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Narrow and Tricky Humpback Bridge Set for Rebuilding

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By Robert Thomson
Sunday, January 6, 2008

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have run the same route for almost eight years now, and I still am amazed at how unsafe and rude bikers are on the trail from the Roosevelt Bridge to National Airport (the route I use). One place in particular I want your suggestion as to how it can become safer: The Humpback Bridge is very narrow, and cars are always speeding by.

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There are signs posted on both entrances to the bridge saying "Bikers Dismount." In all my years, only twice have I seen this happen.

I do not know what more to do than go to another trail, but I feel I have as much right to use the trail as a biker. What will happen once a biker falls into traffic?

Ralph Nappi


The National Park Service says it knows of the safety problem and tries to enforce the dismount rule, but it's a losing battle.

This bridge, which takes the George Washington Parkway over Boundary Channel just northwest of Interstate 395 and the 14th Street bridge, was built in 1932 and can't handle the demands of today's traffic. Walkers and bikers on the popular Mount Vernon Trail follow a narrow pathway right next to the more than 75,000 vehicles a day that cross the bridge.

It's not very safe for the drivers, either. Sight distances across the bridge are poor, so drivers -- many of whom are traveling too fast -- can't see brake lights ahead of them. Also, the northbound ramp from I-395 to the Humpback Bridge has the highest accident rate on the parkway, and traffic backups onto the 14th Street bridge are normal.

The park service and the Federal Highway Administration have a $35 million plan to improve safety and traffic flow. The rebuilding of the Humpback Bridge is scheduled to start tomorrow. But the job will take until spring 2010 to finish.

Many motorists will be caught in backups and will want to consider alternative routes. For example, people traveling between the District and Reagan National Airport should take the 14th Street bridge rather than the Memorial or Key bridges. Drivers coming from the north might want to get off the George Washington Parkway at Boundary Channel Drive, work their way around the Humpback Bridge, then return to the parkway. (Yes, that's how bad the traffic congestion might be.)

Nappi will still be able to do his six-mile run. The Mount Vernon Trail will remain open.

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