By BEN SIMASEK — For distance runners, supply chain managers, and transportation planners, the last mile is crucial, yet often the most difficult to complete. When it comes to completion of the Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail, the final half-mile — the missing link between Hyattsville, adjacent communities and an extensive trail network — still presents some challenges.
The Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration (SHA) briefed the Hyattsville Planning Committee on the plan to finish the last stretch of the trail from Farragut Street to Charles Armentrout Drive during their meeting on Oct. 16. The project is currently at 30 percent status. At least 28 community members, local business owners, and cycling advocates attended the meeting and were invited to ask questions and give feedback on the plan.
SHA Transportation Engineer Kidus Debasu presented the project milestones to-date, the current design of the trail, and the tentative timeline for the next steps. The current plan hinges on securing the right of way for stormwater management along the northbound side of Rhode Island Ave from CSX Corporation, which owns the land along the rail tracks. SHA anticipates surveys to determine the right of way requirements will be completed by the end of October. Assuming the right of way can be cleared by spring 2019, bids will be solicited next fall and construction is projected to start in spring 2020.
In the past, the city has had difficulty reaching CSX to negotiate, according to Jim Chandler, Director of Community and Economic Development.
In addition to completing the 10-foot wide shared pedestrian and bike trail on the northbound side of Rhode Island Ave (U.S. 1) and building a sidewalk on the southbound side from Braxton Place to the Melrose Skatepark, the proposed plan includes significant changes in traffic patterns. U.S. 1 northbound from Armentrout Drive to Farragut Street would be reduced from two traffic lanes to one. Left turns from 43rd Avenue to U.S. 1 northbound would be restricted. The proposed grass buffer between the trail and the road would be reduced for bus stop turnouts. New crosswalks would connect the trail to the businesses on the opposite side of U.S. 1.
Residents shared ideas, questions and concerns about these proposed changes with the committee and SHA officials. Residents encouraged the city to study the effects of projected changes in traffic patterns on residential neighborhoods. Several ideas were shared in the interest of improving safety, including increasing the signal time and fixing broken signals at existing crosswalks, reducing the traffic lane width to discourage speeding, creating safe areas at bus stops for riders to queue and dismount, and prohibiting right turns on red from Armentrout Drive onto U.S. 1. The city will share these comments and concerns with SHA to consider in the next steps for project planning.
Some local entrepreneurs expressed concern about the economic impact of delayed trail construction, given the trail is not expected to be completed until late 2020 at the earliest. Chris Davidson, owner of Arrow Bike Shop, said he worried that local business might continue to miss out on opportunities like the annual Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Cider Ride, scheduled for Nov. 3 this year. The event attracted 700 participants last year, but many participants bypassed the Hyattsville portion of the ride due to the lack of connection between trails. WABA’s page for the Cider Ride even includes a section advocating for the completion of the trail.
Davidson envisions the trail contributing to the ongoing revitalization of downtown Hyattsville, where several new businesses have recently joined longtime neighborhood favorites.
“With good wayfinding and a connection to downtown Hyattsville, it will make us a destination. You will be able to do a brewery and restaurant tour just on the Trolley Trail, with possible stops at Streetcar 82 Brewing Co., Franklin’s, Maryland Meadworks, Sangfroid Distillery, Town Center Market and so many other local businesses along the route,” said Davidson.
The Rhode Island Trolley Trail runs parallel to Route 1 for 3.8 miles through College Park, Riverdale, University Park and Hyattsville. Its path follows the former City & Suburban Railway streetcar route, which carried passengers from Washington to the Maryland suburbs from the end of the 19th century until 1958. Once complete, the trail will connect to more than 40 miles of the Anacostia Tributary Trail system and improve accessibility to local neighborhoods and businesses.