An Empty Field, Once an Empty Parking Lot for an Empty Mall, Now a Nice Shortcut

Yesterday I rode a 38 mile loop that connects several trails and roads closed to cars in the Maryland/DC area:

  • Rock Creek/Beach Drive – there is a paved bike path that that parallels Beach Drive through Rock Creek Park from Garrett Park MD down to Georgetown in DC. On weekends, much of Beach Drive is closed to cars – during the pandemic, they have made the closure full time. Empty roads!
  • Haines Point – Going past the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, you reach East and West Potomac Park – the site of the 1971 “May Day” Vietnam war protests. I just finished reading a book “Mayday 1971” that shows how that time eerily parallels today in the US, if you substitute a war for a pandemic and just change the names of the sitting presidents. There is then a 3 mile loop around Haines Point where the Anacostia River feeds into the Potomac River – this used to be the site of the “Boring New Year’s Day Century” each New Years Day – 33 laps! Planes (not that many recently) follow the Potomac River and land at National Airport across the river.
  • Capital Crescent Trail – this is a real gem of a paved rail trail that parallels the southern-most 5 miles of the C&O Towpath and then cuts north to Bethesda MD. Unfortunately, Maryland’s governor succumbed to pressure and funded a light rail system that took back a nice stretch east of Bethesda (cost overruns during construction have already shut it down. With any luck, it may end up just being an enhanced section of rail trail). I avoided that stretch or I would have a picture of an empty tunnel that used to be full of bikers and walkers.
  • Bethesda Trolley Trail – nice local amenity that is not really great for biking because there are so many kids/dog walkers, etc. but it did add bridges over some major highways that enables this loop.

The northern end of the Bethesda Trolley Trail ends in what is really Rockville, MD but in the interest of raising real estate values, it has called itself “North Bethesda.” It is the site of one of the larger indoor shopping malls that were built around here back in the late 70’s, White Flint Mall. Despite an ideal location, it was always badly run and poorly maintained. Despite attracting a few good restaurants, it went under 5 or 6 years ago. It was one of the sites bidding for Amazon’s HQ2 building – didn’t win.

It is now empty space that nature is slowly reclaiming.

They could film Mad Max 3 there, but it is now a nice shortcut to get back to the northern end of the loop where I park my car.

7 response to "An Empty Field, Once an Empty Parking Lot for an Empty Mall, Now a Nice Shortcut"

  1. By: Bill Stone Posted: November 7, 2020

    Looks like a good way to connect disparate bikeways. I gotta add two personal notes brought to mind by your route.

    (1) I was born in 1950 at Bethesda Naval Hospital, which is now known as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. You might have heard that somebody famous from the White House, infected with covid-19, recently stayed there, possibly in my old suite.

    (2) During the May Day anti-Vietnam war demonstrations of 1971 in DC I was arrested and jailed. I still consider it a badge of honor.

    Thanks for the memories!

    • By: jpescatore Posted: November 9, 2020

      Bill – you definitely ought to read Mayday 1971, then!

      My major Walter Reed memory was when my daughter and her friend got old enough for what is apparently a DC area tradition: asking your parents to take you to the Walter Reed National Museum of Health and Medicine.

      It had all kinds of gross exhibits of body parts in jars and leeches eating flesh off of bones – older kids would tell younger kids and pass the tradition on. Also, lots of interesting historical medicine related stuff…

      I think we went to the old facility off of 16th street – Fort Mcnair? I think it closed in 2011, the museum moved somewhere. Wherever it is, I bet people with little kids today are still getting forced to take their kids to see things…

  2. By: gregblood Posted: November 7, 2020

    Interesting trails. I’ve never ridden them and I was never arrested during the May Day protest, but I’ll try to fit in anyway: I was told to move by some cops while I was just watching an anti-fracking protest in D.C. about six years ago, and I was born on a now-defunct naval base on the Maryland-Virginia border.

    Malls in general have really suffered. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to a mall. The Southdale Mall in Edina– southwest suburb of Minneapolis– widely credited as being the first indoor mall in the U.S., seems to be barely hanging on despite several remodeling projects over the years.

    • By: jpescatore Posted: November 9, 2020

      Indoor malls have been shuttering around here for years – there were just too many of them. I can’t really think of any of them that I was sad to see go!

  3. By: Suzanne Posted: November 8, 2020

    Looks like there is an abundance of good trails for riding in the area, and the emptier the better. I lived in McLean for a year in the 1970’s, but wasn’t into cycling yet. I wonder if these bicycle trails existed then.

  4. By: NancyG Posted: November 8, 2020

    Nice number of choices for some trails. My home town was outside of Baltimore and I graduated from University of Maryland (back in the day!). There were no trails like this back then as it was waaaay before any bike boom ;’-).

    • By: jpescatore Posted: November 9, 2020

      I moved to Maryland in 1978 and the Rock Creek Path existed and was being extended to the north into MD. It was part of the boom of bike path building after the oil embargos/gas price shocks of the early 1970s. The down side of those: the standards for bike paths back then weren’t very high – lots of tree root and water damage – and no maintenance funds.

      The Capital Crescent and Bethesda Trolley trails came later – part of the rail trail boom that the old Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act that President Bush (the older one) signed in 1991 helped fund. Most of these are built really well.

      The problem around here is they aren’t really well interconnected – many folks won’t ride on roads at all, so the trails are more recreational than useful for transportation.

      When I go to visit friends in the Columbus/Xenia/Dayton OH area, I’m very jealous of the interconnected trail systems they have.

Leave a Reply