The rumors are true about users on the W&OD Trail.
Hundreds bike, walk and skate every day on the 1.5-mile route which crosses seven intersections in Falls Church and many do not obey warning signs or practice safety measures.
Last Saturday, about 90 percent of observed walkers on the trail had their ears plugged with ear buds or talked on their cell phone, which made them vulnerable to bikers on the trail and motorists at cross streets.
To some walkers on the trail, though, it’s the bikers who act like they “own the road.”
Virginia state law says pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists all have the same rights, except when it comes to horses, which take precedence, followed by pedestrians.
A recent letter to the editor published in the Falls Church News-Press urged drivers to respect bicyclists, but, often, it’s the bikers who take chances.
In an unscientific survey at Grove Avenue and N. West Street where bikers, walkers and motorists converge, it was not drivers who ignored safety laws, but bicyclists, none of whom stopped at the stop signs as required by law.
When approaching a stop sign, most bicyclists observe the “Idaho stop,” and only yield at stop signs, rather than coming to a complete stop, said Jan Feuchtner, the owner of Bikenetic shop on West Broad, and Martin Fernandez, the author of two regional biking books, who was in the store tinkering around.
Both bike enthusiasts said they utilize the 1982 Idaho law in Virginia themselves.
Out on the trail Saturday for their daily walk of about two miles were Ford and Shelia Newman of Falls Church who said they have been walking on the W&OD about ten years.
They are used to cyclists who approach them from behind “just flying by,” who make their presence known when they are less than a foot away, said Ford Newman.
“It’s a little bit disconcerting,” he said. And he calls out to them sometimes, “’Hey! Slow down!’ I don’t always hear it when they say ‘on your left.’”
Falls Church resident Kathleen Wilson, a new cyclist, was in Bikenetic shopping. She said she is “sorta fearful” at times when riding.
Passing pedestrians can be tricky for bicyclists because sometimes walkers get startled by bikers calling out that they are passing “on your left.”
In 2012 an elderly pedestrian in Arlington County died from a head injury after she turned around when a biker called out to her and they collided.
That’s why Bikenetic customer Sean Broderick, visiting the area from Albuquerque, likes to use a bell, which is not required by Virginia law, but a bell or “other device” is required in the District of Columbia and Maryland, according to the website Potomac Pedalers.
Walking on the trail Saturday afternoon in a bright neon Trail Patrol shirt was Barry D. Buschow. He was training Elena Toft to become a patrol member. All patrols are volunteers and the patrols operate under the sponsorship of the Friends of the W&OD Trail.
Buschow, the Falls Church member on the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority which maintains the trail and has jurisdiction over it, and Toft were “multi-tasking,” picking up litter as they walked. The odor of beer wafted from the big plastic bag Buschow carried.
The park authority has six member jurisdictions, all governed by Virginia law, but there is no bike speed limit, Buschow said.
A “pack of bikers,” he said can be threatening. Patrols notify trail management about unsafe conditions, and “they try and catch them,” but it’s up to police departments to enforce laws.
The Falls Church Police Department said that there have been six crashes involving cyclists reported to them since January 1, 2014, though more may have occurred.
In Fairfax County, when comparing 2013 to 2014, there have been fewer crashes (111 compared to 102), injuries (110 to 100) and fatalities (none), according to statistics from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
Arlington County showed a similar decline for 2013 to 2014: crashes, 45 for 2013 compared to 39 for 2014; injuries, 43 to 35 and zero fatalities.
At Grove and N. West, all motorists observed came to complete stops when they approached the trail’s crosswalk.
“Bikers take it for granted that cars will stop,” Newman said.
Lesia Lampton of Falls Church runs 10 miles every weekend and three miles daily on the W&OD and said motorists were respectful of runners, except for “maybe” the intersection on Shreve Road at Virginia Lane across the street from Shrevewood Elementary School where the intersection can sneak up on drivers going downhill.
Fernandez wrote Mountain Biking the Washington, D.C./Baltimore Area and Best Bike Rides Washington, D.C., and gave some safety tips for cyclists to the News-Press:
“When in doubt, dismount. There is no shame in “walking” a bike. “Know your equipment and always wear a helmet. Accidents happen when you least expect them. Always be aware of your surroundings. Do not use an iPod,” when riding.
In July, the Falls Church City Council adopted the Bicycle Master Plan which identifies routes and provides information on facilities and future improvements as more people bike for work and play.
“Common courtesy is a huge thing,” Fernandez said. Don’t use headphones. Stay to your right, slow down at intersections and look both ways.