Jogger and Cyclist Suffer Life-Threatening Injuries in Trail Crash

By FALLS CHURCH CITY OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS and FALLS CHURCH TIMES STAFF
October 2, 2013

A jogger and a cyclist, both enjoying the Falls Church City section of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, collided on Sunday near Little Falls Street and suffered life-threatening injuries, police say.

The incident occurred shortly after noon. It remains under investigation, but initial reports received by police say it happened when the jogger attempted to pass people walking and was hit by a cyclist traveling the opposite direction. Both are still being treated at local hospitals.

Falls Church City Police Chief Mary Gavin announced the additional deployment of bicycle and motorcycle officers along the trail to promote education and enforcement of park and traffic laws. Officials say an increase in usage of the trail, from casual walking to commuting via bicycle, has created more risk for hazards and accidents to occur.

Another possible reason the risk is rising is the frequent failure of many users to follow the trail rules. Cyclists frequently ride too fast and weave in and out of pedestrians, and some pedestrians walk on the wrong side.

“I am deeply worried and afraid for my safety when I am on the trail and users are not following the rules,” said Cricket Moore, an avid trail user and City resident. In response to the influx of concerns, Falls Church Police were awarded a $2,400 safety grant from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles specifically to deploy officers for traffic education and enforcement in shared-use areas such as the W&OD Trail.

City Police encourage the safe use of the trail and emphasize that traffic control signs, including stop signs, are in place to regulate the trail traffic. Stop signs on the trail are enforced through the Code of Virginia §46.2-924 and Falls Church City Code Section 26-109. The 1.5 mile section of the trail within the City of Falls Church is unique in that it crosses roadways several times, causing cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists to encounter one another far more often that on other stretches of the trail.

Police remind trail users that cyclists are required to stop at stop signs and announce when they are passing. They also suggest users move off the trail if they choose to stop. Additionally, they warn that racing or competitive speed training is not permitted on the trail; that pedestrians have the right of way unless otherwise posted; and that users should ride at speeds appropriate for the trail’s congested nature. Helmets also are required for users age 14 and under.

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October 2, 2013 

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32 Responses to “Jogger and Cyclist Suffer Life-Threatening Injuries in Trail Crash”

  1. Kate Murray on October 2nd, 2013 4:01 pm

    This is sad and worse, not surprising. I wasn’t there and don’t know who was more at fault, but I can tell you that I have nearly missed being the pedestrian in this scenario many times when cyclists swooped past me — unlike this incident, from behind — without the ghost of a spoken warning or bell. Pedestrians can stumble, stop or turn at any moment, more so if they are walking dogs (which I hope are on leashes). Please, please, if you cycle, make yourself loudly heard before assuming any pedestrian or jogger you pass is going to stay clairvoyantly out of your way. A bike bell cannot cost that much and it takes a tenth of a calorie to ring it. and this story points out the possible consequences of failing to do so.

    I hope these two people recover fully. I’m glad to hear there’s some effort to maintain safety on the trail.

  2. TFC on October 2nd, 2013 4:35 pm

    Just the other day I had a biker yell/shout “HEY” from behind me to move me to the side of the trail path so he could speed racer by me. It startled me and good thing I did not lean into the path rather than away. Lovely manners. Share the trail…it works both ways.

  3. JWM Falls Church on October 2nd, 2013 6:39 pm

    It would be to the benefit of all trail users if any particular rules for after sunset use of the bike trail were made available in various medias. I walk the dog in the evening (with a flash light) and nearly every evening have surprise encounters with cyclists who don’t have lights or do have lights and cruise at a high speed because of their having lights and (falsely) assuming no joggers or pedestrians to get in their way. Finally, maybe some of that grant could be used for night time police patrols.

  4. Mary Sanford, Falls Church on October 3rd, 2013 8:52 am

    The trail is closed after sunset.

  5. Dirck Harris on October 3rd, 2013 9:18 am

    I believe the trail is actually *not* closed after sunset; new rules allow use as long as those using it are wearing reflective clothing and using lights. Closes at 9pm, I think. This is so commuters can still use it. Also, cyclists over 14 are not required to wear helmets (I do).

  6. Mary Sanford, Falls Church on October 3rd, 2013 11:31 am

    I haven’t seen anything about new rules–perhaps I’ve missed that. But the W&OD webpage says the trail is open dawn to dusk, and the Friends of the W&OD website also says it’s closed at dark.

