Saturday, May 12, 2007

Relieving congestion on the W&OD Trails

Probably the most heavily used trail in the region, and perhaps all of Virginia, is the W&OD Trail. It's often referred to as just "the trail". However, it should be called "the trails", because it consists of two trails, the paved, multi-use trail and the unpaved "horse" trail.

The W&OD can be very crowded on the weekends and evenings. During the week there are sections that also get crowded, mostly with people taking a walk at lunchtime. Being a multi-use trail, there are slow, casual cyclists sharing the space with fast, competitive cyclists who are often in pacelines. There are kids walking or on bikes, roller bladers, and walkers and runners. The Post even did a rather exaggerated story a while back on the trail congestion.

We think there are a couple of ways to relieve some of the congestion on the trail. The parallel gravel trail gets very little use. In theory one would think it would be a much better surface for runners and walkers, causing less strain on the joints and tendons. I think there are a couple of reasons the gravel trail gets less use than the paved trail. Most walkers and runners probably want to be part of the passing parade of humanity, to see and be seen. Another reason may be that there are a few stream crossings without bridges and people get tired of having to backtrack to the paved trail and they simply stay there.

NVRPA could conduct a campaign to encourage more people to use the unpaved trail. Many accidents on the trail involve only trail users, often cyclists attempting to pass pedestrians, resulting in a collision. To address the concern about the stream crossings, NVRPA could either sign the presence of the stream crossings, or install bridges or fair weather crossings for those on foot.

Another way to reduce congestion is to provide alternatives for cyclsts who want to ride on the road. We need better on-road cycling conditions. Some roads can be restripped so that travel lanes are narrowed to create bike lanes. Other roads need paved shoulders. By allowing fast road cyclists to actually become "roadies", they would be happier as would those human slalom poles on the trail.

FABB is currently working with Fairfax County and VDOT to ensure that repaving projects and new roads include some pavement for cyclists. For the first time, VDOT will start paving some of the unpaved shoulders on many roads. They are also working with Charlie Stunk, the Fairfax County bike coordinator, to start repaving roads like Gallows Rd to create bike lanes. The roads belong to us all, and it's about time that cyclists were accommodated.

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