The DC region is one stop closer to providing more and better multimodal transportation options to residents with low-cost, high-impact trail investments.
Last week, the Transportation Planning Board (TPB) approved a plan to expand and connect the amount of off-road bike and walking trails in the region to 1,400 miles—more than doubling the existing trail network. Now regional localities can plan for trails in coordination and prioritize funding to build what will ostensibly be the Bicycle Beltway. It is a victory for the Capital Trails Coalition, which brought together 60+ regional stakeholders to create criteria for implementation, and collectively lobby for the necessary funding to expanded the trails network.
When the network is completed in 25 years, more than 4 million people in the region will live within a half mile of a trail, and they would be able to use the trails to commute to 2.5 million jobs. The cost of the nearly 900 miles of the completed trails network (over the next 25 years) is slated to cost just over $1 billion. For comparison, the widening of 22.5 miles of Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia to add toll lanes carries a price tag of nearly $4 billion.
The Federal City Council stands in support of the plan and for more low-cost, high-impact investments like the trails network. The region needs more transportation options, especially those that are inexpensive, healthy and reliable.
These types of plans and investments should make the region—and downtown DC—more economically competitive. We know congested, long and expensive commutes cost employers—both in employee productivity and overall health. A report by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy estimates that the Washington region would record $500 million a year in health-care cost savings if it completed the trail network. And we know that micromobility infrastructure (e.g., safe, dedicated space like trails and bike lanes for walking, biking, scooting and whatever is next) is important to employers in attracting and retaining top talent, and to strong retail real estate values.
As with most issues, COVID brings to light the urgency for investing in innovative transportation solutions. Much has been written about whether telecommuting will become permanent and what that means for the survival of urban business districts. Even when we have safe accommodations at our offices and downtown businesses, workers need to know that they will have a safe, socially-distanced commute. And in the long term, employees will continue to come downtown if their commute is affordable, safe, convenient and even joyful.
We see investments from Mayor Bowser’s ReOpen DC report—such as accelerating the build-out of three “Car Free Lanes” for buses and bicycles in high-traffic spots throughout the city—as critical investments in both the short- and long-term health of our economy. Because of the large drop-off in commuter automobile traffic, we have a unique opportunity to make substantial progress in improving the physical infrastructure of the city while minimizing the impact of what would normally be an unacceptably disruptive effect on commuter movement. We should plan today for a transportation system where more commuters can get to work without being stuck in traffic jams.