Trails are Great but Trail Networks are Better

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Henry Dunbar Tweet Us @BikeArlington@BikeArlington April 20, 2020

Henry Dunbar is the Director of Operations for Active Transportation. He is a year-round bike commuter and wants to make it easy for everyone to get around by whatever mode they choose, except driving alone which should be harder.

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Having the right connections in our trail system can save you time and make the region a much better place to bike, but it’ll take some work and resources to get them built.

A couple of lifetimes ago in the early 1990s, I had a rough commute from South Arlington to the Pooks Hill section of Bethesda, MD, just inside the beltway off of Rockville Pike. On a good day, it was a 45-minute drive. On others, it could be double that amount of time.

While I wasn’t yet a committed bike commuter, I did switch out that 45-minute drive commute and bike to work exactly twice during the three years I worked in Bethesda. The reason I didn’t bike more often was my route was a 25-mile mix of four major trails, and the trip took well over two hours. I can’t help but wonder if I would have made the leap to full-time bike commuting sooner if there had been a better connection.
person on bike riding along the trail near Rosslyn

Today’s Trail Connections

Today, that same schlep would be five miles and about 30 minutes shorter because of the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) and bike lanes from Clarendon to Rosslyn make a direct route across Arlington, so I can skip the Mount Vernon Trail and save another four miles. Established in late 1996, the CCT provides a seven-mile direct link from Georgetown to Bethesda and would have given me just enough incentive to do the trip on a regular basis. Still a haul, but much more doable.

Trail connections are critical to making bike commuting and transportation a reality for more people. In addition to the CCT, vital connections like the Metropolitan Branch Trail and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail have helped spur a growth in people who bicycle in the Metro DC area.

The Future of Trail Connections

At the recent annual symposium of the Capital Trails Coalition, a regional partnership between local governments, non-profit groups, and advocates dedicated to expanding and building a trail network in the DC region, staff released a cost analysis for building the 408 miles of trails needed to complete the Capital Trails Network: A cool $1.1 billion. While that may seem like a lot of money, in the transportation world it’s about the same as one Potomac River bridge expansion. In many places, Arlington included, trails must be shoe-horned into narrow rights-of-way with expensive supporting infrastructure (i.e., bridges, tunnels, and retaining walls) that drives up costs.

The Future of Arlington Trails

In Arlington, the Capital Trails Network lists 9.9 miles of pending projects that cost an estimated $81.5 million (or one Metro entrance). Some of the most important connections are very short linkages but will go a long way in trimming miles off a more round-about route. These include:

Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) Wall Trail

Distance: 1.15 miles; Estimated cost: $15 million

This will start at Memorial Drive near the Cemetery entrance, the run along Route 110 toward the Air Force Memorial and connect with a re-aligned Columbia Pike. It could also create opportunities for a bike and pedestrian experience that would connect the ANC with the Air Force, Marine Corp, and 9-11 Memorials.

Arlington Boulevard Trail

Distance:1.45 miles; Estimated cost: $2 million.

This is a vital east-west connection that would extend into Fairfax County, with another 3.5 miles of missing links.

Long Bridge & connection over the George Washington Parkway

Distance: 1 mile; Cost: $28.7 million.

Probably the biggest game-changer in the bunch, this would be a new bridge across the Potomac River into Southwest DC and would hopefully connect to a bridge over the George Washington Parkway into Arlington’s Long Bridge Park with connections to Crystal City and Pentagon City.

Theodore Roosevelt Bridge to N. Meade Street

Distance: 0.2 miles; Cost: $1.2 million.

The shortest of the projects in the National Parks Services Paved Trails Study would connect an existing path on the south side of the bridge to North Meade Street and the Marine Corp War Memorial grounds.

Stay Informed and Go for a Ride

Obviously, these projects take sustained support as they compete with other transportation and parks priorities. Many of the projects have been planned for years and are still years away from completion, so you can learn more from the Capital Trails Coalition. Then, keeping asking about their progress. Arlington has more than 49 miles of existing multi-use trails, and the Comfort Map is the perfect resource to help you navigate the many trails.

download the comfort map

Photo Credit:

Sam Kittner/

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