The intersection of Woodrow Wilson and Richard Byrne Memorial has a five-story viaduct and a girder that is supposed to keep a steady stream of traffic flowing through it. But if one bike rider gets on and off the Viaduct at the right time, the red light turns green and there’s no traffic. Or the bikers and pedestrians stop.
A Washington Post investigation found the Viaduct turned red while no one was coming. The Pennsyrup Trail, which loops through parts of Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, has a number of staircases below the freeway, and bike bikers are required to climb up and down the viaduct using walkways or stairs. Because the path isn’t a traffic safety zone, it’s possible to go around traffic entirely without paying the Viaduct red light.
This was noticed about a year ago by Maureen Smith, a 61-year-old walker from Rockville. In September 2017, she said a slow stream of people on the Washington Monument Trail were tripping at the Viaduct. They ran across the footbridge to Woodrow Wilson, according to Smith.
“These people were going past the river, and it was dark,” she said. “It wasn’t a good sight to see how many people were done.”
Smith said she contacted the Department of Public Works. “They were really friendly and helpful, but they didn’t know anything about the girders,” she said.
Todd Brown, chief of customer service and property, said the agency is aware that bicyclists and pedestrians are allowed to use the path without paying the Viaduct red light. A year and a half later, he said the agency is still researching the girders.
Williams said that in 2017 the agency installed a new model of girders at the spot where Smith saw the traffic violations. He said now the Viaduct won’t turn red, unless the light cycle is slow enough for a bike rider to stop and then restart the cycle. It also no longer recognizes a bike lane as a type of pedestrian crossing, or permits walkers to cross at the Viaduct. He said the Viaduct would likely change those two rules as the organization investigates the contraption.
The Department of Public Works is also looking into a separate lawsuit filed by a member of the pilot study, who said she was having trouble crossing the Viaduct to the Washington Monument Trail in January 2018.
Some cyclists are now using the Fairmont Elementary School School at 18600 Woodland Avenue, 10 miles away.
Just in case, both bikes and pedestrians are on a verbal alert when riding the girders.
The Washington Monument Trail is considered a top public access cycling destination in the nation. The Viaduct is located within a Wildlife Management Area established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is a key through-trail linking wildlife to the swamp ecosystem.