Car Travels the W&OD Trail — Again

Less than a week after an alleged drunk driver hit a bicyclist and caused others to dive out of her path, another vehicle makes a turn on the multi-use trail.

Just after noon Thursday, John Kelly wrapped up his lunch break and hopped on the W&OD Trail to return by bike to his Arlington office.

Where the trail meets Maple Avenue, Kelly had to stop to wait for the light. But his timing turned out to be just right — had he tried to cross during a break in traffic he might have wound up in the path of a minivan trying to drive down the trail.

As Kelly waited for a chance to cross, he saw a blue-green van turn right onto the entrance of the multi-use trail near Whole Foods from Maple Avenue.

A jogger ran over and yelled at her to stop, Kelly said, and the driver turned around and exited the trail. 

The sighting comes less than a week after an alleged drunk driver hit a bicyclist during a 5-mile trek down the W&OD Trail, causing dozens of residents to jump out of her path before she exited the trail onto Maple Avenue.

  • See: Bicyclist Recovering from Serious Injuries After Hit and Run on W&OD Trail

The driver, Mehak Chopra, 28, of Mclean, who allegedly hit and seriously injured a 65-year-old bicyclist on her trip down the trail, faces a number of charges after the incident, including driving while intoxicated, failure to stop and felony hit and run, a charge that carries up to 10 years in prison and up to a $2,500 fine.

  • See: W&OD Hit and Run: Driver Could be Released

While bikers have said the circumstances of Chopra's alleged trip down the trail are extreme, it's made local users of the 45-mile recreational trail wonder how often cars accidentally use the path, and what more could be done to stop cars from mistaking it for a roadway.

There have been a number of cars spotted on the trail over the years — including this March in Vienna — but many are never officially reported, because drivers quickly realize their mistake and turn around, Vienna Police Department spokesman Officer Gary Lose said this week.

But users have reported seeing vehicles from Ashburn to Arlington. Thursday's sighting is only the most recent in a handful of reported sightings this spring.

How to stop them remains the question.

Using bollards — short vertical posts — may deter vehicles, but are dangerous for cyclists, many local advocates have said.

Fionnuala Quinn, an engineer on the board of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, said better options are design elements that make the path entry point look less like a vehicle access point and make intentional access by unauthorized users more difficult.

Vienna police could not be reached Friday to confirm whether Thursday's incident was officially reported.

"So are the officials going to have a open meeting and address the issue of cars on the trails? We can't just let this go on unaddressed," one Patch reader wrote in the comments section earlier this week.

FABB president Bruce Wright said they'll likely address the issue at their next meeting, but at the moment it's not clear whether police, officials or advocates will have more formal discussions in the coming months.

Do you think better signage would help, or would barricades be better to prevent cars and other unauthorized vehicles from using the trail? Tell us in the comments.

