OVER THE POTOMAC RIVER — Last Saturday, the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge trail opened and on Monday, I bicycled on it for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed my it, the trail is a triumph for several reasons.
The trail, located on the northern bridge span (which actually carries I-95/495 SOUTH/WEST also known as the Capital Beltway’s Inner Loop), is a comfortable 12 feet wide and enclosed by attractive fences on either side. The height of the fence on the river side is such that I can still see out, but not feel like it is too low. On the highway side, the fence is slightly lower, but reasonable. The grade of the trail, while steeper than the highway portion of the bridge on the Virginia approach, is barely noticeable. The pavement, concrete, is perfect, but that is too be expected.
By itself, the trail is great, but the inclusion of information signs about local history and ecology and landscaping on each shore make it more than a non-motorized transportation corridor — it is a linear park. There are also three overlooks on the span that provide more information signs, some mounted binoculars/telescopes and benches and northern views of Alexandria and Washington D.C. The magnification on some of the telescopes are stunning, so much so that I if I lived along the Alexandria waterfront, I might keep the blinds closed.
On the Virginia side, the trail begins at the Washington Street deck which essentially a large overpass, that the Beltway travels under, with park like features. Additional trails to US 1 and the Mount Vernon Trail are adjacent connect here. Embedded compass-like wayfinders provide riders/walkers with guidance to these points.
On the Maryland side, the trail corkscrews on either side of the overpass spanning Capital Beltway (I-95/495). It looks steeper than it feels and is aesthetically pleasing. The overpass also includes a great deal of information about Prince George’s County’s early history as well as some ecological information. The trail diverts from the Beltway in direction of a trail to Oxon Hill Road and National Harbor. Upon entering the National Harbor property the pavement ends, something that will hopefully be rectified soon. There are unpaved trails all the way down to the completed National Harbor area that are annoying but were not a deal-breaker for me.
Even though it was a Monday, there were a fair amount of cyclists and pedestrians on the bridge. I chatted with a few, including a Park Police officer, about the project and the consensus was that this was an extremely well done project. There were lots of smiling cyclists on it. The only drawback seemed to be the lack of connections to other trails on the Maryland side, something that will have to be addressed by National Harbor and PG County. However, the biggest and hardest piece of the project is now complete and hopefully the connections will arrive soon. The stakeholders of the project, the Federal Highway Administration, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the State of Maryland, the city of Alexandria and Prince George’s County deserve a lot of praise for this latest and perhaps greatest addition to the area’s trail network.