Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Is sharing *that* hard?

This exchange in the Washington Post – between a cyclist and pedestrian involved in an accident on the Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) – illustrates why you’ll rarely find me on that trail (or the Mt. Vernon Trail (MVT), on weekends).   Apparently, it is too much to expect that all users of a trail pay attention to each other.  While I agree with the general principle that larger and faster moving objects (i.e., cyclists & bladers) have an obligation to be more vigilant than other trail users (i.e., runners & walkers), this doesn’t absolve pedestrians of their responsibility to stay alert and out of the way of other trail traffic.

The pedestrian in this case really annoys me, apparently unable to comprehend her role – plugged into an iPod and evidently unable to hear the warning by the approaching cyclist – in the accident.  And after 8 years of riding these same trails (tho’ less and less, over the years), I can tell you that she’s hardly alone in her myopic approach to trail use. I have a good voice for yelling, and a better bell for ringing, on all of my bikes.  And I use them constantly.  Yet I have dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of stories of near-misses with pedestrians who either weren’t paying attention, didn’t understand how to stay out of the way, or simply decided that it was *their* trail.

So I have generally given up on riding these trails at any time other than early morning or the odd midday excursion, which is a shame.   While I’m comfortable that my approach to trail sharing is a fair one, riding the CCT or MVT isn’t  worth the hassle and possible harm to myself or the unaware pedestrian.  And then I’m reminded – I can use the Custis/W&OD most any time without these problems.  Granted, the W&OD is more of a commuter trail than recreational trail.  But it’s a high volume trail where people seem to have the stay-to-the-left, call-out-when-passing routine down pretty well.  The only difference I can think of between this trail and the other two is that the other two attract more recreational pedestrians.  Perhaps, then, that is where the safety education efforts should focus.

(Scott has his own take on this.)


Richmond Report: U.S. Open Cycling Championships


Arlington’s Proposed Agreement with Earthlink


  1. I hear you. I used to pick up the Mt. Vernon trail from North Arlington and take it down to the Four Mile Run branch, but the combination of oblivious pedestrians, unattended toddlers, long-leashed dogs, flying frisbees, bouncing soccer balls chased by idiot players, and racing cyclists willing to muscle past anyone moving slower than they were was enough to scare the helmet off of me. My favorite case of “almost-killed” happened when I was going north on the trail, which was crowded with joggers, strollers, dogwalkers, and rollerbladers, and some idiot on a bike going south started riding in my lane so he could chat with his buddies in their lane. I started screaming and screaming at this clown to move out of my lane because I had the choice of hitting a kid or veering over toward the Potomac, and that a**hole didn’t move until we were within three feet of colliding. Laughed his ass off, too. Yeah, that would have been hilarious if we’d collided and killed a little kid in a stroller.

  2. Please give the pedestrians a break. :) When you have multi-use trails, you will have all kinds of users.

    And this may sound unfair, but since the bicycle user can do a lot more danger, it is the responsibility of the cyclist to be more careful about not hitting other people.

    I have stopped and moved to the side to let cyclists go by. If it is really difficult to ride through a section of the trail, I would encourage you to stop too. Maybe jump out of your bicycle and walk it until it is safe again to ride.

    Cumbersome? Yes. But it is safe and responsible.

    In my experience, the two major problems in trails are the group of cyclists who take the whole trail as they travel fast, and the frustrated racer who believes that he is training for the tour de France. I took my toddler to the W&OD during a weekend, and it was so dangerous that we never went back.

    And I also make a point of walking in trails where bicycles are not allowed. :)

  3. MB

    Isn’t that what I said, though, Hugo? I do agree that cyclists have a heightened responsibility. They can do more damage, so they ought to pay more attention (now if I can only get SUV drivers to understand this . . .).

    But that still leaves a pedestrian with their own responsibilities, both to themselves and other trail users. And while I’ve certainly encountered those two types of cyclists on the WO&D, I’d rank them several spots below inattentive pedestrians on a chart of major trail safety problems.

    In any event, we all have an interest in making sure that trail users understand the rules. Since my apparent preferred means of doing that is yelling at someone, I urge the more gentle of you to step in, so I can ease up on the trail and focus my efforts against drivers who believe that bikes have no place on roads :)

  4. Our mixed-use trail here is pretty good, but I mean it is pretty good at serving all of the people it is there to serve … which means it’s not ideal for fast and aggressive cycling, not ideal for trail-hogging meandering gaggles of walkers, not ideal for letting your three-year-old wander out onto the trail oblivious to bike traffic, not ideal for horses, not ideal for roller bladers zoning out to their iPods.

    But it’s long, and broken up by stretches of parks, which is where the pedestrian and kid traffic is clustered. I don’t think it’s really a hardship to slow down in those places (there is no spot so bad that walking the bike is necessary), but I also don’t think it’s a hardship on parents to ask them to teach their kids to treat the trail like a street — look both ways before wandering across, stay in your lane if you’re out there practicing on your two-wheeler.

    We have bells and I’m friendly to the wandering kids and call out way in advance, and they usually fall all over themselves (alas, sometimes literally) apologizing and moving to the side. The biggest danger is still from suicidal squirrels.

  5. Oh, and horses are absolutely #1 priority. There aren’t many but everybody is expected to get out of their way, including peds. I have never met an unfriendly or rude equestrian out there, either, even though I think there are plenty of people who do not cede the right of way like they are supposed to. Probably all the rest of us could learn a lesson from their general demeanor and approach to sharing the trail … they know they are supposed to be at the top of the food chain, they know that 90 percent of the other people out there either don’t know that or resent that, but they stay friendly and just claim their right of way when they can.

  6. MB

    Horses bother me (too big, too unpredictable, etc.), so I steer well clear of them. And I’d say horse owners here could take a few lessons from your folks in friendliness. But I only really see them on long rides out on the W&OD, or up the C&O Canal, so it’s a rare bother.

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