OPINION: How Could Someone Steal the Yield Signs?
August 11, 2010
Almost 10 years ago to the day, my father decided to take a bike ride to Leesburg via the W&OD Trail. It was a trip he had taken countless times, so when he didn’t return home after a few hours, we weren’t terribly worried; we figured he had just decided to ride a little further than originally planned.
But when afternoon turned to dusk, and dusk turned to night, we got scared. We called every hospital in the region, we filed a police report, we drove repeatedly to the parking lot where he had left his car. Finally, at 10 p.m., we found out that there was a “John Doe” in Fairfax Hospital’s ICU, who had been medevacked that afternoon from Sterling. He had been hit by a minivan as he crossed one of the many roads the W&OD intersects, and he was in bad shape.
John Doe was my dad. He spent two weeks in a coma, nine months in the hospital, and four more months in rehab and physical therapy as a nearly severed leg and a damaged brain healed. He ultimately returned to work, returned to golf, returned to the gym. In my eyes, it’s a miracle he survived at all.
Ever since then, I’ve treated W&OD road crossings as if the railroad were still operating — without crossing gates or ringing bells. I slow and look both ways before continuing through a crossing. I stop whenever I see a walker, jogger or cyclist approaching. Yet even with such caution, I’ve been amazed by the number of times another driver has zoomed around me and nearly hit the very person I was letting cross in front of me.
So imagine my delight last week, when six “Yield to Pedestrian” signs were erected at each of Falls Church City’s six W&OD road crossings. I was happy to see a post on the City’s Facebook page, reminding motorists “to slow down when approaching a crosswalk and stop if a bicyclist or pedestrian is in the walkway, because they have the right of way.” It continued, “Bicyclists must also observe the Stop sign before entering the crosswalk, and everyone is reminded to look both ways before crossing the road!”
There were lots of positive, thumbs up comments in reaction to the Facebook post — and although a few people pointed out that there are plenty of kamikaze cyclists out there who also need to heed their stop signs, most of the comments applauded the City for erecting the signs. Many shared their own stories of frightening encounters between bicycles and cars. It was a feel good story about slowing down, being kind, and staying safe.
Two days later, five of the signs were gone. A follow up note from the City indicated that five of the six signs had apparently been stolen, and it would cost $2,600 to replace them. In the meantime, orange cones have been placed on each street crossing, in order to mark the former location of the signs and help cover the bolts that remain in the street. As of now, the City hasn’t made a decision on whether to replace the stolen signs, and it doesn’t have the money in the budget to do so. Suddenly, a feel good story has gone bad.
And I, for one, am at a loss. Why would anyone feel compelled to rip up five signs that were securely bolted into the roadways? Sure, there are drivers who are annoyed with cyclists who don’t stop. There are cyclists who are annoyed with drivers who don’t give them the right of way. There’s road rage, traffic, long commutes. I get that. But no matter who is right and who is wrong, one thing is clear: if a car and bike collide, the car wins. Why steal the very thing that might help mediate that one-sided argument?
(Anyone with information regarding the stolen signs is encouraged to contact the Police Department at 703-241-5050.)
By Stephanie Oppenheimer
August 11, 2010