News Flash: Be Aware on the W&OD Trail

He is NOT the enemy

In a beautiful example of sensationalizing something from not much, the WashPost has a great alarmist article on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail and how:

speeding cyclists, in-line skaters, walkers, joggers and others fight for a narrow slice of pavement, with increasingly dangerous results.

To support her tabloid take that cyclists are a dangerous menace to everyone on area trails, Candace Rondeaux cites such amazing statistics like:

  • The W&OD Trail has had just five fatalities since its inception in 1974 and yet is used by more than 2 million people a year
  • The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath had only 34 accidents with 3 million visitors a year, without a fatality since 1961

And then tries to cover her self-admitted “anecdotal evidence” of bike crash victims with out-of-context statistics like:

  • In 1990, about 6,600 people regularly biked to work in the Washington area, a decade later, its only increased to 7,500.
  • Nationwide, there are 700 bike-related fatalities.

“What about vehicle-related fatalities?” you ask? Over 41,000 per year. Um, thanks for the hype Candace. As a regular cyclist and runner on area trails, I’ve logged more miles and have a better understanding of the dangers, and the dangerous, than your article portrays you to know.

The only decent paragraph in the article is this one:

On the increasingly hectic W&OD, everyone seems to be jockeying for pole position. Racers on expensive tour bikes blow by soccer moms pushing high-tech three-wheel strollers. Buff skaters with iPods strapped to their arms plunge through packs of not-so-buff pedestrians. Early-morning traffic is especially heavy with day laborers and white-collar commuters riding to work.

And if you join me after the jump, I’ll explain why, and who is the real danger on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. Hint: It ain’t “racers on expensive tour bikes.”

Thanks for reading more, and now, let’s go explore! Here’s each group from that paragraph and their danger to themselves and others.

Racers on expensive tour bikes
First up, we have the scourge of those slower; cyclists. Who hasn’t been frightened as a bike whizzed by while you were walking or running along? So first off, cyclists, or anyone overtaking another, have the obligation to call out “On your left,” ring a bell, or otherwise make their presence known. Also, cyclists should be wearing helmets. Like seatbelts, helmets will save your life on the Mt. Vernon Trail.

That being said, cyclists do have the same right to ride trails as anyone else, and while they seem fast, good cyclists really aren’t going beyond their ability to react. Good cyclists, usually, but not always, those that have invested thousands of dollars in their gear, are courteous, alert, and safety conscious.

The bicyclists that cause the most accidents and are hurt most themselves, are the idiot day-trippers who have no clue what they are doing. Riding on the wrong side, or the wrong way, and my personal favorite idiots, those who ride with their helmets hanging from the handlebars, they deserve to wreck.

If you haven’t ridden in a while, or are just learning, practice on an empty street or in a parking lot until you know what you are doing and can handle a bike at speed.

We should ALL enjoy the trails
Soccer moms pushing high-tech three-wheel strollers
When they are single file, Moms and strollers are fine. But when they cruise two-abreast, they block an entire lane, making folks swerve or cross lines, adding to the danger. Still, overall, I don’t find Moms to be much of a danger, or much in danger.
Buff skaters with iPods strapped to their arms
The curse of everyone, the oblivious Rollerblader, who, only second to the iPoded runner, or worse packs of iPoded runners, causes the most stress and danger to the trails.

With their swooping back and forth stride or two, three, ten abreast running, filling up the whole trail at times, and unheeded to shouts of caution or proximity, these fools create zones of death as they glide along unawares.

If you want to Rollerblade or run, fine, if you wanna jam, fine, but don’t do both together, and defiantly not in packs on the high-use trails of DC. Be aware of your surroundings, and when you hear a “On your left,” move to the right, and no matter what, don’t take up the whole trail with your stride or pack.

Sadly, with the iPod revolution, this group is growing exponentially in numbers and obnoxiousness.

Not-so-buff pedestrians
Coming in right after oblivious fools at speed are oblivious fools walking. While 90% of walkers are fine, and a pleasure to run or bike with and past, it’s the stupid striders who forget that the trail is a multi-use path that create the greatest dangers.

Usually the dumb ones fall into three categories. First up you have the dog walkers, specifically the people who walk dogs on 10-15 foot leashes and let the dogs, and that leash, cross over to the other side of the trail, in effect blocking it for anyone trying to pass either direction. If you love your dog, and your own life, do not tie up the trail with it and its leash, make them walk on the grass on your side. If they can’t do that, take them to the park.

Then there are those who don’t understand the very basic “walk on the right” concept. These jerks feel its best to walk on the left, against traffic, in a false belief that by looking at what’s coming, they are safer. Earth to jerks, you’re causing accidents. When you walk against the flow, you panic when you see a bike coming. While you’re thinking “To the left or to the right? Which way should I move?” wham! you’ll get hit by the cyclist trying to avoid you.

