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.”

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs
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.

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs

Married, mortgaged, and soon to be a father, Wayan Vota is in the fast lane to mid-life respectability – until the day his brood finds his intimate journal of global traveling and curses him with the ever-eternal reply “I’m gonna be just like you, Dad!”

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