Woman, Dog Hit by Car While Walking on W&OD Trail

Falls Church Times Staff

January 12, 2010

A 25-year-old Fairfax County woman suffered minor injuries Monday night after she was hit by a car while crossing West Street, police say.

The woman, whose name wasn’t released, was walking along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail at about 6:15 p.m. when she attempted to cross West with two dogs in tow. She was hit by a northbound vehicle. One of her dogs also was hit, and was limping after the incident, the police report said. The driver of the car, Amada Ydania Castro, 26 years old, of Fairfax, was charged with reckless driving.

Accidents between automobiles and pedestrians are relatively rare in Falls Church City, but the W&OD Trail crossings, at Grove, West, Spring, Oak, Great Falls, and Little Falls, have been the scene of some close calls, altercations, and confusion. The close calls come in part because the trail is heavily used and crosses busy streets. But they may also result from confusion about what is required of drivers and pedestrians.

An example of just such an altercation and related confusion was illustrated by a letter to the Falls Church News-Press in November. The writer, a McLean resident, wrote that she was involved in an expletive-laced altercation with a foul-mouthed female runner at the intersection of Great Falls Street and the trail.

“It is clearly posted that they (runners) are supposed to stop, but they seem to think that the cars will automatically yield to them,” the letter said. “Aren’t they also supposed to follow the laws? It is becoming quite dangerous at the bike path crossings. Drivers stop when they aren’t supposed to, and bikers and runners cross without stopping at the stop signs.”

But the writer, who was identified as “C. Fawsett,” is incorrect about the required behavior of both drivers and pedestrians. However, she is right about the behavior required of bicyclists.

Drivers are required by Virginia law to stop for pedestrians at all crosswalks, including those on the W&OD Trail. Runners and walkers are not required to stop, although drivers may think they are because stop signs are posted on the trail at all road crossings. For added emphasis, the signs say the stop demanded of trail users is “Required by Law.”

But this is false. Falls Church Police Chief Harry Reitzie told the Times that walkers and runners do not have to stop, no matter what the signs may say. He added that walkers and runners also have the right of way in the crosswalk, and that it is drivers who must stop at the crossings. However, the chief said, bicyclists are required to stop. Falls Church Police have even pulled over bicyclists for failing to stop at the trail stop signs. The Falls Church Times produced a video report about that last year. Nevertheless, it is easy to see how the signage can lead to driver confusion.

Also odd is that there are no signs on the roads crossing the trail alerting drivers that they are required to yield to pedestrians — and to bicyclists who have properly stopped, looked, and proceeded, even though that, too, is Virginia law. For example, at northbound West Street, where Monday’s accident occurred, there’s only a yellow sign with the universal symbol of a bicycle on it — and that’s right at the trail crossing, not before it. No flashing lights, yield sign, or warning of a crosswalk or heavy pedestrian traffic is visible.

Neighbors near the scene of Monday’s accident say they’ve tried for years to get the city to make the area safer, and expressed concern that the unusual intersection is extremely dangerous. West Street makes two near-90 degree turns in the short space between Grove and Park avenues, with one turn coming just a few feet prior to the trail crossing.

The neighbors say they would like the City to conduct speed enforcement, improve signage, and even narrow the roadway as it approaches the trail. “How can we be a walkable community if the City is not going to do everything possible to ensure the safety of pedestrians and cyclists?” they asked in an email to the Times.

Correction, Jan. 13: There is an additional yellow sign with a bicycle symbol between Grove and Park avenues on northbound West Street, not just one right at the trail crossing.

January 12, 2010 


16 Responses to “Woman, Dog Hit by Car While Walking on W&OD Trail”

  1. Hannah Jordan on January 12th, 2010 10:12 pm

    Thanks for this very informative and well-written article. I hope the city will finally take steps to make this intersection safer. Everyone is and has been aware that it’s a dangerous spot for both pedestrians and cars, yet nothing has been done to make it safer. It always bothers me when an accident has to occur before action is taken to increase safety. Thankfully, the two creatures (the woman and her dog) were not seriously injured.

  2. Gordon Theisz, City of Falls Church on January 12th, 2010 10:13 pm

    If drivers are supposed to stop for all crosswalks, how about the ones in the middle of East Broad St? Any pedestrian would be crazy to cross there unless the road was clear for safe passage the entire length of the walk. I would bet drivers would not anticipate having to yield to a crosswalk so far separated by any intersection.

  3. Michael Slonim on January 12th, 2010 10:28 pm

    The crosswalk at W&OD and West St. crosses West in the longest possible (diagonal) route. If the crosswalk on the west side of the street were moved north by a dozen yards or so, it would be straight and would cut the crossing time (actual time on the street) significantly. This would be a simple, low cost alternative (requiring only a new curb cut and paint). Such a crossing would be awkward for bikers, but simple for pedestrians. So keep the existing crosswalk (satisfying the high speed bikers) and add the shorter path for slower pedestrians. The result is a crosswalk in the shape of a “V”.

