Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Woman and dog hit on W&OD Trail

According to the article Woman, Dog Hit by Car While Walking on W&OD Trail:
A 25-year-old Fairfax County woman suffered minor injuries Monday night after she was hit by a car while crossing West Street, police say.

The woman, whose name wasn't released, was walking along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail at about 6:15 p.m. when she attempted to cross West with two dogs in tow. She was hit by a northbound vehicle. One of her dogs also was hit, and was limping after the incident, the police report said. The driver of the car, Amada Ydania Castro, 26 years old, of Fairfax, was charged with reckless driving.
The West St. crossing is the site of many close encounters between trail users and motorists. Sight distances are not good and in my experience motorists are especially aggressive at this location. Something needs to be done to make it safer for everyone.

The article goes on to discuss cyclist and pedestrian rights and responsibilities at trail/road intersections. There's a reference to a video report from last October entitled Police Enforce Stop Signs on Bike Trail: "Falls Church Police have begun stopping bicyclists who choose not to stop at the stop signs on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail." Sounds like the enforcement was conducted at Grove Ave., the street just west of West St.

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I was told by a guy from VDOT that any stop signs on the W&OD - ie the ones that make it sound like a bike must stop or else breaking the law actually have no law behind them.......Best worth reviewing.
The stop signs have been controversial since their inception. There's a basic contradiction with having a stop sign on a trail leading into a crosswalk. Under Virginia law, "46.2-924 A. The driver of any vehicle on a highway shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian crossing such highway: 1. At any clearly marked crosswalk, whether at mid-block or at the end of any block;" It also states that "No pedestrian shall enter or cross an intersection in disregard of approaching traffic."

Behavior at stop signs is controlled by "46.2-821. Vehicles before entering certain highways shall stop or yield right-of-way." It states that "The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection on a highway controlled by a stop sign shall..." The W&OD Trail is not a highway and 46.2-821 shouldn't apply, although many local police think otherwise.

In 2002 a cyclist was struck by a motorist in the crosswalk at Belmont Ridge and the W&OD Trail. The cyclist was charged with not stopping at the stop sign (46.2-821). The citation was contested in court, and the judge agreed that 46.2-821 didn't apply and she dismissed the case.

Should cyclists yield at all crossings of the W&OD Trail? Yes, obviously cyclists should be very careful crossing all roads along the W&OD Trail. Should they stop at every crossing? Despite the "Required by Law" signs posted below the Trail stop sings, from what I know it's not required under Virginia law. I've got video of police rolling through those same stop signs. Most other cyclists do the same.

In summary, common sense should prevail. Even with the right of way, cyclists and pedestrians are very vulnerable in the W&OD Trail crosswalks. My strategy is to "control one lane at a time." Never enter a lane, especially on a four-lane road, without being sure the motorist will stop. The most dangerous situation at those crossings is when one motorist stops, and the motorist in the adjacent lane, whose view may be obstructed, doesn't stop. Some states require that once a motorist has stopped at a crosswalk, all other motorists in adjacent lanes must stop; that's not the case in Virginia.
Well said Bruce...maybe worth a blog post.

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