Mel S. June 07, 2013 at 05:41 PM
I agree. Why not have breakaway bollards at the center of the path at locations like the one above? That's all it would take; you don't need them then entire length of the trail. Could some cyclists please explain precisely why having this type of bollard is supposedly a safety issue for them? The person above posts that "on a crowded trail" the bollards are a hazard to cyclists. Why? I really would like to hear the cyclists' reasoning here. If the bollards are only at places like the one pictured above, where the trail entrance is right next to a roadway, very wide open and appears somewhat like a road -- what's the issue with a single bright bollard right there?
Evan June 07, 2013 at 05:49 PM
@ Hugh J., I don't think they're stupid for not wanting the barriers. I think they have a valid concern that the barriers would do more harm than good. Personally, I think the barriers would cause more injuries than careless drivers. BTW, I accidentally clicked the "Flag as inappropriate" button rather than the reply button. If on there was a barrier or sign to warn against clicking the wrong button! Anyway, apologies to the Vienna Patch moderator is investigating what is clearly not an offensive post.
Ken Lanfear June 07, 2013 at 06:30 PM
There seem to be so many trail drivers, I suggest we take the DC approach: Cameras! Photograph, impose a hefty fine, and fund trail improvements that way. ;-) Seriously, thin, flexible bollards/signs where cyclists already should be stopping or slowing seem a good solution. I was at that intersection on Tuesday, and I recall one such flexible sign being right there. Did the driver run it over?
5centguy June 07, 2013 at 06:46 PM
The trail is the same color as the road...asphalt. Why not coat the first 5-10 feet of the trail where is meets the road a different color...like red or orange?
Make it clear June 07, 2013 at 07:56 PM
I agree. It's paved, there's no sign, and there's a stoplight on the main road. For people from out of town, it's an easy mistake to make. Just paint it a different color and put up a sign saying "Recreational trail: no motorized vehicles allowed".
Arielle Masters June 07, 2013 at 08:29 PM
excellent ideas, both of you. Those, and soft bollards.
Al Pine June 07, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Is there a pipe (Bollard?) laying on the ground in the picture?
Kim June 07, 2013 at 10:39 PM
I agree with Mel S. A bollard at the center of the trail where it intersects with the road would alert drivers that they cannot turn there. It shouldn't affect cyclists, as they are supposed to stop at intersections anyway.
Eric Lengel June 08, 2013 at 01:36 AM
I witnessed a driver turning onto the trail at Vienna, Maple Ave a few months ago. I noticed she had her turn signal on...with the intention of turning on the trail....so I yelled at her....."THIS IS A BIKE TRAIL!!!!" Her window was open and she replied, "I know," and turned onto the trial, nearly hitting me and a woman with a baby. She used it to turn around and fully intended to do so. Please put up a flexible barrier that says, "Bike Trial, cars prohibited" That would make it obvious and protect cyclists.
Robert Valente June 08, 2013 at 12:07 PM
You need a physical barrier to warn and deter cars, period. The "no barrier" approach is clearly not working. A single barrier in the middle of the trail, on the line, should not hurt anybody using the trail properly - and there are barriers designed to collapse or break away if hit. The biggest danger I have encountered, as a frequent runner on the trail, is from bicyclists riding way too fast, not using signalling devices when passing, and failing to stop for stop signs that are out there. Irresponsible bicyclists present much more of a hazard than ireesponsible drivers on the trail, in my opinion.
J Anderson June 08, 2013 at 12:26 PM
The number of cyclists / pedestrians injured per these - for the most part - infrequent events per the number of cyclists/pedestrians injured using bollards/gates etc (even flexible ones will cause a cyclist to grab a handful of brake and potentially crash) is not worth it. The drunk driver case aside (even those who knowingly use it as a u-turn or the like) are few and far between. It is far better to focus on providing better bicycling facilities and on road driver awareness so all cyclists can be safer. I'm more likely to get hit by a car that is not obeying the current 2 foot rule or tail gating me (most states have 3 foot) than a random car on the trail. It's a known fact - the more cyclists out there the safer it becomes. Cars on trails are idiots who likely disrespect all kinds of laws because their needs outweigh the rights/needs of others. Patch: No more cars on trails articles. It's defocusing us from the real safety issues.
Catherine June 08, 2013 at 12:29 PM
Why don't they paint NO CARS - BIKE TRAIL in huge letters on the ground? On the toll road, they paint instructions on the ground leading up to the toll booths. It might help without having to put up dangerous barriers.
J Anderson June 08, 2013 at 12:38 PM
I like the idea of painting the apron a different color and such words. The color might be more alerting than words. If you really look at words painted on the road - they are much bigger and their aspect ratio is designed for reading from some distance whereas most cars on trails are likely going to slow to realize. The W&OD isn't alone in this issue...there are trails all over the country and likely all have different mechanisms to alert drivers. It still won't stop drunks or idiots who think they are above safety.
John Smith June 08, 2013 at 12:43 PM
Agree! Bright paint of some color visible even to people who are color blind, and paint the words, "Not for motorized vehicles!" This along with a flexible stanchion/bollard. Cyclists are supposed to stop (at a minimum, they should be paying close attention!) at road intersections anyway.
John Smith June 08, 2013 at 12:49 PM
One drawback to the stanchion/bollard idea is that it would be a nuisance for those authorized to drive on the trail, such as NVRPA maintenance crews. Not sure how to get around that problem. Maybe the NVRPA people have a great answer that would work for everybody?
J Anderson June 08, 2013 at 12:54 PM
Fionnuala Quinn, an engineer on the board of FABB, said the AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities is among the resources that recommend against bollards, which can "cause serious injury to bicyclists," she said. We are spending A LOT of energy here on keeping cars off multi-use trails when it's far more dangerous for bikes on the roads. The real focus is making it safe there.