  7. Dirck Harris on October 3rd, 2013 11:36 am

    There are signs posted along the trail in various spots explaining the new rules.

  8. Cyclist and walker on October 3rd, 2013 12:15 pm

    As someone who, myself, rides a bike (and walks) on the trail, I’m often amazed at the speed with which cyclists whiz by. I’m in good shape and I can fly around too…but it’s simply not safe on such a narrow trail with so many different types of users (kids, people with dogs, etc.).

    I’ve always noticed that many cyclists think the rules–the rules of the road as well as the implied rules of safe use–don’t apply to them. Regardless of who’s at fault here, it will be nice to see an uptick in law enforcement on the trail.

  9. Susan on October 3rd, 2013 1:02 pm

    It looks like in this case, the cyclist wasn’t doing anything wrong, the jogger went into his lane, right? Not to say that other cyclists aren’t maniacs, but it seems wrong to put blame on this one…

  10. resident on October 3rd, 2013 1:14 pm

    Perhaps the trail could be widened by putting down some gravel on each side.

    As a dog walker, I tend to walk against traffic so I can see what is coming, and I stay on the edge of the trail with my dog off the trail entirely. I would be happy to completely cede use of the trail to cyclists if there was a nice gravel path on each side of the paved trail.

  11. DC Cyclist on October 3rd, 2013 1:44 pm

    As a cyclist, the area trails including the W&OD can be very frustrating to use. First, the W&OD Is a multi-use trail. The rules apply to everyone. Two things for walkers and joggers. You need to move to the far right of the trail in the direction you’re traveling and, if there is more than one of you, you should be single file. If you want to gossip do it after at your local coffee shop. Cyclists coming from behind can now pass without having to to cross the yellow line into oncoming traffic. Share the trail. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to ring my bell or call out “pass” only to have the runners make no attempt to share the lane by moving over or going single file. Fully expecting me to pass in the on-coming traffic lane. DO NOT TAKE UP THE ENTIRE LANE. Second, if you walk or run in the dark, GET a headlight and a red tail light. Do these folks also drive at night without lights? I cannot tell you how many runners I pass without lights or reflective gear of any kind? This is a serious accident waiting to happen.

  12. Jonathan Krall, Alexandria on October 3rd, 2013 2:22 pm

    Just a few quick comments:

    – In Virginia, helmets are only required for people ages 14 an under. Please correct this article.

    – Pedestrians, please do not move sideways across the train without looking ahead and behind. If you talk to a lot of cyclists, you will find that many are wary of pedestrians who move sideways across the trail with no warning. Experienced cyclists slow down for children (they are unpredictable) or when they notice a jogger slowing to a walk. Joggers turn around without looking to jog the other direction often enough that a friend of mine has named that maneuver the “crazy Ivan.”

    – For every pedestrian who waves when a cyclist sounds a bell or shouts “on your left” there is one who reacts unpredictably. For this reason, many cyclists only sound a bell when pedestrians are close to or across the center line. The correct reaction is to wave acknowledgement and move to or remain on the right-hand side of the center line.

    – There is no need for pedestrians to walk to the far right. Just stay to the right of the center line of the trail.

    – Cyclists who ride these trails often should have a bell. A bell sounds polite compared to a shout and is required by law.

    – As much as it annoys me that this article seems to be blaming the cyclist when the pedestrian is one who was passing unsafely, I do think that the onus is on the more powerful participant to be more careful. On the street: that means drivers need to drive responsibly. On the trail, than means cyclists need to ride responsibly. Want to ride really fast? Get on a road.

  13. Dirck Harris on October 3rd, 2013 2:27 pm

    Dear DC Cyclist: if you’re passing walkers in the same lane as they’re walking in, I’m guessing that you’re passing them about 6″ away. Might be a little too close, especially if whomever you’re passing doesn’t hear you. Common trail etiquette (however rarely used) is to call out a warning, then, when it’s safe to pass, swing into the *other* lane and pass (most of the riders I’ve seen and talk to do this). Works just like it does on the roads. Generally, I’ve noticed that walkers can walk two abreast and still leave an entire lane available for passing. This has worked for me during the several thousand miles I’ve ridden on the trail in the last few years. Everybody needs to exercise a little patience and consideration.

  14. Another DC Cyclist on October 3rd, 2013 5:05 pm

    DC Cyclist, please consider the fact that its a multiuse trail and people have the right to use it for a variety of purposes. It’s very rude for you to say that groups should have to go single-file for you and that “if you want to gossip do it after at your local coffee shop.” It’s not that big a deal to use the oncoming lane to pass if you can find a crumb of patience to slow down, look carefully, and do so safely.

