Thursday, October 11, 2012

Falls Church police ticketing W&OD cyclists

Returning home from a meeting at WABA yesterday afternoon we rode through Falls Church on the W&OD Trail and came across two Falls Church police in the process of issuing a ticket to a cyclist at the Great Falls St. crossing.

From what I was able to gather, the cyclist had rolled through the stop sign when motorists were stopped and waiting. Under normal circumstances, i.e. where there is no stop sign, this would be perfectly legal. Current VA law states that no pedestrians and bicyclists "shall enter or cross an intersection in disregard of approaching traffic." It says nothing about coming to a complete stop before entering the intersection.

Writing a ticket in this situation accomplishes nothing other than to punish cyclists. I've seen police on bicycles roll through the W&OD stop signs. The stop signs themselves are not VDOT sanctioned and VDOT has questioned their legality. There is at least one instance in which a similar ticket was thrown out because the cited law does not apply to a bicyclist on a trail. When we tried to point this out to the officer he told me to back off, that I was hindering his "investigation." If I were issued a ticket in this situation, I would fight it in court.

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This is pathetic. Local jurisdictions have to appreciate how much they are shooting themselves in the foot. They cannot simultaneously be encouraging bike transportation - and then pulling stunts like this. This is painfully damaging to local reputation as well - See Shirlington that welcomes bicycles (and dogs) and the BOOMING business shirlington restaurants enjoy. The bike trails bring 1000s of patrons to the door steps of jurisdictions businesses; am I going to want to patronize your businesses if you pull crap like this? Probably not.
I agree with Bruce. I see no purpose in ticketing the cyclist in the circumstance described.
Nor do I, particularly when the stop sign isn't sanctioned by VDOT. Reminds me of the signs in the McLean library parking lot that reserve spaces for low emission vehicles; I've heard those aren't legally binding either.
The Falls Church police are terrible. First, they completely botched the investigation into the vietnamese woman who was raped at her place of business and now they are ticketing cyclists for no good reason. Why can't the city government reign in the police department?
The Virginia Law regarding bikes on a trail is clear as MUD. Can someone tell me where the law is clearly described? I think it is time to get our people in Richmond working on something that IS CLEAR and makes sense!!
FCCPD seems to be on a real winning streak here.
Barry, If you go to the searchable Virginia Code and type "bicycle" you'll see all related code. VDOT has taken that law and tried to summarize it on the page Bicycling and Walking in Virginia.

I think a major problem is having a stop sign on a trail that crosses a road with a crosswalk. The law is pretty clear regarding behavior of bicyclists and pedestrians in this situation without the stop sign. Motorists are supposed to yield to pedestrians (and bicyclists who are treated as pedestrians on a trail), and "No pedestrian shall enter or cross an intersection in disregard of approaching traffic." The stop signs just muddy the situation and give police a reason for writing a ticket. The law dealing with crosswalks doesn't require us to "stop" before entering, we just have to be careful.

VDOT recognized this when they did a study of the zig-zag crossings on Sterling Blvd. They wrote "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." See our blog post about the study.
I think the problem is that FCPD are trying to enforce the Falls Church City Code which is contradictory with the VA state code. FC City code:

Sec. 20-57. Riding and parking regulations.

Every person riding a bicycle upon a bikeway, sidewalk, street, highway or roadway has all the rights and is subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a motor vehicle except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application. Additionally, every such person shall comply with the following:

(c) Stop signs. All persons operating a bicycle shall stop at all stop signs.

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