Motorized Vehicles Prohibited

The W &OD Trail website ( has on its main page the news that the trail will be repaved from Isaac Newton Square in Reston (we easily gravitate toward that spot) to Hunter Mill Road.  It’s old news now.  That work was done during March and early April.  Repaving was also done in other areas, including a stretch between Hunter Mill Road and Vienna, between Herndon and Reston, and from an overpass bridge west of Rte. 28 up to the Rte. 28 overpass bridge.  The website also warns us that between March 15 and April 25 the new trail bridge over the Capital Beltway will be completed and the trail redirected onto it.  I passed it this morning and it looks like that event will be at least two weeks away, More like May 10.

Such are the vagaries of work on the Trail.  What is universal is the erraticism of the notification of disruptions, ranging from overkill to premature to none.  Especially in the early spring, cycling on the W&OD is a crap shoot.  If it’s not major maintenance it’s Park Authority trucks doing the first mowing of the year or investigating some minor trailside issue.  Some of the time they are pulled off the trail; other times they are half-on and half-off the trail, sometimes blocking important sight lines on curves.  On occasion the truck is empty and the door left open (I wonder if anyone’s ever been “doored” by a park Authority vehicle).  I have seen Park Authority drivers napping in their trucks that are half on the trail surface.  Cripes!  One more group that fails to grasp the concept that the Trail is a place where people, some on mechanical vehicles, want to move.  If you, your girl friend, your dogs, your kids, or all of the above need to stop for a chat, a diaper change, a bite to eat, a cellphone call, a nap, or whatever, get off the trail.  It is a passageway, not a rest area!

You can’t expect much from the repavers.  Some of the crews are really good, while others seem to believe that the trail has been closed for as long as they’re working on it, and they  park their vehicles dead center on the trail, requiring a dismount and walk-around.  The crews hired by the power company are equally erratic in their degree of awareness and sensibility.  Dominion Electric (or one of their subcontractors) is always working on tree trimming, striving to keep the twenty-five foot high saplings in the right-of-way from crashing down on top of their fifty-foot high power lines.  They usually do a pretty good job; I don’t envy them the task of having to look out for passing trail users as they run their chippers.  But the occasional crew runs the whole operation right on the trail tarmac rather than off to the side.

The best vehicles on the trail are usually the Park Rangers.  They have to drive the trail once a day from one end to the other, as I learned from a Park Ranger who was a student of mine once.  They roll along slowly, slow down and pull aside to let you by, and keep the trail checked.  They always get a wave from me.

Other motorized trail users I have seen include Town of Herndon maintenance vehicles servicing the library grounds, the odd Segway, police vehicles on what I assume is official business, police motorcycles which are usually on business less easy to understand or justify, escorting groups of bicyclists on special fund-raising rides or civilian motorcyclists on god knows what kind of mission.

Signs at various Trail entrances say “motorized vehicles prohibited.”  This is true, I guess, except for whenever some authorized or semi-authorized user chooses to make an exception.  This late winter and early spring has been exceptional in the number and variety of motorized vehicles on the trail.  Today, for the first time in months, I encountered no vehicles of any kind on my ride.  I hope for more of the same; I hope that the special and routine maintenance and construction projects are coming to an end; I look forward to a summer of blissful rides with only the occasional Park Ranger to wave at.

And the first cyclist with an electric bike that I see out there is going to get an earful.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2011.

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