Readers React To W&OD Crossing Regulations - Leesburg Today Online—Daily News Coverage of Loudoun County, Leesburg, Ashburn: News

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Readers React To W&OD Crossing Regulations

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Posted: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 10:36 am | Updated: 10:04 am, Wed Oct 31, 2012.

Last week’s story about the white zigzag lines on Belmont Ridge Road at the W&OD Trail crossing elicited a large reader response—some raising more questions and additional confusion, others offering suggestions for how to address the concerns.

White zigzag lines were painted along northbound and southbound Belmont Ridge Road in April 2009 to notify motorists they are approaching an intersection with the W&OD Trail. But three years after they were painted, motorists, cyclists, runners and walkers still seem confused about how to react to the lines, resulting in accidents and many near misses.

The zigzag lines are not meant to tell motorists how to proceed at the intersection, which should be treated as any other crosswalk.

“The crossing zigzag lines have no effect on the code requirements on what they are supposed to do,” Virginia Department of Transportation’s Northern Region Traffic Engineer Randy Dittberner said. “The code requirements require drivers yield to pedestrians that are crossing. It requires that people using the crosswalk to not enter in disregard of approaching vehicles. There is a trade off there. Both parties are responsible.”

Aside from the zigzag lines, there are diamond-shaped yellow signs posted 600 feet and 690 feet away from the W&OD Trail crossing along Belmont Ridge Road, respectively, according to VDOT, warning motorists of the upcoming crosswalk. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority also posted stop signs on either side of the W&OD Trail, so pedestrians and cyclists don’t enter the crosswalk without first checking to be sure the road is clear of passing vehicles.

Judging from feedback on the newspaper’s website over the past week, people remain unsure whether the zigzag lines and other indicatory schemes are effective.

One commenter wrote, “I think the lines do what they are supposed to do, in that they alert drivers, but only because they don’t know what they mean.”

That is true. The Virginia Transportation Research Council published a study in 2011 that states the zigzag lines have had a positive effect on motorist behavior, but recognizes that “motorists have limited understanding regarding the purpose of the markings.”

Readers commenting on the issue this week also said cyclists are synonymous with motorists, should follow the same road rules as drivers, and shouldn’t be placed in the same category as pedestrians. Indeed, VDOT indicates “every person riding a bicycle on a highway shall be subject to the provisions of the Code of Virginia section on motor vehicles and shall have the rights and duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle unless a provision clearly indicates otherwise.”

However, confusion arises because on the W&OD Trail cyclists are on a “shared-use path” that is defined as a “bikeway that is physically separated from motorized vehicular traffic by an open space or barrier and is located either within the highway right-of-way or within a separate right-of-way,” according to Virginia code.

Therefore, cyclists on the W&OD Trail are not subject to the same provisions as motorists because they are not on a highway.

“One point is clear: The Code treats bicyclists exactly the same as pedestrians, whether they remain on their bikes or dismount,” Dittberner said in an email, referencing the following portion of Virginia code:  “A person riding a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, motorized skateboard or scooter, motor-driven cycle, 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.”

Another major concern people have expressed in the past week is that pedestrians and cyclists enter the crosswalk without regard for approaching vehicles. A commenter stated, “Let’s be frank here—cyclists in Loudoun think they own the roads.” But in this case, pedestrians—and cyclists—have the right-of-way at the intersection.

According to Virginia code, “the driver of any vehicle on a highway shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian crossing such a highway at any clearly marked crosswalk.” Therefore, pedestrians have the right-of-way once they enter the Belmont Ridge Road crosswalk. However, as Dittberner noted, neither pedestrians nor bicyclists are permitted to enter the crosswalk without first checking for passing vehicles.

This week, readers also noted drivers often stop at the crosswalk even when pedestrians or cyclists are waiting on the side of the road to cross. One wrote: “The biggest problem there is people suddenly stopping when no stop is expected by those behind them. Wait until someone slams on the brakes in front of one of the trucks come out of Luck Stone and the truck, loaded with several tons of gravel, can’t stop that fast. If the truck is behind several other cars there will be a chain reaction of smashed cars and people.”

“Drivers stopping for someone who isn’t in the crosswalk creates a hazard as other drivers don’t see the pedestrian or cyclist. This also creates a hazard for opposing traffic who might not see the cyclist approaching and will continue at-speed through the intersection,” another wrote.

Drivers are required to come to a complete stop at the crosswalk, but only if a pedestrian or cyclist is crossing.

Others wondered why a crosswalk was placed on a road with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour in the first place. “I’ve looked up the law, and I believe it says that on a road over 35 mph, you aren’t supposed to stop for a crosswalk. It is much more dangerous to have someone decide to stop there than to just have the bikes wait for a clearing,” a reader stated.

According to Virginia code, there are three places where drivers are required to yield to pedestrians: at a marked crosswalk, at an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, and at any intersection where drivers are on a road with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or less. The third item typically confuses people, Dittberner said.

