Arlington Deserves Better Connections to the Mount Vernon Trail
The northern and southern reaches into Arlington are well-connected to the Mount Vernon Trail, but that isn’t enough.
One of the most popular multi-use trails in the Washington area is in Arlington’s front yard – the Mount Vernon Trail. Popular with tourists and locals, it’s a haven for runners, cyclists and those out for a simple stroll.
Unfortunately, getting to the Mount Vernon Trail from Arlington can be a rather dangerous affair. To get to the trail’s northern terminus without driving, you must navigate the problematic Lynn Street-Lee Highway-Custis Trail intersection. Unfortunately, this is the only connection from northern Arlington.
The next connection to the trail occurs near Memorial Bridge. Because Fort Myer and Arlington National Cemetery sit between this connection and the rest of the county, it’s not a very practical connection for most Arlingtonians. Even those who ride through Fort Myer are still faced with two incredibly dangerous at-grade road crossings to get to the trail.
Next, there are two minor – and relatively unknown – connections. One passes through the Pentagon parking lot to a pedestrian bridge to Lady Bird Johnson Park, putting a cyclist on a sidewalk and then through another parking lot before connecting to the Mount Vernon Trail under the Humpback Bridge.
The other connection can be found next to the Crystal City Water Park (near the intersection of 18th Street and Crystal Drive). The connecting trail is so narrow at one point that riders often stop and walk their bikes past each other.
The last substantial connection to the Mount Vernon Trail is at Arlington’s southern tip, miles away from the one at Memorial Bridge. There, the Four Mile Run trail connects to the Mount Vernon Trail at the airport, providing the central and southern area of Arlington with its only real connection to the trail.
So how could Arlington County better improve access to the Mount Vernon Trail for those living south of Arlington Boulevard? There are two good candidates for connections near Interstate 395.
The first involves completing the new trail created by the reconstruction of Humpback Bridge. The Mount Vernon Trail now has a spur that wraps around and under the southern end of the bridge, and continues along the edge of the inlet. Unfortunately, instead of continuing along to North Boundary Channel Drive, it stops at the edge of the Pentagon’s property.
The Pentagon had been in discussions with Arlington County about connecting the path. Unforuntately, it seems those discussions have ground to a halt, with Pentagon staff citing amorphous security concerns connected to a particular facility along the path. This is not a little frustrating, as anyone can walk up to that facility from North Boundary Channel Drive. But for the Pentagon’s cooperation, those living along Columbia Pike could avoid having to go to Rosslyn or Crystal City to get to the Mount Vernon Trail.
The other option is to connect the northern end of the newly-opened Long Bridge Park to the trail. This would involve a pedestrian/cyclist bridge over the George Washington Parkway, giving safe passage to park users and commuters alike. Here, the primary challenge is funding. It would also require significant cooperation and coordination with the Virginia Department of Transportation, the National Park Service, and others.
While both of these possible connections have their challenges, the parties involved – Arlington County, the Department of Defense and the National Park Service – owe it to their constituents to find a solution and build a safe and practical connection to the Mount Vernon Trail for a sorely underserved portion of Arlington.
Add another one to the cyclist/pedestrian vs. car crash count for the Lynn-Lee-Custis intersection.
Mark Blacknell is chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, a member of the board of directors of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.