    Walking is a basic human function that pretty much everyone does. It should not require special gear like lights. Recognize that pedestrians are the most vulnerable trail and road users, and be appropriately cautious.

  15. Sarah Bayldon on October 3rd, 2013 5:50 pm

    I witnessed a similar incident on our stretch of trail with fortunately less serious consequences. It was a combination of a walker just left of the middle of the trail and a biker not warning. When the walker realized late a bike was near, he jumped into the right lane, the very lane where she was passing him. (I rode off the left side of the trail into the grass… )

    That said, although I am a conscientious bell ringer, it is often ineffective because the pedestrian is wearing headphones and does not hear.

    Nobody should change course suddenly, especially if you are changing lanes, without warning and checking. Sudden unexpected movements cause accidents. When I warn without being heard, I slow way down but have still had surprises which required sudden braking.

    Reasonable bike speeds, cyclist patience, pedestrians walking with traffic, functioning ears for both, and general situational awareness for all trail users needs to be emphasized.

    A cyclist cannot be expected to ride regularly at walking speed, but must be willing to do so in order to avoid passing pedestrians when a cyclist or pedestrians are coming from the opposite direction. That is the problem when pedestrians walk on the wrong side – you cannot slow down to their speed to delay passing but all parties must stop if there is someone in the other lane, or squeeze by.

    Bikers or joggers passing someone going the same direction – requiring a move into the opposite-direction lane – need to check that the lane is clear as motorists do when passing on two-lane roads. A cyclist cannot anticipate someone popping into the lane from behind others as in this case, especially a runner.

    BTW, I wear a helmet but Virginia has no state helmet law. All the local jurisdictions have laws pertaining only to riders under 14.

  16. Leslie Kash on October 3rd, 2013 7:57 pm

    As an avid runner AND cyclist using the trail frequently I am surprised at the number of cyclists that give no warning (bell or verbal ) . I usually politely say “give us a shout next time”.

  17. Meika, Arlington on October 3rd, 2013 8:49 pm

    I second everything that Sarah Bayldon said. It does make it easier to ride safely when everyone on the trail is observing the etiquette of a shared-use trail. And it’s great that pedestrians have the right of way (I’m a pedestrian most of the time, myself) but right of way doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to respect cyclists on the trail.

    PS: Having headphones or a cellphone glued to your ears is bad for situational awareness in general, just sayin.

  18. E.K., Falls Church on October 3rd, 2013 10:43 pm

    Having had occasion to speak with police officers in surrounding jurisdictions as well as Falls Church about this topic, all of them have said that “one needs to make one’s self as visible as possible, especially at night.” That includes pedestrians as well.

    In response to Mary Sanford: One of the signs is posted near the VFW Lodge (Veteran Common) where the trail crosses Little Falls Street. It states, in effect, that the trail is open from sunset until 9:00 p.m. Users are required to wear light-colored or reflective clothing and have lights. The trail is closed from 9:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m.

    It is indeed sad that it’s taken this to start a discussion that should not even be necessary.

    End of conversation.

  19. grateful2binfc on October 3rd, 2013 11:10 pm

    I’m with you, EK. Seems to me taking care to be both visible and heard is wisdom. Being polite and considerate makes it nicer for everyone. I try to treat others the way I want to be treated on the trail, even with those who aren’t so inclined. I bike commute, and have found this resource to be helpful:

    http://www.vdot.virginia.gov/travel/resources/Laws_for_Interacting_on_the_Road_Report.pdf

  20. jim steele on October 4th, 2013 8:21 am

    Part of the problem is this: cyclist wannabes on their expensive bikes and matching cycling uniforms who think that it’s perfectly OK to go as fast as they want on the W&OD. These people often exceed 30 mph and show little regard for other trail users. Real cyclists are to be found out on the roads in areas like Poolesville, western Loudoun, Fauquier, etc. Posers are on the W&OD. The other problem is clueless immigrants who walk in clusters, oblivious to their surroundings, particularly in Herndon and Falls Church. They also let their kids wander on the trail without supervision. In summary, the W&OD, one of the finest trails in the country, is fast becoming a symbol of what happens when selfishness and stupidity collide.

