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Vienna Pedaler: W&OD Behavior

The trail is not a personal training or playing ground. Whether you are a cyclist, walker, or runner, safety comes first.

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 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.

So remember:

  • 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.

Kathy May 04, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Thank you so much for this article! I think it's a great message for everyone, regardless of their mode of movement, to remember there are others out there and that safety should always be a priority. Not to mention a little kindness and tolerance. Something that seems to be lacking in our society.
J Anderson May 05, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Amelie - Did you read my post? FWIW - stats show you are more likely to be in and potentially injured or killed in a car accident than in a bike accident. The issue is that we as a society have grown to accept drivers going above the speed limit, to slide thru stop signs, to pass on the right, to turn right on red yet when a cyclist does something - it's the end of the world - let alone the fact that car drivers pull stunts that could easily kill a cyclist. Yet I diverge from the discussion at hand....and again suggest reading my post. Cyclists need to slow down on the trail but there is plenty of blame to be shared by all trail users - so it's out of balance to blame just cyclists as the root of all accidents. As I said, I am on the trail a lot and see plenty of stunts but I bet if you counted - it's a few bad riders that are bringing full blame down on all cyclists. No cyclist should be speeding thru any downtown area like Herndon or Vienna...that's just stupid...so blame the person and not the activity. Jack D's ribbons have nothing to do with trail usage and I don't know who Hank is.
Anne42pt2 May 07, 2012 at 04:00 PM
I'm happy to remain a Trail Patrol member, despite some entertaining encounters over the years. I both cycle and run. I have seen my share of foolishness from both cyclists and peds. I've seen some stupid accidents that should have been avoided. But I've not personally had any unpleasant interactions with trail users, even ones I've just had to talk to about their behavior. It is not that hard to be polite to others, maintain a safe speed and be aware of your surroundings. Cyclists are in the position to do the most harm, as Tim points out, because of speed and equipment. So when we're on our bikes, we really do bear the burden of being extra careful of those we could mow down. And please, I see a lot of silliness at road crossings. In the rock, paper, scissors world, the car is always "rock." Slow the heck down. Stop at the stop signs. Live to ride tomorrow. I'm so happy that Bike to Work Day is coming up. In my opinion, it is the best day of the year on the trail. People are having fun and they're on their very best behavior. The peds know the cyclists will be there in droves, and the cyclists are being extra attentive on their special day, perhaps so as not to bring shame upon the lot of us. I wish every day was like BTWD. If you are a frequent trail user, particularly for the polite and safe cyclists whom I believe are the vast majority of us, please consider helping the Trail Patrol. We can use your help.
Jack406 May 17, 2012 at 01:18 AM
I agree that it was probably much safer on the W&OD trail back in the 1980s when it was still a gravel trail. Bikes didn't go nearly as fast back then.
Tim Fricker June 26, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Anne - I love the "the car is always 'rock'" comment... so true! It baffles me when I see riders acting as if they are immortal. I am always very aware of how vulnerable I am in traffic.

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