Tempers Flare Between Drivers, W&OD Trail Users on F.C. Roads

August 18, 2010 6:37 PM0 comments

frontpagebikeTempers flared between drivers and W&OD trail users in the City of Falls Church as officials announced the theft of five of the new Yield to Pedestrian signs placed at six W&OD trail crossings in the City last week. It has made the state’s upcoming Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Week all the more relevant.

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YIELDING TO TRAFFIC at the W&OD trail crossing at Lee Highway in Falls Church this week, a cyclist waits his turn to continue on the 45-mile-long path for bikers, runners and pedestrians. Lately, however, tempers have been fllaring between residents behind the wheel and those using the trail when it comes to sharing area roads. And it all comes less than a month before Virginia’s statewide Bicycle & Pedestrian Awareness Week launches. (Photo: Vicki Coe, News-Press)

 

Tempers flared between drivers and W&OD trail users in the City of Falls Church as officials announced the theft of five of the new Yield to Pedestrian signs placed at six W&OD trail crossings in the City last week. It has made the state’s upcoming Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Week all the more relevant.

Drive Smart Virginia, Bike Walk Virginia and the Virginia Highway Safety Office at DMV will join forces to promote the weeklong event come Sept. 12. In 2009, 84 people died walking or cycling on Virginia roadways, in addition to 607 cyclists and 1,402 pedestrians who were injured.

There were two vehicle accidents last January in Falls Church related to the 45-mile W&OD trail. One involved a pedestrian and a vehicle on Jan. 11 at West Street, resulting in the driver being charged with reckless driving. On Jan. 18, there was an accident involving four cars that had yielded to pedestrians at Great Falls Street, the same path crossing where a fatality occurred in July 2002.

The signs stolen last week were intended to remind motorists to slow down when approaching the crosswalk and to stop if a cyclist or pedestrian is in the walkway. W&OD trail users have the right of way. But trail users are also to obey the stop sign still present at the crosswalk before entering it.

F.C. Police had no leads as of Tuesday on the stolen property, valued at $2,600, which qualifies the thefts as larcenies. The person responsible could face up to 20 years behind bars as a felon and a fine of $2,500, F.C. Director of Communications Barbara Gordon said earlier this week.

“Because drivers’ and trail users’ safety is so important, City staff is considering replacing the stolen signs with similar or possibly more secure signs in similar locations,” Gordon said.

The original signs were designed to be easily removed during snow-plow season, and replacement signs may be installed more securely. Alternatives to signs have been considered, but Gordon said it has been determined that signs are the most effective accident prevention and safety education tool. Orange cones were placed over the former signs’ bases, which remain sticking out of the ground in the middle of the intersections.

Police officers accepted a $500 donation at last week’s City Council meeting from the Friends of the W&OD Trail, while disputes between drivers and trail users became a hot topic in recent News-Press Letters to the Editor, online comments and Facebook posts.

Cynthia Fawsett of McLean, who broached the topic in her letter last Nov. 19, said after braking for two runners who blew through a stop sign intended for them on the bike path portion that crosses Great Falls Street, one of the runners approached her car window and shouted expletives at her.

“She then stood in front of my car even when I asked her to move out of the way,” Fawsett wrote, adding, “It appears that often bikers and pedestrians in Falls Church think they have the right of way on the bike path. It is clearly posted that they are supposed to stop, but they seem to think cars will automatically yield to them. Aren’t they also supposed to follow the laws?”

The answer is yes, according to Gordon, who said that while pedestrians have the right of way, the stop sign on the trail intended for all trail users means just that – Stop. Bicyclists are also reminded they are to obey the all traffic laws equally applied to automobiles.

bike3

(Photo: Vicki Coe, News-Press)

 

“Many people don’t realize that a bicycle is considered a vehicle in Virginia and has the same duties and rights as motor vehicles on the road,” Drive Smart Virginia Executive Director Janet Brooking said in press release for the statewide awareness campaign.

Regarding timing of a territorial dispute, Gordon said it boils down to general knowledge.

“Because the average weight of a normal-sized car is over 3,500 pounds, common sense would indicate that a biker approaching an intersection should stop, as the stop sign indicates, when a car is already approaching the intersection. Plus, the stop sign on the trail means all trail users – including cyclists, joggers, etc. – are required to stop,” she stressed.

Fawsett called herself a concerned McLean resident “now wondering about the friendliness of Falls Church” in her letter last November, and not much had changed when she was interviewed this week.

