Sunday, October 14, 2012

The continuing saga of Stop signs on the W&OD Trail

In today's Washington Post there is a letter from our friend Rhonda Krafchin to Dr. Gridlock about motorists who stop abruptly for cyclists on the W&OD Trail. Her concern is: "If I’m obeying my stop sign, I may have a driver to my right come to an unsigned stop. Before I proceed, I need to be clear what a driver to my left is doing, and that driver may not be stopping." That's why I always recommend that cyclists proceed through a crosswalk "one lane at a time." Once you're sure you've controlled that lane, proceed to the next one.

However, I appreciate motorists who stop to allow me to cross at a crosswalk. For one thing, once I"m in the crosswalk they are required by law to yield. The Stop signs just confuse the issue. The discussion about the W&OD Trail Stop signs has a long history and won't be resolved soon. We wrote the following letter to Dr. Gridlock regarding the situation:
Dear Dr. Gridlock,

You summed up the situation in the first line of your comment on the letter from Rhonda Krafchin in Sunday's Post: "Thus, we continue our conversation about who’s supposed to do what at crossings and when they’re supposed to do it." While I understand Rhonda's concerns, I also appreciate motorists stopping for pedestrians and bicyclists at crosswalks. 

The stops signs on the W&OD Trail adjacent to crosswalks are a contradiction. Normally a stop sign indicates a road user must wait until traffic clears before entering the intersection. From 46.2-821: "Before proceeding, he shall yield the right-of-way to the driver of any vehicle approaching on such other highway from either direction." A pedestrian (and bicyclist) has the right-of-way in a crosswalk once they've entered the crosswalk. From 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;" Trail users can't disregard oncoming traffic before entering the crosswalk, but they aren't required to stop if there is no crossing traffic.

VDOT recently conducted a study of the zig-zag markings adjacent to crossings on the W&OD trail. As part of their study they recognized this contradiction: "RECOMMENDATION 5. A review of the Code of Virginia should be undertaken with respect to those sections dealing with trail users on multiuse pathways and their obligation to comply with non-signalized traffic control devices. The purpose of the review should be to determine if legislative changes could help alleviate the confusion about right-of-way, and if so, to suggest appropriate legislative change proposals. Such a review could be initiated, or led, by VDOT’s Traffic Engineering Division with assistance from staff at VTRC. A cursory review of the Code language in this study suggested that trail users on multiuse pathways may not be obligated to comply with non-signalized traffic control devices where the trail intersects a roadway. In addition, the research found there is confusion among motorists and trail users about right-of-way laws regarding the W&OD Trail where a STOP sign is directed toward the trail users. This confusion could compromise safety at these and other similar multiuse trail/roadway intersections."

A major problem with the W&OD Trail stop signs is that police have used them as an excuse to target cyclists for not coming to a complete stop, even when there is no crossing traffic. However, in at least one instance, a cyclist was ticketed by police who used 46.2-821 as the reason. That ticket was dismissed since a trail is not a "highway."


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Some questions don't have a right answer. Consider the last sentence of your second paragraph to Dr. Gridlock, which relates to [what I believe is] the key language from § 46.2-924: "No pedestrian shall enter or cross an intersection in disregard of approaching traffic."

Just because a pedestrian (or cyclist) in a crosswalk has the right of way doesn't make it okay for a pedestrian (or cyclist) to enter the crosswalk and claim the right of way.

Lawyers tend to be particular about choice of words. "Disregard", in this case, centers around the courtesy that trail and road users should have for others on an ongoing basis. Whether or not any other trail or road user will extend you the same courtesy you extend them is a crap shoot. I remember when Red Jenkins taught his class that you only have the right of way when someone else gives it to you.

As with many other scenarios we find on two wheels, I approach each one on a case by case basis with the primary goal of making it home safely.

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