UPDATE: The Trolley Trail gap – a half mile can make a difference

A rendering of Rhode Island Avenue plus the proposed Hyattsville trolley Trail extension. Courtesy of Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

BY DANA PATTERSON — Currently, there is no safe, pedestrian- and bike-friendly connection between the south end of the Trolley Trail in Hyattsville and the Northwest Branch Trail a half-mile away, according to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA). WABA suggests building a half-mile extension between the two existing trails in order to bridge the “crucial gap” and create a safe connection.  

The project’s campaign site points out that a half-mile is all that “that stands in the way of a regional trail system connecting Beltsville and Bladensburg, College Park and Capitol Hill, Silver Spring and Southeast Washington,” and notes that “Rhode Island Avenue, with its wide lanes and fast-moving car, bus, and truck traffic, is no alternative to a safe, low-stress trail between the Trolley Trail and the Northwest Branch.”

On June 22, Hyattsville newly formed formed Health, Wellness and Recreation Advisory Committee (HWRAC) met with two local residents and representatives of WABA, Karmel James and Alison Mendoza-Walters, who suggested that the completion of the trail project is up to the community now. According to the city’s website, HWRAC “makes recommendations to City Council, develops public awareness campaigns and coordinates community engagement initiatives to encourage healthy lifestyles.” The HWAC agreed to share the petition link, but no further action was decided upon.

During the meeting with HWRAC, James said, “We [WABA] are advocating for our local councilmembers and community to talk to the State Highway Administration and remind them that our community wants this [new trail to fill the gap].”

Mendoza-Walters agreed and said that she supports the Trolley Trail as a local resident and as a principal of her consulting business, Public Health Impact, LLC, because of the health benefits it would offer.

 The City of Hyattsville is in full support of finishing the Trolley Trail. However, the trail project is in the hands of the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (SHA) since bridging the gap would be along Rhode Island Avenue, said both James and Arrow Bicycle owner Chris Militello.

“I have been involved with this project since 2007, before Arrow Bicycle business existed, and met with the designers of the plan,” said Militello. Militello said he wants the Trolley Trail finished, both as a business owner and a local resident.

The Maryland-National Capital Parks Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) developed designs to bridge this gap about seven years ago, according to James and Mendoza-Walters, but the project has not moved forward.

SHA project engineer Luis Gonzalez said that in 2015 the City of Hyattsville requested that the SHA take on the trail project. Despite M-NCPPC developing designs to complete the trail, Gonzalez said the SHA is taking on all responsibility for this project, from design to construction, and has a different process than M-NCPPC. Therefore, M-NCPPC’s designs will not be used, according to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez was not able to provide an estimated completion date for the trail project. However, Gonzalez said that it typically takes two years to attain all environmental permits necessary in order to start construction. The SHA is starting to engineer the project —  conducting measurements in order to develop a design.

James and Mendoza-Walters suggested that building a half-mile of trail to connect 40+ miles of the Anacostia Tributary Trail System north of Bladensburg Waterfront Park doesn’t seem to be a priority for the SHA.

Militello agreed that community demand is currently not high enough to require immediate action from the SHA. Providing no estimated completion date is not good enough, said Militello.

“Finishing the Trolley Trail isn’t only for cyclists to get from point A to point B but for anybody to use this trail: families that have small children and want to walk on a nice sunny day to the skate park, so joggers can safely cross without the fear of having to walk in the shoulder of the street or in the grass,” said James.  

James said that a united community demanding action could make the project happen.

For example, WABA community organizer Garrett Hennigan said there are five letters of support from local businesses, including Artist and Craftsman Supply, Shortcake Bakery, Tanglewood Works, Three Little Birds Sewing Company and Yes! Organic Market, asking elected leaders and decision-makers to prioritize the project. “Local businesses want it because this trail isn’t just for cyclists but [is] a shortcut to get to local businesses from Shortcake Bakery to Franklins [Restaurant, Bar and General Store],” said James.

Additionally, over 400 individuals have signed a petition at www.waba.org/trolleytrail to ask elected officials to make finishing the Trolley Trail a priority.

Dana Patterson is a summer intern with the Hyattsville Life & Times. She is a resident of Hyattsville and a rising junior at Pennsylvania State University.