“It actually scared and very much bothered me at the time. They think the road is theirs. It’s an elite type of thing, so yeah, it sort of marred my view of Falls Church,” said Fawsett, a trail walker herself, who added drivers who know the state law are not the problem, and it’s unnecessary to remind them to yield to pedestrians via signage at every intersection.

Robert Gough of Falls Church called on the police to “do something about the bicyclists who commonly flout traffic laws especially around the East Falls Church Metro stop,” recounting a cyclist who flew through a red light at the corner of Lee Highway and Broad Street in his letter to the editor printed in the July 29 issue.

“I see this type of behavior all the time. If a motorist had acted this way, he or she would’ve been pulled over immediately and ticketed. Yet cyclists go free,” wrote Gough. “So much accommodation and public money is spent on providing bicyclists with bike paths and ensuring they can safely share the road with motorists.”

But F.C. resident Scott Fitzpatrick, who commutes to work seven miles a day on his bicycle, said, “Drivers who can’t see the common sense difference between a helmetless, careless moron who screams through a stop sign without looking and a well-equipped, well-prepared Falls Church cyclist who slows, looks both ways and chooses to roll through a deserted stop sign to save momentum are just venting.”

He added in an interview Monday drivers shouldn’t let emotions get best of them, arguing the contrary about the Little City’s reputation.

“Falls Church is the exception in that most drivers are much more considerate than any other places in the area I’ve ridden in. People here know how to communicate. The residents are really remarkable in their accommodation to cyclists,” Fitzpatrick said.

Disagreements aside, 26-year resident Dave Rockwell, who has biked 12 miles to work regularly for nearly 20 years, was concerned to discover the yield to pedestrian signs had been stolen.

“Vandalism has to be answered somehow, just like when people spray paint something it should be removed or painted over,” he said Monday, previously challenging the thief to “return the purloined items, creeping like the mouse you presently are, under cover of dark, to City Hall perhaps.”

Describing a pleasant overall experience during his daily commutes, Rockwell said the Falls Church community needs “a little education on both sides.”

Anyone with information on the stolen signs is asked to call the F.C. Police Department at 703-241-5050. Virginia’s 2nd Annual Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Week is from Sept. 12 – 18. For more information on the campaign, visit drivesmartva.org.

 

Tempers Flare Between Drivers, W&OD Trail Users on F.C. Roads

6:37 PM0 comments

frontpagebikeTempers flared between drivers and W&OD trail users in the City of Falls Church as officials announced the theft of five of the new Yield to Pedestrian signs placed at six W&OD trail crossings in the City last week. It has made the state’s upcoming Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Week all the more relevant.

frontpagebike

YIELDING TO TRAFFIC at the W&OD trail crossing at Lee Highway in Falls Church this week, a cyclist waits his turn to continue on the 45-mile-long path for bikers, runners and pedestrians. Lately, however, tempers have been fllaring between residents behind the wheel and those using the trail when it comes to sharing area roads. And it all comes less than a month before Virginia’s statewide Bicycle & Pedestrian Awareness Week launches. (Photo: Vicki Coe, News-Press)

 

Tempers flared between drivers and W&OD trail users in the City of Falls Church as officials announced the theft of five of the new Yield to Pedestrian signs placed at six W&OD trail crossings in the City last week. It has made the state’s upcoming Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Week all the more relevant.

Drive Smart Virginia, Bike Walk Virginia and the Virginia Highway Safety Office at DMV will join forces to promote the weeklong event come Sept. 12. In 2009, 84 people died walking or cycling on Virginia roadways, in addition to 607 cyclists and 1,402 pedestrians who were injured.

There were two vehicle accidents last January in Falls Church related to the 45-mile W&OD trail. One involved a pedestrian and a vehicle on Jan. 11 at West Street, resulting in the driver being charged with reckless driving. On Jan. 18, there was an accident involving four cars that had yielded to pedestrians at Great Falls Street, the same path crossing where a fatality occurred in July 2002.

The signs stolen last week were intended to remind motorists to slow down when approaching the crosswalk and to stop if a cyclist or pedestrian is in the walkway. W&OD trail users have the right of way. But trail users are also to obey the stop sign still present at the crosswalk before entering it.

F.C. Police had no leads as of Tuesday on the stolen property, valued at $2,600, which qualifies the thefts as larcenies. The person responsible could face up to 20 years behind bars as a felon and a fine of $2,500, F.C. Director of Communications Barbara Gordon said earlier this week.

