Taking a hard look at the tunnel

A $40M price tag on keeping the trail in the Bethesda Tunnel should prompt us to take a hard look at what the $40M would buy. I’m taking a second look, and the trail that we would have in the tunnel over the Purple Line looks too much like damaged goods to pay such a premium price to save.

Last year I wrote about Bethesda tunnel west. Cyclists need to reconsider the narrow switchback ramp at the west end of the tunnel that will require dismounting. Is this what we want? Is it worth fighting hard for?

MTA concept for the CCT in the Bethesda tunnel
(click on the image for a large image)
Source: MTA Plan and Profile – Trail, September 2010

Dan Reed wrote a thought provoking post for Greater Greater Washington, On-street Crescent Trail may be better for bikes and peds. Among the comments to the post is my response to a comment from Jack Cochrane of CycleMoco:

@Jack:

I like the tunnel, and this may sound like sour grapes now that it is becoming ever more apparent keeping the trail in the tunnel is not practical, but -

The plan for rebuilding the trail to be overhead the Purple Line in the tunnel will not give us the direct connection you would like. If going east from Woodmont Avenue, cyclists would have to pass through the conflicts in a very pedestrian active Woodmont Plaza to get to the tunnel entrance. Then they would be required to dismount, and walk up a tortuous switchback ramp built into the back side of a new JBG building to get to the overhead. The trail in the overhead will be at least as wide as the trail is in the tunnel today, but will have a vertical clearance as little as 8′. This will make it feel much more confining than it does today.

The proposed surface route will be less than 400′ longer than the tunnel route. You will only need to stop riding if you have to wait for the light at Wisconsin Avenue. A 10-12′ wide shared use trail on the north side of Bethesda Avenue and a shared use trail or cycletracks on Willow can separate cyclists from traffic.

Quite frankly, if I were to cycle through Bethesda and have that choice, I’ll take the surface route rather than deal with the dismount and walk up the narrow switchback ramp into the tunnel at the west end. Pedestrians and families with small children on bikes might still prefer the tunnel route, but few adult cyclists will use it under those conditions. You know better than most how adverse cyclists are to dismount zones. The tunnel route is not worth $40M for cyclists.

Maybe I am suffering from a sour grapes syndrome now, but the tunnel route does not look so hot when we take our rose colored glasses off and look straight at that switchback ramp.

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