  21. dhondi on October 4th, 2013 9:18 am

    Most of the problem is this: People violating other’s rights of way as apparently happened in this incident. You are supposed to keep right when traveling on a trail, if you need to pass, then you need to make sure the other lane is clear so that you may do so. I see so many people on the trails not paying any attention at all to their surroundings: People bunched up talking taking up the whole trail, dogs not on leashes running all over, joggers running on the wrong side, cyclists sideswiping people, and people walking 6-7 abreast across the whole trail. If everyone were to attempt to follow the rules posted, this sort of thing would not happen.

  22. BMan, Alexandria on October 4th, 2013 10:13 am

    TFC, would your rather the cyclist say nothing and race by you? It’s actually the law for them to call passes and it’s the safest thing to do. It may have startled you, but that’s because you’re not familiar with the rules of the trail.

  23. BMan, Alexandria on October 4th, 2013 10:20 am

    Problems on the trails could be summarized as collective selfishness of the aforementioned poor riders/walkers/runners AND woeful naivity (even expressed in the comments by people “startled” by those following the rules and calling passes).

    Easy solutions–

    *take things out of your ears. This is a good lesson for life. It’s known as being aware of your surroundings. When you’re dealing with other people and non-motorized vehicles (bikes/etc), they’re going to typically be pretty quiet.
    *Just like on the road, stay to the right. Running/cycling/walking down the middle of the path makes it hard for everyone else to get around you, if necessary.
    *Don’t crowd the path. One person/bike/stroller/etc going each direction. These paths are not designed to try to squeeze your bike between two or three others. Similarly for those jogging side by side, typically your elbows are squeezing out across the trail and it creates a danger for everyone else attempting to pass you. This is common sense. If you really want to walk side by side, then one of you should walk along the side of the path OR advocate for wider paths.
    *Call a pass. If you’re running. If you’re cycling. If you’re walking faster. Awareness prevents surprises, which prevent needless accidents.
    *Slow down and yield the right of way. Some cyclists do go way too fast. I ride, I run and walk on the paths. I see it all. I also see people jut out into the path without warning.
    *Look both ways before executing a pass/turn around/or sudden movement. This would seem to be the most common sense item. Do you cross a street without looking? Of course not. Yet routinely people just take the attitude of I’m the only one here.

    People are never entirely going to follow the rules, but if most of us do then we will be in much better shape.

  24. Jonathan Krall, Alexandria on October 4th, 2013 10:52 am

    “cyclist wannabes on their expensive bikes and matching cycling uniforms”

    If you wish to complain about people riding too fast, please do so without being offensive. Many people wear cycling gear because it is practical to do so for a commute of more than a few miles. Negative stereotyping is offensive. Please dial it back.

  25. Lou Mauro on October 4th, 2013 1:28 pm

    So many thoughts, ideas and suggestions, some of which are actually good. But they will never solve the problem, which as others have implied, is human nature: selfishness, lack of knowledge of rules, lack of awareness, just plain carelessness, daydreaming and negligence. As crowded as everything is getting around here (don’t get me started on that!), the only answer is two separate trails. One for bikes, and another for everyone else. Efforts to obtain funding from all interested parties, users, and jurisdictions should be started NOW……………before “life-threatening”
    becomes “dead,” which it most certainly will.

  26. Bob Burnett on October 4th, 2013 1:55 pm

    …and to dovetail on Lou’s thoughts, this unfortunate accident highlights my feelings about why it’s important to keep advancing some of the ideas in the Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Calming Strategic Implementation Plan. Our streets need to have their usage re-considered to accommodate a range of transportation types. The trail cannot be the only “official”option for bikes.

  27. JWM Falls Church on October 4th, 2013 5:53 pm

    Here are the W&OD Trail rules without all the bias in all the perceived rules in the comments above from http://www.nvrpa.org/park/w_od_railroad/content/show_you_care. Seems to me they make it very clear who needs to make the most adjustments in attitude and actions. The other rule is the stop signs on the trail at every street intersection; which brings drivers into the mix. Now if the FC police would enforce the rules the trail would be safer for all.

    •Always be courteous.
    •Give an audible warning before passing.
    •Horses, then pedestrians, have the right-of-way.
    •Assist others with breakdowns or injuries.
    •Remember animals, children and elderly may react unpredictably; move slowly when passing.
    •Report all dangerous trail situations or maintenance needs to the trail office.
    •Do not block the trail when stopped. Move all equipment to the side, away from traffic.
    •Report suspicious or dangerous behaviors to the police. Call 911 for emergencies.
    •Always keep a maximum distance from others when passing.
    •Stay to the right of the center line.
    •Do not speed when cycling.
    •Do not stand on or fish from bridges.