“Because drivers’ and trail users’ safety is so important, City staff is considering replacing the stolen signs with similar or possibly more secure signs in similar locations,” Gordon said.

The original signs were designed to be easily removed during snow-plow season, and replacement signs may be installed more securely. Alternatives to signs have been considered, but Gordon said it has been determined that signs are the most effective accident prevention and safety education tool. Orange cones were placed over the former signs’ bases, which remain sticking out of the ground in the middle of the intersections.

Police officers accepted a $500 donation at last week’s City Council meeting from the Friends of the W&OD Trail, while disputes between drivers and trail users became a hot topic in recent News-Press Letters to the Editor, online comments and Facebook posts.

Cynthia Fawsett of McLean, who broached the topic in her letter last Nov. 19, said after braking for two runners who blew through a stop sign intended for them on the bike path portion that crosses Great Falls Street, one of the runners approached her car window and shouted expletives at her.

“She then stood in front of my car even when I asked her to move out of the way,” Fawsett wrote, adding, “It appears that often bikers and pedestrians in Falls Church think they have the right of way on the bike path. It is clearly posted that they are supposed to stop, but they seem to think cars will automatically yield to them. Aren’t they also supposed to follow the laws?”

The answer is yes, according to Gordon, who said that while pedestrians have the right of way, the stop sign on the trail intended for all trail users means just that – Stop. Bicyclists are also reminded they are to obey the all traffic laws equally applied to automobiles.

bike3

(Photo: Vicki Coe, News-Press)

 

“Many people don’t realize that a bicycle is considered a vehicle in Virginia and has the same duties and rights as motor vehicles on the road,” Drive Smart Virginia Executive Director Janet Brooking said in press release for the statewide awareness campaign.

Regarding timing of a territorial dispute, Gordon said it boils down to general knowledge.

“Because the average weight of a normal-sized car is over 3,500 pounds, common sense would indicate that a biker approaching an intersection should stop, as the stop sign indicates, when a car is already approaching the intersection. Plus, the stop sign on the trail means all trail users – including cyclists, joggers, etc. – are required to stop,” she stressed.

Fawsett called herself a concerned McLean resident “now wondering about the friendliness of Falls Church” in her letter last November, and not much had changed when she was interviewed this week.

“It actually scared and very much bothered me at the time. They think the road is theirs. It’s an elite type of thing, so yeah, it sort of marred my view of Falls Church,” said Fawsett, a trail walker herself, who added drivers who know the state law are not the problem, and it’s unnecessary to remind them to yield to pedestrians via signage at every intersection.

Robert Gough of Falls Church called on the police to “do something about the bicyclists who commonly flout traffic laws especially around the East Falls Church Metro stop,” recounting a cyclist who flew through a red light at the corner of Lee Highway and Broad Street in his letter to the editor printed in the July 29 issue.

“I see this type of behavior all the time. If a motorist had acted this way, he or she would’ve been pulled over immediately and ticketed. Yet cyclists go free,” wrote Gough. “So much accommodation and public money is spent on providing bicyclists with bike paths and ensuring they can safely share the road with motorists.”

But F.C. resident Scott Fitzpatrick, who commutes to work seven miles a day on his bicycle, said, “Drivers who can’t see the common sense difference between a helmetless, careless moron who screams through a stop sign without looking and a well-equipped, well-prepared Falls Church cyclist who slows, looks both ways and chooses to roll through a deserted stop sign to save momentum are just venting.”

He added in an interview Monday drivers shouldn’t let emotions get best of them, arguing the contrary about the Little City’s reputation.

“Falls Church is the exception in that most drivers are much more considerate than any other places in the area I’ve ridden in. People here know how to communicate. The residents are really remarkable in their accommodation to cyclists,” Fitzpatrick said.

Disagreements aside, 26-year resident Dave Rockwell, who has biked 12 miles to work regularly for nearly 20 years, was concerned to discover the yield to pedestrian signs had been stolen.

“Vandalism has to be answered somehow, just like when people spray paint something it should be removed or painted over,” he said Monday, previously challenging the thief to “return the purloined items, creeping like the mouse you presently are, under cover of dark, to City Hall perhaps.”

Describing a pleasant overall experience during his daily commutes, Rockwell said the Falls Church community needs “a little education on both sides.”

Anyone with information on the stolen signs is asked to call the F.C. Police Department at 703-241-5050. Virginia’s 2nd Annual Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Week is from Sept. 12 – 18. For more information on the campaign, visit drivesmartva.org.

 

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