W&OD Trail: Cars making accidental turns onto path are a problem

The Washington & Old Dominion Trail through northern Virginia is popular with cyclists and pedestrians. However, automobiles have recently been appearing on the trail -- only to find that they've taken a wrong turn.

Bob Smith uses the trail often and saw a car make the mistake this past spring. And last month, a McLean woman was arrested for suspected drunk driving after hitting a woman on the trail. The Vienna Patch cites four recent examples of cars – including a minivan – mistaking the trail for an exceptionally narrow expressway.

In June, the Capital Crescent Trail added gates to stop cars on Water Street in the District from driving on the trail – even though a GPS might tell them to do so.

Chris Pauley is the Director of Operations for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and says he is aware of the problem and concerned about it. Pauley declined to speak on camera, but says approximately 20 years ago the trail did have gates to keep traffic off, but they found the gates were a hazard for cyclists.

Since then they have used “Flex Bollards” at some intersections -- fiberglass tubes anchored into the asphalt that serve as visual cues to vehicles that this is not an area for driving. They are usually yellow or orange. We checked a couple intersections in Vienna and found one.

Pauley says: “The instances [of cars driving on the trail are a concern to us. We want to make sure the cyclists and all trail users are as safe as they can be.”

He also says that in the coming weeks they'll likely be adding more devices like the one in Vienna and elsewhere to remind drivers that this is most definitely not a road.

Bruce Wright is the chairman of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FABB). He says: "Let's hope no one suggests gates on the W&OD Trail crossings, which we think would be extremely dangerous for cyclists, not to mention inconvenient for riders of unconventional bikes such as trikes, long-wheelbase recumbents, tandems, and others.”

Vienna Police spokesman Gary Lose adds that the bottom line is this: "Drivers need to be more aware of their surroundings and look before they make the turn."