By Megan Odett
Before I had a kid, I used to be a cyclist of the "strong
and fearless" variety. No road was too busy and no bike lane too narrow to
stop me from getting to my destination by the most direct route. After I had my
son Alex, though, it was as if I had become a newbie all over again. Suddenly I
was hyperaware of every vehicle, every pothole, every pedestrian and every
hazard on the road. I began to prioritize traffic calmness much more in
choosing my routes.
Around the same time, I discovered the Metropolitan
A little miracle in the heart of Washington, D.C., the Met
Branch Trail enables Alex and me to bike from our Bloomingdale home to some of
our favorite destinations while avoiding some of the city's most dangerous
roads. From our house, it's an easy four-block ride to the trail's R Street
access point. From there, we can head south to NoMa and Near Northeast,
skipping the twin nightmares of New
York and Florida avenues. Or we can pedal north to Brookland, gliding over
the commuter artery of Rhode Island Avenue.
The Met Branch is a huge help during our
several-times-a-week commute to daycare. For those trips, we bike north on the
trail to Brookland, then zigzag on side streets over the Maryland border to
Hyattsville. The trail helps us bypass the commuter traffic of Rhode Island
Avenue and converts the exhausting ups-and-downs of Edgewood into a persistent
but manageable uphill climb.
My favorite part of our daycare commute is the trip home,
when the sweat from the morning's uphill climb pays off in a long downhill run
and we fly past the trees and the railroad tracks, with the Capitol dome ahead
of us and Alex waving his hands in the air to feel the wind.
The Met Branch is still a work in progress. The District
Department of Transportation and numerous other partners are still working
to complete the trail from Union Station to Silver Spring, Md. Even before
the rest of the trail is completed, there are projects that will improve the
trail's connection with neighborhoods and transit stops.
Since we live in Bloomingdale, we use the R Street NE
entrance in Eckington to access the trail. For us and many others, R Street is not
only a gateway to the Met Branch Trail, it's an important cross-town street for
cyclists, stretching nearly three miles from the Met Branch Trail in Eckington
The only problem is that R Street is one-way for a single block
in Eckington. In order to avoid illegally bicycling against traffic on our
return trips, I hop up on the curb for that one block. Although a legal
maneuver outside of downtown D.C., it's not the best solution. The sidewalk is
narrow and residents store their trash cans there. I'm always worried that I'm
going to run into a fellow sidewalk user or knock over someone's trash
can--especially on days when we're using our bike trailer.
For that reason, I've been following the recent debate
over proposed changes to R Street with interest. I support the proposed
addition of a contraflow bike lane to the one-way block and sharrows to the
rest of R Street NE from North Capitol Street to the trail entrance. It will
make this section of R Street safer for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians by slowing
down traffic in this residential neighborhood--without eliminating any on-street
This connection may face debate and delay, but it is critical to making our neighborhoods better places to walk and bike--not to
mention raise a family. The Met Branch Trail has made it easier and even more
fun to bike around town with my son. I'm so grateful to have this resource, and
I look forward to many more miles on the trail with him.
Megan Odett is the organizer
of Kidical Mass DC, which promotes safe, fun family biking in the Greater
Crossposted at Kidical Mass DC.
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
Washington, DC 20037