  4. Rob on January 12th, 2010 10:50 pm

    You want to try a challenging crosswalk? Check out the one crossing Rt 29 immediately outside Elevation burger. Unfortunate people have to get whacked before safety is reviewed. How’s about signs posted for drivers and trail users that count the number of accidents at the crossing they are entering? Could at least be helpful for the busy bike/walking trail crosswalks anyway…

  5. Julie Ramsay, Arlington on January 13th, 2010 8:33 am

    I’m still a little confused. An Arlington police officier told my daughter’s driver’s ed class once that, if a walker/runner was IN the crosswalk, the driver must yield; but, if the walker/runner had not yet entered the crosswalk, the driver was not required to stop (although it might be polite to do so). What is FC policy about this? There does seem to be a need for more driver education about this–even for drivers of many years. Lots of drivers seem confused about four-way stops, also.

  6. Jim Breiling, North Arlington on January 13th, 2010 9:22 am

    As a frequent visitor to and shopper in “The Little City,” I would feel more welcome if I could walk safely.

    Betty and I know the crossing at issue as both drivers and walkers. The clear dangers “screamed” for action. Will the unfortunate accident finally prompt long overdue AND meaningful action to make the “The Little City” branding encompass the reality of a safer city?

  7. Barry Buschow on January 13th, 2010 9:38 am

    We are not “pedestrian friendly” we are “cut-through” friendly. We have so much traffic trying to get through the city via our main and back streets that anything goes. Try to cross Broad Street, the pedestrian lights are of little help as priority is always given to the car. The accident was during rush hour when people are trying to beat the light at West and Broad, in the dark, with a bad curve. Pedestrians beware. Thank NVRPA for the overpass over Broad, unfortunately too expensive for all crossings, warning lights would help but still the pedestrian must be aware……..

  8. Kathleen Nebeker, City of Falls Church on January 13th, 2010 10:17 am

    When we walk in the evenings, we attach LED flashing blinkers to our clothing and to our dogs’ leashes and collars. Not enough to look like moving Christmas trees, but noticeable. I think Barry is correct. The city is cut-through friendly and gives pedestrians short shrift.

    The blinkers I’m referring to are these: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002F1NNRY/ref=s9_simz_gw_s0_p199_t1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0BRW6CWVZ67E2JBB9CD9&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=470938631&pf_rd_i=507846

    Sorry for the lengthy link.

    I hope a follow-up will be posted regarding the woman and her dogs.

  9. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on January 13th, 2010 12:46 pm

    It remains to be seen what will come of it but I know the City is about to embark on a study of pedestrian and bicycle issues throughout the City. I’m not sure what the exact goals of the study are but hopefully it will begin a process where we improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.

    Michael’s idea for reconfiguring the W&OD crossing at West sounds good – and since bikes are supposed to stop anyway it seems like the sharp turn should be acceptable (although I might support a Yield sign for bikes wishing to take the direct route).

    As for Gordon’s comment – are “controlled” crosswalks (ones with walk/don’t walk signs) under different rules than other kinds of crosswalks? If I cross Broad even when the sign says Don’t Walk could I be cited (for jaywalking or something)?

    I guess I need a refresher on the rules of the road.

    Personally, I never cross any street without keeping an eye out in both directions, regardless of the traffic rules, signs, lights, etc. Heck, I’m usually looking around when I’m walking on a sidewalk that’s close to traffic. Cars scare me.

  10. Roger Neighborgall on January 13th, 2010 9:48 pm

    I’m President of the Friends of the W&OD Trail. On Monday’s City Council Meeting I made a presentation on current Trail projects such as the resurfacing of the Broad Street Bridge and the Saturday, February 27, 5K Race starting at the Masonic Lodge at 4 PM. After my presentation, Councilman Dave Snyder addressed the bicycle pedestrain problem on the trail and at City street crossings and suggested to me that my Board readdress the issue. My response was the problem was well known and real and there was a 75-man Trail Patrol that worked the problem but with no arrest authority. [City Police] Major Mary Gavin suggested that her Police Department could start issuing tickets to offenders. I accepted Councilman Snyder’s challenge to further study the issue in conjuction with the City of Falls Church.