  28. Drew Haldane, Falls Churchish on October 4th, 2013 6:34 pm

    DC Cyclist, while I agree with you in general, as someone who commutes on the WOD I have to say you are wrong in your advice about passing.

    You should ALWAYS move fully into the left lane when passing, after waiting for it to be clear of oncoming traffic. What you are advocating is called “threading the needle”, and is both discourteous and hazardous.

  29. TFC on October 5th, 2013 7:19 am

    @BMan, I would have preferred the cyclist use an announcement of “passing”, “on your left” or a bell…..not yelling “HEY”. Using “hey” does not convey any useful information to me…is there danger? Fire? Is someone behind me in trouble/need help? My brain was still trying to process the meaning as he sped past.

  30. WOD Walker on October 7th, 2013 7:50 am

    DC Cyclist

    I walk on the WOD quite often. As long as I am on my correct (right) side while walking its not up to me to jump out of your way off the trail so you can pass me. You have to wait until oncoming traffic is clear and pass in the left lane the exact same way one would do on a two way road with a dotted line in the middle if you want to pass slower vehicles. I’d be jumping off the trail every 5 seconds on a busy Sunday afternoon. Sorry the trail is crowded and you have to wait your turn to pass.

  31. Doug Craig on October 7th, 2013 5:07 pm

    I am both a cyclist (not fast) and walker (slower); however, I feel that I must point out the times – far to many to count, unfortunately – I have cycled past pedestrians on the GW and WOD trails, who are totally oblivious to their surroundings because they are wearing earbuds or headsets.

    Despite the “audible warnings” I have given, very often my passing elicits shouts and even threats. All the bell-ringing, “passing on your left-ing” and other “audible warnings” are pointless if pedestrians are not paying attention to their surroundings as much as they expect cyclists to. Take the buds out and pay attention!

  32. Andrea Nelson Arlington on October 9th, 2013 9:18 am

    What a tragedy for the cyclist and runner. I hope that they are both ok. Sometimes accidents are just that–accidents–and unavoidable, but I do think that there are some things that cyclists, runners, and walkers can all do to make things less dangerous.

    I’m a triathlete, so I use the trail for both cycling and running. To Jim Steele, I would consider myself a real cyclist. I’ve been biking for 13 years, and I’ve completed 5 ironman triathlons. Most recently I was 2nd overall female in my race. I do all of my training on the W&OD, because I generally ride alone and I feel safer on the trail, and I’ve been hit by a car–I really fear riding on the roads. Also, I have an abysmal sense of direction, so I prefer the trail.

    Near as I can tell, though, there aren’t any cycling races on the trail, so we are all out there training. There is no reason to be riding 30 mph on the trail, especially anywhere east of Ashburn. To be honest, my rides generally average 15 mph. There are lots of intersections where cyclists and runners really, really should come to a complete stop. When I was in driver’s ed a million years ago, my instructor gave us the advice to assume that everyone on the road is an idiot, and distracted. That is good advice on the trail too—be a cautious, defensive cyclist and assume that everyone else is distracted. Life is too short to be racing a time trial on the W&OD.

    As for passing warnings, a bell is nice, or a polite warning. To the runners, I prefer to say, “Looking strong, runner…I’m coming up on your left”. People tend to respond better to someone who is being nice than someone shouting at them.

    From a runner’s perspective, cyclists should know that running kind of sucks sometimes! When you are toward the end of a run, you can get kind of out of it–you really are focused on just being done with the torture (especially during the hot summer!!) It really does scare the daylights out of someone when they are off in lala land and a bike comes flying past without warning.

    For all, those ear buds. I get that it’s nice to have some music, but if you must have it, it really is best just to put it in one ear. I think it’s bad practice in general to listen to music while running/cycling (especially on the trail!!). Sometimes I see two people running together, both listening to music. that’s a real head scratcher!!

    Just remember, we all share the trail. When you see a mom running while pushing a double stroller and a dog leash, please tell her she looks awesome. When you see a little kid swerving all over the trail, tell him that he’s doing a great job on the bike and to keep up the good work. When you see a runner struggling, tell them to stay strong; they’re doing great. And when you see a cyclist, smile and say “great day for a ride”.

    Let’s keep the trail friendly and safe!

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