Friday, August 22, 2008

Riding the W&OD Trail after dark in Vienna

We've been stopped twice in Vienna in the past year while riding on the W&OD Trail after dark. The most recent time was when we were with two other FABB members returning home after our monthly meeting. While it is the official policy of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority that the park is closed after dark, many, many cyclists use the trail for commuting and other purposes, especially in the winter. (The "rule" states: "Do not use the trail after dark.")

We were told that we shouldn't be on the trail and that there are "dangerous people out there". This brings up two questions: What dangers are present, and what alternatives do cyclists have to the Trail after dark? To get an answer to the first question we called the Vienna Police. After a long wait we were told that there were no specific dangers but that trail users should be careful.

The answer to the second question, what alternatives are available, is very few. Between Herndon and Vienna, there are almost no roads that are bike-friendly, especially after dark. At the Beltway there are is one that involves riding on Idylwood Rd, not know for being very bike-friendly.

In the past we have not advocated strongly enough for alternative, parallel routes to the Trail. That will have to change for several reasons. We need a legal alternative after dark. Since so many people rely on the trail, a parallel route will help those people reach their destinations after dark and during the winter when the trail is closed due to snow and ice.

The Trail is also getting too crowded, especially during the weekends and on some of the milder spring and late summer evenings. Fast road bike riders should be on the roads ("Road bikes belong on the road"), and many walkers and runners could use the parallel unpaved trail ("We've got two trails, let's use them"). In order for road cyclists to use the roads, we need better on-road routes. We need a pro-active VDOT that knows what cyclists need and provides better facilities. We need a comprehensive Bike Plan for Fairfax County that outlines the prioritized list of roads needing improvements.

The parallel W&OD Trail needs improvements as well. Where there are no bridges crossing streams, walkers and runners need a better way to get across. They also need to be warned ahead of time that there is no bridge and the paved trail is the best route, instead of walking a long distance on the unpaved trail and discovering they need to walk on water to get across.

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