Fitting a jogger, a mother with stroller, a rollerblader and a speeding bicyclist on a 10-foot strip of asphalt is a tight squeeze but a daily occurrence on the Mount Vernon Bike Trail. Without some kind of civil rules to adhere by, the trail on a sunny Saturday afternoon could turn into a triage center in no time.
According to the National Park Service which maintains the trail, there were 19 reported accidents on the Mount Vernon trail in FY2007, and 16 in FY2006. The trail is officially known as a multi-use trail, and not restricted to one type of recreation.
Old Town resident Joyce Bliss is a jogger that pushes her son Garrett, in a jogging stroller and forgets her troubles. I love the bike trail, its part of the community to be on the bike trail, she said. Everbodys awareness needs to be high, she said.
Dave Borsos, a biker who frequently rides down the Mount Vernon trail, agreed.Too many people just riding and not paying attention, said Borsos. He had a co-worker that was jogging when she was run over by a passing bicyclist.
According to the National Park Services list of rules, cyclists should travel in single file and give audible warnings before passing. That rule is reiterated in the Washington Area Bicyclists Association rules, which states announce that you are passing by saying passing, ringing a bell, or by making some other audible signal, and again in the City of Alexandria rules. Bicyclists must yield to pedestrians and provide an audible notice when passing, cited Yon Lambert, the city pedestrian and bicycle coordinator. He recommends a bell as well, and distributes them for free at city cycling events. Sepideh Salehi and Cameron Taheri got the list of rules when they bought their bikes recently from a bike store in Shirlington.
Although that rule is common knowledge for cyclists everywhere, it takes a certain level of courtesy to adhere to it, and some dont see a need for it. Theres a lot of people that dont do that, said Borsos. Everybody has to be cautious added Bennett Moore, who works at Big Wheel Bikes on The Strand.
Some would even like to see the audible warning rule enforced. Those that choose to ignore them, there should be consequences, said Aaron Naas, a Fairfax County resident that uses the Mount Vernon Trail. Speeding past without an audible warning should be a fine, Naas added.
Without pointing the finger at anyone, the bicyclists they were talking about racing bikes with thin tires, 15-speeds, and curly handle bars like the 10-speeds of old. Some of them think theyre Lance Armstrong, added Gary Williams, a Mount Vernon resident thats had a few close calls running on the trail. Theres always going to be arrogant people, he said. Lambert encourages trail users to be responsible. At the same time, the walkers and joggers should stay in their lane, walk near the edge of the trail and never three or four across.
This year, the City of Alexandria is partnering with NPS and WABA on a new Bicycle Ambassador program with trail safety, volunteers. The ambassadors will be attending farmers markets and other outdoor activities around the city all summer, talking about bicycle safety and handing out information. Lambert encourages people use the trail in small groups, refrain from using headphones, and to use common courtesy. The city does offer a bicycle safety class. The National Park Service has also established an internal committee to improve the safety on the trail.
Marcello Soliz notices the popularity of headphones, and says those people are in their own zone. According to WABA, cyclists cant ride with headphones in both ears in some jurisdictions.
D.C. resident Josh Marks owns a 15-speed street bike, and averages 17 miles per hour when hes cruising, but notes that there is a time and place for everything. On a warm Sunday afternoon, this is not the time for me to ride really fast, he said. There are other times to do that on the Mount Vernon trail, such as early in the morning, or on other trails that are more isolated and wide open for speed riding. The W&OD trail in western Fairfax County is one such trail.
As the warm weather settles into this area, trail safety is urged. Im not sure what the answer is, safety has to be the number one concern, said Bliss.