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Thread: Biking east of the Potomac to Wilson Bridge

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    Default Biking east of the Potomac to Wilson Bridge

    I went out today to try riding across the Wilson bridge for the first time. My idea was to make a big loop and leave downtown DC via Navy Yard, cross the Anacostia and then ride east of the Potomac down to the bridge then back up through Alexandria on the Mount Vernon Trail. It's a nice idea especially since the new Wilson bridge is a nice highlight but I would not recommend this route to other cyclists.

    Once again I was frustrated with the poor quality of bicycle infrastructure east of the river. Starting with crossing the Anacostia. We have 5 bridges to choose from and I've yet to figure out which is the best/easiest one for cyclists. (recommendations anyone?)

    This time I used the Penn Ave bridge (Sousa). It was frustrating because if you are on the bike path that runs along the river around Navy Yard, there is no way to get up to that bridge from the bike path. I had to retrace my steps and leave the bike path to go back several city blocks to get onto Pennsylvania to cross the river. The bike map of the city is deceiving because it looks like the bike path would take you right there (it takes you under the bridge; but the path doesn't have access to the bridge itself which is very frustrating).

    Once across the river be prepared for lots of construction. I am excited to see that they are improving things there and I think cycling in that area will be very pleasant once they are finished so this construction gets a thumbs up from me.

    In Anacostia however the bike trails are not very well kept up at all. There were lots of vines and grass growing over them and I didn't pass a single other cyclist. I've decided now that my advice to others is that the roads are better than the trails for cyclists here. The Suitland Parkway Trail and the Oxon Run trail were both covered in debris and falling into disrepair. The trails end suddenly and there are no signs. However biking south on Stanton Road to Mississippi Ave was fine.

    The lack of signage for the Oxon Cove Connector trail was the biggest problem. I rode past it 3 times before stopping in a building and asking a security guard if he knew where it was. Ride past the police academy, through the construction site, and look for the big guns-into-plowshares sculpture and to the left of it is a gravel path that is actually the trail. Again NO SIGN! (Here is a bit of DC history for you: that sculpture looked familiar so I looked it up. Indeed it used to be at Judiciary Square until a couple years ago. It's made of guns from a DC buy-back program that they melted into a sculpture. Here's the story behind the art piece and how it ended up dumped here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...051805012.html).

    This is the point at which the city bike gods reward you if you have been persistent. This is a NICE trail! I SAW A BEAVER!! There were open fields and grasslands and marsh areas. It was gorgeous. Passed a couple guys fishing but again no other cyclists. Rode up to Oxon Hill Farm and bingo! I was right near the Wilson Bridge. But again no signs or directions of any kind to show cyclists how to get to the crossing point. I asked some police officers for directions. They didn't know either. Finally I found it: Ride up out of Oxon Hill Farm and turn right on the overpass and right again immediately afterwards and stay on that road; somewhere around there is the trail leading to the bridge. (I can't say exactly because at this point I actually ended up on a road that unexpectedly turned into an entry ramp for the interstate but I could see the trail to my left so i dismounted crossed the median on foot and was home free, my trials and tribulations for the day at an end.

    The trail was new and in good condition. The bridge was GREAT! I loved it! Biked over to the MVT, through Old Town and I was back in DC. Total mileage: 37.

    I'm not sure why they built such a nice biking bridge if it leads to a dead-end for bikeability because otherwise this would be a great loop for cyclists to do south of the city. Or hopefully the city has plans to make biking in that area easier.

    I want to try taking the MVT to the Wilson bridge and then turning SOUTH for an out-and-back trip and maybe this will be a more rewarding/safer route.

    I recommend biking the Wilson bridge but I don't recommend getting there on the east side. I hope this report helps some other cyclists out there.
    Last edited by barbnDC; 05-16-2011 at 06:50 PM.

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    What a nice report! I'm convinced that a LOT of potential riders in Prince George's county and in eastern parts of DC just don't know very much about the trail infrastructure that already exists, and that as a result, we often don't put on enough pressure for local governments to make improvements to signage and connections to make it easier and better known. When I tell people I commute from outside the beltway in northern Prince George's county to downtown DC in a little over an hour and without riding in heavy traffic, people sometimes don't believe me! They didn't know it was possible.

    I think a lot of people out here on the east sides of DC would love to ride, instead of crowding on to trains or buses or getting stuck in traffic to get around, but they just don't know the best places. For example, I'm shocked how many students reverse commute out to University of MD from DC on metrorail and then cram on to shuttle buses to get to campus. Many could ride to and from DC if they only knew the tricks of the trail system. It's a beautiful ride.

