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.

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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