Last and not least are those day-trippers who just have no clue. The person who walks onto the path without looking. The kid who darts across without warning. The dog who chases a squirrel, dragging leash and owner into a runner. Or my all-time favorite, star-crossed lovers who play tag across the Mt. Vernon Trail.

day laborers and white-collar commuters
These guys are the bedrock of the area trails. Aware of their surroundings, well equipped with lights, helmets, even rain gear, and quick to help if you need it, they are what we should all aspire to. Oh and never once have I seen one cause a crash, much less wreck themselves. If only we could have more commuters and less day-trippers, Candice wouldn’t need to fret about safety on the W&OD Trail

So which group do you fall into and what’s your opinion? You know you have one.

8 Comments so far

  1. jgregory (unregistered) on August 18th, 2006 @ 11:45 am

    I fall into the category of weekly biker who was minding his own business when a novice biker came too close to bike. His handlebars became tangled in my brakes and my front wheel was jerked out from under me. Hence I landed on my arms breaking them.
    He hung around and took me to the ER. He felt sufficiently horrid about it.
    However do you know how unsexy a naked man looks with two arms in cast? I had just started dating someone. Did you know button-fly jeans are a real hassle with no arms.
    I do however love to tell the story that I broke my arms “mountain” biking. It was a mountain bike.

  2. Pam (unregistered) on August 18th, 2006 @ 11:53 am

    The real problem, on bike trails and everywhere else, is people oblivious to the fact that there are actually other people on the face of the earth. I extend others the courtesy of at least ringing my bell when overtaking them, if not also saying “on your left.” Sometimes I feel that I am doing this purely for my own entertainment as the soccer moms out for their powerwalk continue their chatting three abreast as have to slow to a near stop. I nearly ran over an unleashed dog on the C & O Towpath a few weeks ago as its owner stopped to chat with another dogwalker, blocking the trail during a busy Saturday afternoon. The most ridiculous part was that the dog owner saw us coming, we announced our presence and slowed down, my friend passed the group asI followed about 20-25 behind, and the owner didn’t even bother to call the dog over. It started to wander into my path, and I had to slam on my brakes hoping that I wouldn’t hit the dog or flip off into the bushes. I was probably only going about 3-4 miles an hour then, but I still would have been picking Pomeranian out of my tires for weeks. Common sense, please.

  3. Mik (unregistered) on August 18th, 2006 @ 3:56 pm

    I’ve seen dog walkers on the WO&D trail close to the East Falls Church metro, steps away from a dog park – people, take your pooch to the park, not the trail if you’re not going to pay attention.

    Fabulously written Wayan, I’ll take the pins out of this voodoo doll now…

  4. amy (unregistered) on August 18th, 2006 @ 4:20 pm

    I’m guilty of being one of the huge pack of runners out on the WO&D trail on saturday mornings training for the marine corp marathon. Just to let ya’ll know, we do not run with our ipods (although i could use some motivating music after 10 miles) and make sure we yell out whenever we see a bike ahead or coming from behind to alert our group to make sure nobody is stumbling across the line. Many times, cyclists will fly by, never announcing themselves, only shouting obsentities about our group size as they pass us. We know there are a lot of us out there and understand how irritating it can be, but we are aware of our surroundings and try to share the path the best we can. We all really appreciate those cyclists who say “good morning!” as they pass or those that cheer us on. Its a great trail, so cant we all just get along???

  5. RisingSunofNihon (unregistered) on August 18th, 2006 @ 6:18 pm

    Hmmm, there must really be a dearth of news these days. The Chicago Tribune ran a very similar article yesterday outlining the trials and tribulations of trying to navigate the lakefront jogging/bicycling/skating/walking path.

  6. Nick (unregistered) on August 18th, 2006 @ 6:36 pm

    I hate when people don’t call out when they are passing, but I disagree that ringing a bell or any other proxy is sufficient. I keep my distance from everyone else on the trail, but if I need to pass, I make sure to yell out “on the left”, giving more than enough time for people to react.

  7. tonigm (unregistered) on August 21st, 2006 @ 10:33 am

    I’ve found that yelling “on your left” doesn’t help much when the person you’re passing doesn’t speak American. And ringing a bell doesn’t help when the person is from a country where one’s instinct is to move to the left and let someone pass on the right. We live in a multicultural city, like it or don’t.

    IMHO, the cause of strife here is the speed differential. While I use my bell often (and yes, I yell “on your left”), when I’m biking through traffic or past runners I *slow down*. If I want to do real training, I do it when the trail isn’t crowded — dawn on weekends, midday on weekdays. And if you’re really committed to never breaking cadence… I say go to the gym.

  8. Don (unregistered) on August 21st, 2006 @ 12:09 pm

    “I’ve found that yelling “on your left” doesn’t help much when the person you’re passing doesn’t speak American.”

    I think you misspelled “Armenian.”

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