23 Aug 2014
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Rules Of The Trail

What walkers, bikers and runners alike should know before hitting the W+OD

Rules Of The Trail

In my last column I mentioned how the rules of the road go out the window in parking lots. Well, that got me (and our editor) thinking that this would be a good opportunity to talk about the rules of the road... and the trail! Since many riders in Vienna prefer to stick to the trails when possible, I thought I'd start out with discussing trail rules and etiquette.

The primary trail that Vienna cyclists use is the Washington and Old Dominion Rail Trail (W&OD). Running 44.5 miles from Shirlington in the east to Purcellville in the west, the W&OD is a great route for both transportation and recreation. On a warm summer’s day, particularly on weekends, it can get quite crowded with cyclists, walkers, runners, rollerbladers, adults and children alike. It’s in everyone’s best interest for each of us to treat one another with respect and observe the rules and some simple courtesies out there.

First and foremost, STOP at all stop signs at road crossings! It’s the law, and it’s the smart and safe thing to do. You’d be amazed (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many times I’ve seen someone blithely zoom right through a stop sign, narrowly missing getting hit by a car, surprising and scaring everyone. If there’s a stop sign at a road crossing, it’s YOUR responsibility and obligation to stop, NOT the opposing traffic’s.

Sometimes when you do pull up and stop at a crossing, a motorist will be polite and stop to allow you to cross. This is a wonderful thing, BUT be alert to what any OTHER motorist might do as well. More often than not, while a driver coming from one direction might stop to let you cross, one coming from the other does not. If you can make eye contact with the drivers of both vehicles, and get the attention of the driver who isn’t stopped, they may get the message and stop as well, but do not assume they will.

One trick that I’ve found handy is that if the driver who stops for me is coming from my left, and is in the lane nearest to the curb, if I slowly ease myself into the lane in front of them, other drivers often take the hint and also stop. Again, don’t assume they will, but check and make sure they see you and are stopping before you proceed.

Aside from road crossings, the biggest worry I think you have out there on the trail is passing and being passed by others as you ride.

Some simple rules to follow

  • First, unless you are passing someone else, stay over to the right hand side of the trail, so other folks can get around you if they are going faster.
  • Next, if you want to pass someone else, whether they are walking, rollerblading, cycling, or whatever, you are required by law and common decency to give an audible warning before you pass. You can use a bell or a horn of some type, or you can simply call out a warning. I generally prefer a bell, because most folks seem to get that bell bike, but a simple “passing on your left”, spoken loudly, firmly, and politely, works fine as well. Try not to bark it like an order, and adding a simple “Good morning!” or other greeting makes everyone happier.
  • As you’re passing, give the other person as wide a berth as possible... nobody likes feeling like they’ve just had a near miss! And only pass when there’s nobody coming from the opposite direction.

Now, if you’re tootling along at a mellow pace, and you hear a cyclist or other trail user call out a warning or ring a bell, what should you do? Personally, I really appreciate it if someone acknowledges my warning in some simple but clear way. A wave works just fine to let me know you heard me and are aware I’m about to pass. Why is that important? Well, we’ve all seen folks out there with earphones in their ears, or talking to their friends on the phone or in person, oblivious to anything around them. I never really know if they know I’m there, or if they’re going to do something unexpected, so it’s nice to get some signal that they’re aware.

Finally, it really comes down to common sense and courtesy. Stop and think about what you would like other trail users to do to make your time out there more pleasant, then do the same.

With a little care, courtesy, and patience, we can all have fun and get where we’re going.

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