INTI June 08, 2013 at 12:56 PM
And was using my minibrain...
INTI June 08, 2013 at 01:50 PM
The moment you move away from a physical impediment, such as a rigid bollard, you do little to prevent the random drunk driver who is incapable of interpreting signage or painted surfaces no matter how pronounced. The casual driver who mistakenly turns onto the trail generally will take corrective action to fix their mistake. One challenge at where the trail crosses a road is that these are natural points of congestion and natural points for decision where bicycles and cars change speed and direction. I think adding a rigid bollard right at the intersection may add an additional and unnecessary distraction where bicyclists in particular don't need something else to navigate. Perhaps placing rigid barriers further away from the intersection, down the trail, might actually offer greater safety to the trail user, while also preventing the random incapacitated drunk driver from gaining access and reaching a level of speed that would be deadly. Also, further down the trail you have options for widening the trail to allow for safer configurations of bollards that a casual or drunk driver will be unable to avoid, but also allow for the safe passage of trail users who would only have to negotiate a single point and distraction.
John_Duncan_Yoyo June 08, 2013 at 02:13 PM
Ignoring cars on trails is just dumb. It may actually get people to focus on the problem from a different angle. My neighbor was near the caboose in Vienna a few years ago and witnessed a police car pursuing a bicyclist who ran a stop stop sign up the trail. Now running a stop sign is bad. Driving a police car up the trail for such a minor infraction is just plain dangerous.
J Anderson June 08, 2013 at 03:01 PM
If this discussion actually shifted the focus then I'd agree but it isn't and it won't. The minute you start focusing on bollards etc - the discussion is defocused. The entrances might need tweeking but nothing else. Each crossing should have a raised crosswalk not unlike you see in Europe and other US cities. Don't read that as a speed bump but instead enough of an indicator that it's not a road crossing.
Clayton Gillespie June 08, 2013 at 03:19 PM
I don;t know about "break-away". A bright orange flexible post in the middle of the trail next to where the STOP sign is located at each road crossing should work well. Bicyclists are supposed to STOP at these places; so the post shouldn't pose a hazard unless the cyclist is gunning the crossing, which they shouldn't do..
Bonnie Garnto June 08, 2013 at 04:28 PM
The same old story- They wait for disaster before they make any changes or put up warnings. Driver Improvement would be good if the actual person receiving the license was taking the test.
Carol Lewis June 08, 2013 at 05:31 PM
I hope those of you with ideas for improving safety on the trail will share your ideas with the Town of Vienna. You can go to the Town's website for emails of the mayor and council members and the police. http://www.viennava.gov/
mccoy swanson June 08, 2013 at 08:51 PM
ive been hit by bikers on the trail and every time they say it was my fault for "not knowing the ways of the road" when they are the ones who hit me when they were trying to pass people.
Robert A. Amsler June 08, 2013 at 08:54 PM
Painting signs and the entire path where it crosses roads sounds to be an excellent and inexpensive option with minimal new accident potential. Do highway safety engineers have experience in what painted words, colors, patterns would work? "NO CARS" perhaps. Sidewalk color paint? Painting the bike trail to look like it's a planter box with flowers in it like those along the edges of the road on Maple Avenue? A good painting of a person sleeping on the ground? (Sorry, that's a pun on the British expression 'sleeping policeman' for a speed bump). I can see why flexible bollards could cause accidents. If you're a bicyclist crossing Maple Avenue with a green traffic light (i.e., no stop sign) and coasting through with no sign of pedestrians, you would continue across---then a pedestrian steps out and you have to swerve and your handlebar clips the bollard... Maybe only one such accident a month, but those accidents could be bad; involving bikes and pedestrians.
Tom Westcot June 09, 2013 at 01:17 AM
Mini van photo only one week after the bike rider was hit. Staged or not? Seems a bit convenient don't you think?
Madelyn June 12, 2013 at 03:55 AM
yes tom cause people have nothing better to do then get a mini van on a bike trail during their lunch break get a life
John Strother October 13, 2013 at 09:58 AM
Ok now please explain in simple English, why bollards are unsafe? The Park Authority states that when crossing a street, the cyclist should dismount their bike and walk across the street. I say make these Bollards 6 foot tall, that way it is plainly seen by all. If you end up riding into one, it means you failed to keep your eyes on what is in front of you. It is sad that some folks think that running into a bollard would be any different than running into a person. Get real, if you can't keep from hitting a bollard, then you really don't have a right to be on the trail. You are an unsafe rider. Before this was turned into a trail, it used to be train tracks. Was a good short cut to get around traffic at the time. Now it is a trail and needs to have excess gates. The trail also needs to be widened so it can handle all the new users. It also needs plowing during snow storms, however there isn't any money in the budget for that.
Henry October 13, 2013 at 01:31 PM
Agree the trail needs to be widened to accommodate the children, strollers, dog walkers, etc. Portions of the trail are paralleled by a graveled path that used to be and occasionally still is for horse back riders; this graveled path should be extended the length of the trail and reserved for walkers, leaving the paved portion for bikers and skaters. People are not supposed to walk on roadways; why should they be expected to be shared with bicyclists or other fast moving non-motorized individuals?
Scott Sklar October 14, 2013 at 10:37 AM
YES - international signs with a circle around a car with a line thru it is very important - cause signage is not clear. And I agree with comments that a line on the path for walkers, joggers, and strollers is also valuable (like demarcation of bike paths on roadways) to divide the path for multiple users.


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