  11. Karen (Fairfax County side of the street) on January 14th, 2010 12:43 pm

    Thank you for the article. My husband and I have lived in this area over a decade and the troubles as a driver and as pedestrian have not improved. We often ride our bikes or walk to downtown Falls Church and we too have experienced the close calls. I am an avid walker and can say that I have walked some of the world’s most accessible cities including Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Madison, Rome (Italy), Florence (Italy) and even Athens, GA to name a few. I felt far safer cycling through Philly on a daily basis then I ever have in the Falls Church area. Alternatively, as a driver I have seen pedestrians and cyclists assume I will stop and walk into the intersection. The city owes it to its future desires to be a ‘Little’ cosmopolitan center to improve the way that pedestrians, cyclists, and cars interface. In other words–well coordinated urban planning. Studies are great but there must be implementation of the best thought out plan. If people were able to walk and bike more (without fears) and drive less, there would be less frustration and more merriment (with some spending done within FC limits).

  12. Erik T., Falls Church on January 15th, 2010 10:33 pm

    Perhaps the following links might provide some useful information. These are from the Virginia DMV website:

    Pedestrian safety –

    Bicycle safety –

  13. Daniel Green on January 17th, 2010 6:37 pm

    I’m not sure where the police chief is from but my mom always told me to look both ways before I cross the street – crosswalk or not. If there is a stop sign then stop…

  14. Phillip Troutman, Falls Church on January 19th, 2010 10:42 am

    The most dangerous thing I’ve seen and heard numerous stories about (particularly at the Great Falls Street crossing) is this: one car yields to peds/cyclists, and another car PASSES them, nearly hitting the peds/cyclists =violating both passing laws & crosswalk laws, not to mention common-sense regard for others.

    As a cyclist, pedestrian, and driver, I was curious about what the Virginia Code says. Here it is:

    § 46.2-924:

    Drivers must yield to pedestrians “at” crosswalks. It repeatedly says “at” and does not say “in” crosswalks, though perhaps local practice & enforcement interprets this as “in.”

    This applies to any crosswalk anywhere, whether mid-block or end of block, including those single-stripe walks that are frankly hard to see (like the one across from Elevation Burger).

    It also applies to any intersection where the speed limit is 35 or less, even if there is no marked crosswalk.

    The one pedestrian restriction is this: “No pedestrian shall enter or cross an intersection in disregard of approaching traffic.” So you can’t just jump out in front of cars. Still, once you are “at” the crosswalk, cars are supposed to yield to you.

    § 46.2-925

    If there are traffic controls (Walk/Don’t Walk), pedestrians must obey those. But I was told by a police officer that the cars-must-yield law overrides the peds-must-obey-signals law. Cars must stop for anyone “at” (or at the very least, “in”) a crosswalk, even if the ped is jaywalking.

    Now, for cyclists:

    § 46.2-904

    Bikes (and other things like rollerblades, etc.) MAY be prohibited from using certain sidewalks, crosswalks, paved trails, etc., either by local codes (if posted) or by control devices (like signs).

    But otherwise bikes can ride through crosswalks (true of any crosswalk, not just WO&D crossings) AND have the same rights and responsibilities as pedestrians when doing so: “A person riding a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, or an electric power-assisted bicycle on a sidewalk, shared-use path, or across a roadway on a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties of a pedestrian under the same circumstances.”

    There are stop signs for bikes, so bikes must stop. And bikes, like pedestrians, may not “disregard” oncoming traffic when entering. But cars still must yield to both.

    The case I referred to above was in Arlington, in the Custis Trail crossing at Lynn Street, next to Key Bridge. I was riding my bike in the crosswalk (obeying the pedestrian crossing light) and a car turned across the crosswalk & struck me. He was found at fault. Interestingly, the sign there says for cars to yielld to all “persons” in crosswalk, making explicit on the sign what the law actually says: that cyclists are to be treated like pedestrians when in a crosswalk unless posted otherwise.

  15. Karen Schools, Falls Church on January 19th, 2010 2:48 pm

    From my prospective as a pedestriain who walks with two of my young children to Mt. Daniel, I wish more drivers would pay attention to the laws regarding crosswalks. With one notable exception, cars almost never stop (including, on occasion, police cars) for us at the crosswalk intersecting West and Oak Steet.

  16. manydiscombobulated on August 17th, 2012 10:35 am

    just yesterday on broad st. another pedestrian was struck. so is anything going to be done like the city promised 20 years ago to make life easier between the two elements?

    no, that money is going “fill in the blank” so much for giving a damned about their freeloader taxpayers.

    the city needs help… maybe erect a few of those committee members who only come in for the ‘notches in their belt’ then leave with the city in shambles.

    so, how many pedestrians does that make it now this year?


    and why aren’t the authorities doing any thing about the drivers who are using their devices while driving? let alone those who are too good to stop for a red light.

    makes me sick, this city is a hell hole.

    drivers are scum of the earth, they even aim at the pedestrians, i’ve seen a few instances of CAR tag in the city.


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