Cyclist attacked by youths in Northeast D.C.

WASHINGTON — A 37-year-old Silver Spring, Md., man was knocked off his bike and beaten on the Metropolitan Branch Trail Tuesday evening.

The Washington Post reports the victim was heading home when he was attacked by as many as 15 young people near 3rd and S streets in the Northeast D.C. neighborhood of Eckington.

The victim’s left eye was swollen shut, police say. He was taken to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries, the Post reports.

The incident occurred on a trail that stretches from Union Station up toward Silver Spring. It provides one of the few off-road links from the northeast section of D.C. to Montgomery County.

Now, area cyclists are questioning the safety of the popular commuter route.

Philip Koopman, co-owner of the BicycleSPACE, commutes daily on the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

“I feel relatively safe there,” he says. “I guess if I encountered a large group of people who were blocking the trail, I’d have a concern.”

Alex Baca, communications coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), agrees with Koopman.

“I feel perfectly safe on the MetBranch Trail,” she says. “I ride on it, a number of our staffers ride on it.”

However, Baca and Koopman both say they understand how some riders may be discouraged from taking the trail.

“The trail is somewhat secluded, there’s a lot of development that’s taking place, but there are still a lot of isolated areas along the trail,” Koopman says.

Brookland resident Mitch Merry frequently uses the Metropolitan Branch Trail, and even rides on it at night. For now, he says he’s staying off of the trail.

“I’ve seen (police) out there patrolling, making an effort, but it’s apparently not enough,” he says.

Though it’s not a direct result of Tuesday’s attack on the cyclist, WABA is introducing a new Trail Rangers program. Baca says a grant from the D.C. Department of Transportation is funding an effort that will put a director and three interns out on patrols on area trails.

“Their role is to help trail users, clean up the trail and report to the cops if anything suspicious is going on, but no, they are not police,” Baca says.

Koopman believes a large part of making the Metropolitan Branch Trail safer is to have increased bike traffic on the trail.

“The MBT is a great connector trail in the city. It’s really a missing link in a lot of ways. It’s been a huge connection to downtown,” says Koopman, who leads organized rides on the trail from BicycleSPACE’s shop on the weekends.

“I love taking our group rides on the trail. And they’re really excited when they go out there and they find they can reach the trail systems of the Anacostia River and they can get up to Brookland and Catholic University and beyond,” he says.

While Koopman says there’s safety in numbers, Merry is not convinced.

“If they were able to attack this man during the evening commute when there are plenty of people on there, I don’t know if more people on the trail is the solution.”

For now, Merry will take his commute to the streets, where he feels safer.

The Guardian Angels Chapter of D.C. announced it will be helping to patrol the Metropolitan Branch Trail in response to Tuesday’s beating.

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