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    PotomacCyclist is offline I spend all day thinking about bikes and talking to people on the internet about them.
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    I've only taken a couple bike trips to the east side of the Wilson Bridge. From my limited experience, I have to agree with your assessment. Not many ideal options for cycling in that area. A big problem is the crushed stone path leading up to National Harbor. I wouldn't want to ride on that with skinny road bike tires. It's almost like it was designed to be an anti-bike barrier/shield to protect National Harbor from the invading hordes of crazed cyclists. However, since I was on a mountain bike, I made it over there to look at the Awakening sculpture. (Too bad it's no longer in Hains Point.)

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    As a regular rider of the WWB,I'd like to pass along some advice to anyone who hasn't ridden it.It's really inviting to go fast as it has a long downhill going either way BUT...there are some huge joints which will easily bend your wheels if you hit them wrong.They are marked clearly with a bright yellow paint job.Just a heads up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PotomacCyclist View Post
    A big problem is the crushed stone path leading up to National Harbor. I wouldn't want to ride on that with skinny road bike tires. It's almost like it was designed to be an anti-bike barrier/shield to protect National Harbor from the invading hordes of crazed cyclists.
    From experience I'll tell you that it isn't crushed stone. It's crushed oyster shells for the most part and the last time we tried to ride high zoot road bikes through there it was an exercise in picking slivers out of tires and replacing tubes. We love riding over there, but we walk the bikes around or ride to the top and take the road in after that experience. Just an FYI

    barbndc, great writeup by the way. Sounds like a bit of an adventure
    Last edited by CCrew; 06-09-2011 at 04:08 AM.

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    Thanks very Barb much for your detailed description of what sounds more like a voyage of exploration than a day ride. It's funny in that I attended the opening of the bike path over the bridge ( yes, it had it's own opening ceremony ) and biked across after the ribbon was cut but wondered at the time when this was going to transition from a bridge to no where to something useful. I'm going to have to follow in your wheel tracks now to see the route for myself.

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    Don't know how I missed this thread, earlier. First, that's a great writeup, Barb, and that sort of detail is always helpful to those who come afterwards. My own efforts at finding the Oxon Cove Connector involve portaging, climbing a fence, and realizing that I had just climbed inside the police academy grounds. Oops. In any event, like you, I eventually found my way. And I've managed to turn it to a nice regular loop, which folks can see here. The ride along Bolling involves some high speed traffic, but there's not much of it, and the road is very wide. The route I post here can only be done in a clockwise direction - I've still not found a good way to go south to north unless I just stick to MLK until it hits Penn Ave.

    ~

    As to National Harbor, despite my not wanting to support them at all ( 1) they stole the Awakening, and 2) they're quite anti-bike), I've ridden over that shell path repeatedly on a road bike. When exiting, it's easier to just take the road back.

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    I enjoyed reading your write up Barb. Thanks for posting.

    I have worked at DC Water Blue Plains since 2000 which is right at the southern tip of DC just south of Naval Research Lab and Bolling airforce base. I used to live in the district but only rode to work once in 7 years due to the lack of safe route especially going from South to North as Mark B points out.

    So as for a 'bridge to nowhere' I (since I moved to Arlington) and quite a few others use it as a bike commuting route from Virginia (mostly) to DC Water, NRL and Bolling. When they finish building St Elizabeth's Homeland Security offices and hopefully extend the trail North to get to it, I think we'll see a lot more people riding this way.

    As a commute it's hard to beat. Riding the bridge in the morning looking up to the river to DC is great, on the hill up behind National Harbor there is a bald eagle nest and sometimes they perch directly above the trail, the Oxon cove trail has all kinds of wildlife from deer (I counted 120 once) to wild turkeys, ospreys, herons and bad tempered geese, I've not seen the beaver yet.

    I agree it's a hard route to find and they should improve the signage. A friend of mine rode round the impoundment lot, bushwacked to the river which he walked across only to find he was only 100 yards from the trail bridge!

    Paul G

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    I've been wanting to check out Oxon Hill for a while, so I'm going to try this out on the way home. Thanks Mark for the route, I plugged that in to my Garmin, so hopefully I won't end up lost anywhere. I was a bit worried about the crushed oyster shell, but from the satellite pics it looks like that is only by the water on the north side of National Harbor, and that's out of the way, and farther south than I think I need to go. Let's hope for a good trip!

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    Thanks so much for the write-up. It's convinced me to avoid the trails East of the Anacostia with the exception of trying to find the Oxon Cove connector path some day. I agree that's its a real shame the trails are in this condition since it would make a great loop (and provide value add to the WWB trail). If you can find out who the ward member is for the area, you may wish to send them your write-up in an email to push for more funding for the trail system there. Seems silly not to facilitate bike commuting between the Alexandria area and south DC.

    Regarding the crushed seashells at NH, I routinely plow through them with nary a thought on my Armadillo Elite CX tires. I'd say if you've got 32s or bigger, you should be fine.

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