia. Trash was openly burned here, and the ash then buried on site. Dark plumes of noxious smoke would blow into adjacent neighborhoods all year long.

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After years of opposition to continued operation of the landfill, and the advent of home rule, the District ended the burning following the 1968 fire-related death of a young boy playing in the dump. The District quickly added incinerators - which had been planned for year - and used it as a sanitary landfill for two more years. They then covered the ash and trash with more dredged material from the river and made it into recreational fields.

In 1997 Gentry Davis, superintendent of National Capitol Parks-East, allowed two contractors to dump waste on the Kenilworth South site, ostensibly to build soccer fields [Experts at the time said that this was not needed for soccer fields] . Contractors then dumped tons of dirt and construction debris into the park over the next two year without permits or trucking logs and in violation of existing laws. Some of the material is thought to have come from construction of the MCI Center.  So much debris was brought in that a pile 26 feet high was built on 15 acres of land, and locals dubbed it "Mystery Mountain." Again, in the wake of local opposition, it was shut down by the city in October of 1988. A few months later, Davis was promoted and NPS announced that it hoped to have the site cleaned up by 2001.

If you ride the trail, you'll notice a large hill just beside the trash transfer center - that (I think) is the trail crossing over the edge of Mystery Mountain. The Mountain itself, I think, is between the river, Watts Branch, Deane Avenue and the trail. 

The site wasn't cleaned up by 2001. It wasn't until 2012 that a Feasibility Study for a cleanup was completed and it was another year before the Park Service issued a proposed plan for cleaning up the site. The plan, as written then, was to identify contaminated soil near the surface and cap it with 24 inches of clean, low-permeable soil. That plan was supposed to be followed quickly with a Record of Decision and the start of work.

Interestingly, the NPS study and plan go into a lot of great detail about the history of the landfill prior to 1970. Not mentioned are Mystery Mountain and the Park Service's role in creating it. If you didn't know better you'd think the old landfill, and not the illegal dumping, was the problem. 

Instead NPS has spent the last few years doing environmental studies to re-determine the scope of the problem. Soil samples and groundwater samples taken from the river indicate that the amount of metals leaking into are less than previous believed. As a result, they would like to modify their remedy to make it cheaper. They now plan to do another feasibility study and design a new remediation plan next year. They might put out a new fact sheet on the status this year. They still have funding to pay for the cleanup and they're working with the DC government on it. 

This could be a fox watching the hen house situation. "Agency charged with cleaning up mess they made discovers that cleaning it up is going to be really cheap and easy." But with the local government and advocates involved, I'm hopeful that this is just NPS being a good steward of public money. 

Despite this, the park's current state doesn't represent much of a health risk. Human health risk assessments done prior to the 2013 plan determined that "there is a slightly increased risk of cancer for Site visitors primarily from ingestion of surface soil containing PCBs and PAHs...[and] that Site visitors do not have an increased risk of non-cancer-related illnesses from exposure to Site contaminants."

Failing streetcar trestle leads to partial closure of Glover Archbold Park

The Park Service has closed part of Glover Archibald Park under the old streetcar trestle, due to the need for stabilization and safety features. Local trail advocates want to use the trestle as part of a trail between the Palisades and Georgetown, and DDOT includes such a trail in the MoveDC plan (and other older plans too).

The closure results from a determination by the National Park Service that a historic trolley trestle, owned by WMATA, poses a safety hazard to park visitors. The trestle, which is located several hundred feet north of Canal Road NW, spans Glover Archbold Park. The piers for the trestle are located on property administered by Rock Creek Park, and the Glover Archbold Park pedestrian trail passes directly underneath the eastern portion of the span.

4 2014 assessment of the structure, commissioned by WMATA and made available to the National Park Service in the summer of 2016, determined that the trestle requires stabilization as well as the installation of safety measures to prevent debris from the unused structure from falling. After on-going monitoring of the area by National Park Service staff and a visual inspection of the trestle by a National Park Service engineer, the Rock Creek Park Superintendent ordered the emergency closure of the trail underneath the trestle on August 8, 2016. Park staff subsequently installed barriers at the north and south ends of the trail closure, and detour maps and signs were put in place for trail users. Park staff continues to work with WMATA to help protect'park visitors, while WMATA determines how to proceed with stabilization or disposition of the structure and on WMATA's plans for installation of a covered walkway and./or similar safety measures over the trail. Less restrictive measures will not suffice because of the need to ensure sufficient visitor and workmen safety until the trestle is adequately stabilized.

DC would need to buy the trestle from WMATA to build such a trail, and I wonder if the right price is $1 or less. 

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Photo by jacquesofalltrades

DDOT makes recommendations for Crosstown bike route

At a meeting earlier this month, DDOT presented its draft recommended concept for the Crosstown Multi-modal transportation study. It involves a 2-way protected bike lane along Kenyon and Irving between 14th NW and Michigan. Overlapping with part of the PBL is a shared-use sidepath along Irving and Michigan from Park Place to Monroe. From Monroe and Michigan, conventional bike lanes and sharrows stairstep their way NE to the intersection of 14th St NE and Michigan. In addition, it includes a pair of conventional bike lanes on Michigan Ave from Monroe to South Dakota Ave. 

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Ignoring the transit and other aspects, this is basically Option 1, as presented before, with bike lanes on Michigan Avenue. [Which coincidentally is just what I asked for]. There are also a lot of intersection improvements that one would assume would aid cycling as well. 

Interestingly, the Irving Street Cycle Track will be two-direction and center running along the median. This may require a study to determine if a separate signal is needed at the intersection of Kenyon and Irving. 

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The Kenyon Street Cycle Track will be a two-direction, separated bicycle facility on either the north or south side of Kenyon Street.

