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Trail Voices: Michael Henderson

Rail lines and six-lane commuter arteries slice across the Edgewood and Eckington neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. Just to the south, across a dangerous intersection, sits the NoMa business district. This formerly industrial area has received $1.5 billion of investment, including a new Metro station, offices, retail and a supermarket. At the southern edge of NoMa is Union Station.

Michael Henderson has lived in Edgewood for nine years. To travel the two miles between his home and Union Station--a trip that can be made in 12 minutes by bike--Henderson would drive his car because he didn't have a safe, convenient way to get there.

That trip is now a little easier after the opening of the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Named for the rail corridor it parallels, the pathway soars over busy avenues and connects to neighborhood streets, offering a quick route for people to walk and bike between downtown and neighborhoods in Northeast D.C.

Since the path opened, Henderson has taken his bike more often, sometimes four times a week, down the trail to Union Station. "I've never ridden my bike more," he says, "because there's never been a trail."

In some ways, riding the trail is a return to childhood for Henderson. Growing up in Denver, Colo., he remembers biking three or four miles to school with his friends. Since moving to Washington, Henderson has tried to keep physical activity integrated with his daily routine. "I'm not someone who likes to go to the weight room," he says, "but I can get on my bike and ride." He adds with a laugh: "I coast a lot."

But Henderson is worried that some of his neighbors aren't using the trail as much as they could. "There are tons of folks like me who understand the value of a trail...but there's certainly a significant number of people in Edgewood who have never used a trail," he says. "Inertia is our biggest obstacle here."

The solution is reaching out to neighbors, through community celebrations, tree plantings, 5K races and good old face-to-face contact. "One by one, people will say, 'I guess that trail is real,'" Henderson says. Once they're out on the trail, "they love it...It will eventually meld into the culture of Edgewood."

Now, when he bikes past a group of people walking on the trail, he often knows someone in that group, who introduces him to the rest of the party. "Turns out, it's a neighbor that lives a block away," he says. As his neighbors begin to use the trail more, Henderson wants them to take ownership and become stewards of the trail. "You've got to invest in it."

Even as the trail has improved access for residents, there is still more to do. The only route to the Metro station at Rhode Island Avenue follows a narrow sidewalk underneath a dark railroad overpass, with six lanes of commuter traffic speeding past. Before the trail was built and fences were installed, many residents used a shortcut that crossed an active freight rail corridor.

A pedestrian bridge between the trail and the station is being designed that will provide a direct, safe route for Edgewood residents connecting to transit. It will also introduce new people to the trail. "They will use that to access the Metro," Henderson says, "then they'll see where the trail continues...and they'll say, 'Oh! That's the way to get there.'"

Posted Fri, Mar 4 2011 12:35 PM by Stephen Miller (RTC)


Becky from California wrote re: Trail Voices: Michael Henderson
on Wed, Mar 9 2011 11:30 PM

Michael, my daughter Heather also lives in the Edgewood neighborhood.  She works for the D.C. Dept. of Transportation as a bicycle trail planner.  Her first project has been on the Metro Branch Trail, and like you, she is anxious that it be well used. With this interest in common, it's likely you'll meet.  She receives this Rails to Trails newsletter and will be very happy to read your thoughts and comments.

As a visitor to the area I know that "narrow sidewalk underneath a dark railroad overpass" too well.  The pedestrian bridge to the metro station can't be built soon enough.

barb wrote re: Trail Voices: Michael Henderson
on Tue, Mar 29 2011 4:36 PM

What everyone neglects to mention about this trail is that to access it from the southern end you have to carry your bike up two flights of stairs!! Who the heck does that? I don't see how this trail is useful to cyclists at all.

Editors Note: There is a convenient switchback ramp for cyclists to use at the southern end of the trail that connects to M Street NE.


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