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Narrow and Tricky Humpback Bridge Set for Rebuilding

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.

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

Rosslyn

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.

During rush periods, all bridge lanes should be open to traffic. But it still will be a construction zone, with signs to read, reduced speed limits and possible lane shifts. Traffic is likely to back up.

At other times, watch out for major delays during daily lane closures from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Construction could go on seven days a week.

The project managers have set up a Web page at http://www.humpbackbridge.dot.gov to provide updates and suggest alternative routes.

The rebuilt bridge will have a safer road grade and wider lanes, including a wider lane for the Mount Vernon Trail, which will be separated from the cars by a new barrier. A northbound acceleration lane for traffic coming from I-395 will ease that merge.

Snacking on Metro

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I recall during the early years of the subway system eating and drinking being strictly prohibited. Metro police enforced the regulations.

I now notice an obvious de-emphasis of the rules and less of a show of force by Metro police. A sanitary Metro system begins with controlling conduct like eating and drinking that creates trash and invites pests.

V. Stewart

Catonsville

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I saw something that disturbed me last night [Wednesday, Jan. 2] on a Red Line train at the end of the evening commute: an empty beer can and a cap from a beer bottle.

There was also the apparent remains of a pastry that had been ground into the carpet. I know the transit police can't be everywhere, but it does seem that some riders are eating and drinking (and imbibing, apparently) more than ever.

Kevin Edwards

Silver Spring

Many riders notice such things. Metro police have told me they still enforce the ban, and I've never seen an officer ignore a violation. I just don't see that many officers.

Meanwhile, Metro has launched an education campaign with new signs and announcements.

"I find it very common to see people leaving their morning or afternoon snack wrapper on the train," Metro General Manager John B. Catoe said in a statement about the campaign. "Our laws that prohibit eating, drinking and spitting are needed to operate a clean, safe system."

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in the Extras and Sunday in the Metro section. You can send e-mails todrgridlock@washpost.com. Include your name, home community and phone numbers.

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