The Irving Street Multiuse trail is dependent on right of way acquisition from both the Washington Hospital Center and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

The reconfiguration of Michigan Avenue NE can be installed after an traffic engineering study is conducted that results in an optimal design solution and that considers the operational impact of a reduction from four travel lanes to two travel lanes and a center turning lane with bicycle lanes. Right of way impacts should be examined as part of the initial phase of the project.

This is just a study, which comes before planning, authorization, design or construction. So don't expect to see these changes next spring or anything, but it shows the direction DDOT is headed. 

From the archives: DC's oldest Bike lanes

When I moved to DC in 1997, there weren't many bike lanes; in fact by 2001, when DC hired its first bicycle coordinator since 1992, there were still only 2 miles total. This despite the District's 1976 Bicycle Transportation Plan's goal of 16 miles (a number not reached until 2005). The only bike lanes I remembered from back then were the ones on East Capitol. Turns out they're the District's oldest - by a long shot. 

The first bike lanes in the United States were built in Davis, CA in 1967 - to mimic the designs in Netherlands. Previously bike lanes weren't even legal, but a bill to change that had just been signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan.

Almost immediately people began advocating for similar lanes in DC, and then Councilmember Polly Shackleton led the effort to install bike lanes as an experimental proto-type for a citywide network.  Finally, on December 15, 1969 DC's first bike lanes, on East Capitol Street between RFK and the Capitol Opened. 

The first leg of the bikeway will start at the parking lot north or the stadium. The bikeway will run along East Capitol St. to Lincoln Park, through Lincoln Park on paths now being constructed, and again over East Capitol Street to the Capitol grounds.

From there the plan was to continue the path across the Capitol Grounds (Negotiations were reportedly "underway"), then along the Mall using Jefferson and Madison Drives (there still aren't bike lanes on those streets, but sharrows were added in 2011), beside the Potomac Parkway to K and then under the Whitehurst Freeway to Wisconsin. You can ride most of this on bike facilities today.

International-type bike signs will mark the route and the General Services Administration has agreed to establish bike stands at government buildings. Mrs. Shackleton reports that the District may also provide bike stands at appropriate District buildings.

How adorable. 

It looks like sidewalk cycling was illegal citywide back then

The experimental bikeway will not use District sidewalks — to do so would require a change in the law— but if the route proves popular enough, restrictions against use of sidewalks for bikes may be relaxed.

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Development at Buzzard Point will likely extend the Anacostia Trail

Buzzard Point is set to be the next part of town to enrage visiting members of Congress as several development projects are planned or underway. Three projects along the Anacostia River will likely include some of the planned trail section (#16) there. That would leave just sections 2, 8, 14, 15 and 17 needed to finish the trail.image from

Capitol City is planning a 110 unit condominium at the east side of the point, visible in the center bottom of the rendering below.

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Just west of that, the old Coast Guard HQ will be turned into 450 residential units with retail below and the trail along the south side.

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To the NE, Douglas Development is proposing another 450 apartments with the trail merging into an outside area.

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Crossland Festival - the first ever cyclocross race in Columbia, MD on Oct 1

Columbia, MD will host its first ever cyclocross race on October 1st (History!).

● All-day cyclocross races sponsored by local club Adventures for the Cure. Cyclocross is a

spectator-friendly race discipline and enjoys broad participation
● Recreational bike rides: The Bike Advocates of Howard County and Howard County Police Bike
Patrol Unit have agreed to host recreational rides. BAHC’s ride
would focus on recreational cyclists, while the Police Bike Patrol would focus on rides for
families with children.
● Music – regional, well-known acts playing upbeat, danceable music
o Kelly Bell Band
o Sweet Leda
o Mend the Hollow (Jimmie HaHa’s new project)
o Higher Hands
● Vendors selling items related to active lifestyles
o Local Bicycle Shops
o Bicycle related arts and crafts
● Beer – local breweries
● Local restaurants and food trucks
● Kids activities 
● Advocacy Area - Safe Streets, Department of Transportation, Bicycle Related Business’

Driver in fatal Fauerby-Rosenbusch crash sentenced to three years

I missed this last month, but Catherine Frances Lyon, the driver who struck and killed John Henrik Fauerby, 64, and Lynne Frances Rosenbusch, 58 as they rode their tandem bike near Chesapeake Beach, MD last October, was sentenced in August. Lyon was driving drunk and was originally charged with 9 counts, which was quickly lowered to 4 - two counts of negligent homicide-DUI and two counts of vehicular homicide - driving while impaired. This was not her first time being caught driving drunk.

Last May she pleaded guilty to two counts of automobile manslaughter, which carried a maximum penalty of 10 years each, but she was expected to only be sentenced to something between 3 months and 8 years. She got 10 years for each count, but all but 18 months of it was suspended. After 3 years in prison, she'll have 5 years probation.

This is a bit tougher than usual. For those charged with a crime in the traffic death of a cyclist in the DC area, the average sentence is 15 months. For those convicted in DUI-related deaths it's 2 years 8 months (but some drivers were not charged, and others not convicted). 


2016 Larry's Ride in Baltimore County

The 2016 Larry's Ride, aka Bike Maryland's Beautiful Beast is this upcoming weekend and registration is open until Friday at Midnight.

The ride has some of the most beautiful hills in Maryland with 25, 35, 66 and 75-mile routes all leaving from and returning to Oregon Ridge Park in Baltimore County.

The menu for the post-ride feast features black Angus beef burgers, veggie burgers, a chicken dish from Nalley Fresh , Seasons Pizza, Utz Chips, fresh cut watermelon, veggies, fresh baked donuts and cupcakes from Baltimore’s Best Cupcake.

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