I wasn’t planning to re-visit the W&OD and folks’ behavior out there so soon, but given the feedback I’ve gotten on my articles, and some recent experiences of my own and others, I feel I need to say a bit more about it.
The most upsetting news I heard in this regard came from one of our W&OD Trail Patrol members who came by the shop the other day. He told me that a long-time member of the Patrol, who patrols on foot in the Vienna area, has decided to quit the Patrol after having been hit TWICE by speeding cyclists. Not passed too closely, but actually hit, while wearing a high visibility Trail Patrol vest.
There is NO excuse for this sort of occurrence. None. And as a result, we are losing a member of the Trail Patrol, the very people who are out there to try to help us all have a safe and enjoyable time out on the trail.
But it doesn’t stop there. The same Trail Patrol member (an avid cyclist) who related this story to me has also told me about his own negative interactions with speeding cyclists. As part of his responsibility for maintaining trail safety, he will call out to cyclists he feels are riding in an unsafe manner. You’d think that if you were riding along at a fast clip and someone in a jersey or vest that was emblazoned with the words “Trail Patrol”, shouted a warning to you to slow down, you might actually slow down. Yet in many instances, the Patrol member’s warning is either completely ignored or responded to with an obscene gesture or words.
I’ve lived near the W&OD for almost a decade now, and I’ve ridden and walked a lot of miles on it. I’d like to say that I’m shocked to hear of behavior like this on the trail, but I’m sorry to say it happens all too often. I’ve certainly had my share of cyclists passing me too fast and close, and others making unsafe passing maneuvers against opposing traffic. And who hasn’t watched as a rider flies through a stop sign across a road without even a pause?
Don’t get me wrong ... cyclists aren’t the only ones who behave badly on the trail. I can also tell you of countless times I’ve had to shout and ring my bell insistently before I could get the attention of a cluster of walkers, three or four abreast, blocking the entire width of the trail. And there always seems to be a runner or two who insists on running right on the yellow lane divider, despite the signs (and plain common sense) that say “stay right except to pass.” In these days of the ubiquitous MP3 player, a cyclist can’t help but be frustrated by runners, walkers, and others, oblivious to the world around them, and unresponsive to any warnings.
The simple fact of the matter, however, is that as cyclists we are moving the fastest, and therefore present a greater “hazard” to other users of the trail. In discussions about car/bike interactions, cyclists are always quick to point out that when those interactions go badly, it is the cyclist who “loses”. Well, on a multi-use trail, we are the “cars” ... simple physics means that our speed and moving mass create a risk for others, so it is vital that we behave responsibly and safely.
- Ride at a safe speed for the existing conditions - a busy Saturday in the heart of any trail town is NOT the time and place to go for a “personal best."
- Alert others of your presence before passing - call out “passing on your left”, or ring a bell or sound a horn ... and while you’re at it, why not say “hello” or “nice day” as you pass?
- Only pass when there is clearly sufficient room and time to do so, and give the person you're passing a wide berth.
- Stop at all stop signs at road crossings. Don’t assume that drivers will stop for you.
- Most important, remember that the trail, any multi-use trail, is for the use of EVERYONE! It is not your personal training or play ground, whether you are a cyclist, walker, or runner.
The trails are one of the truly great resources in the DC area. If we can all learn to be considerate of others, and truly share the trails, we can all enjoy them to the fullest for many years, trouble-free. If not, they will become just another hassle, and being on them will feel like being on any of the many congested, stressful roads in the region.
And none of us want that.