"In fact, drivers are required to yield to pedestrians when any of the three items are true," he said in an email. "So, for example, if there is a marked crosswalk, drivers are required to yield no matter what the speed limit is.

“In fact, there is no speed limit threshold for installing crosswalks—[VDOT is] permitted to install crosswalks at any location where they help call attention to the crossing and improve traffic safety. VDOT does have guidelines for where marked crosswalks should be installed, but we are not limited to any particular speed limit.”

Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) and his staff have reached out to VDOT to discuss ways to solve the confusion, and the two sides planned to meet this week, after this paper’s deadline.

They will have quite a bit to talk about, as commenters have left many suggestions to improve the situation. One suggested a series of rumble strips, while another proposed VDOT install a light at the intersection, similar to the W&OD Trail crossing at Catoctin Circle in Leesburg. One commenter suggested making it mandatory for cyclists to dismount their bikes before crossing Belmont Ridge Road. Another suggested painting a diamond-shaped sign with the word “caution” on the road, with the zigzag lines underneath to help motorists associate the zigzag lines with how they should proceed. 

Welcome to the discussion.


  • Bob_Smith posted at 2:46 pm on Tue, Aug 14, 2012.

    Bob_Smith Posts: 456

    Ultimately, BRR is going to bridge over a tunnel for the WOD. That was determined years ago by the last BOS, maybe even the one prior to that, and was supposed to be an urgent CIP project, but you know, the economy and all. I recall, the funding wasn't there to build the full width (4 lane, two each direction with median) as it crossed the WOD, so it was decided that in interim, a half section (1 lane each direction) that would eventually be either the north or south bound side, could be built and grade separate the road and trail. But here we are and apparently, those contributing to this article dont even mention this past who knows what the status of things REALLY are. Maybe someone could call the OTS staff and at least tell us public what the plan is, rather than leave it to public speculation...

  • Christian posted at 12:08 pm on Tue, Aug 14, 2012.

    Christian Posts: 2

    I use the trail a few times a week. I wouldn't dare just step out onto that road unless it were perfectly clear. The downhill on one side is almost blind. I just wait for someone to be polite.

    BUT... even police dont know the rules - I work with a woman who stopped for a trail user trying to cross. She was given a ticket for "Impeding Traffic" !

    And it is just going to get worse, so it will end up being a stoplight or a bridge. Bridges are expensive but it would best for both motorists and trail users. They have been very successful on this and other trails in the area! Whoever suggested that gets my vote

  • 1oddmanout posted at 7:50 pm on Wed, Aug 8, 2012.

    1oddmanout Posts: 2

    First, understand the physics - both northbound and southbound drivers are going down hill at 45MPH - what a ridiculous place to put a crosswalk, especially one so busy;
    Secondly, I've ridden a bike down Belmont Ridge Road to the trail, and the cars and TRUCKS are going way too fast.
    One solution is to reduce speed here, but better, install a bridge, like the simple one in Falls Church. As a biker, I'd pay into a fund to have one built (and also at Sterling Blvd.).

  • John Mileo posted at 3:20 pm on Wed, Aug 8, 2012.

    John Mileo Posts: 46

    David's suggestion makes good sense, especially since as he has pointed out, this road incorporates the very same hazardous feature (downhill curves) that is at the intersection of Watson and Evergreen Mills. Perhaps installing Rumble strips in conjunction with a traffic light would be the best and least expensive alternative.

    Bottom line, something that is far safer than the present zig zag lines must be done before we experience a major catastrophe!

  • Shlomo posted at 2:26 pm on Wed, Aug 8, 2012.

    Shlomo Posts: 55

    These zig zag lines might pose even a more serious hazard to someone who may be driving under the influence who thinks that their car is to be driven in accordance with this pattern. (Yes, that was a joke---and for those who are going to comment that "Hey DUI is no laughing matter,” yes I know that, but please get a life and start watching Comedy Central instead of only CNN)!
    But on a more serious note, given that this frequently used thoroughfare is driven by many at high speeds, the two safest alternatives to the current situation would be to either: 1) Install a traffic light at the crossing with a fairly short cycle (no pun intended), which also reverts to a blinking yellow and red light at nighttime so as not to unduly restrict the vehicular traffic flow; or 2) Construct a bridge for the cyclist to cross over Belmont Ridge Rd.

  • David Dickinson posted at 2:06 pm on Wed, Aug 8, 2012.

    David Dickinson Posts: 955

    Regarding rumble strips, several years ago, I contacted then-supervisor Kurtz about the intersection of Evergreen Mills Road and Watson Road. For northbound travelers in particular, this is a very dangerous intersection. Kurtz worked with VDOT to have rumble strips installed, and that evoked a dramatic difference in driving habits (they really get your attention).

    There are similarities in the two intersections. Both are on a slightly downhill curve with large trucks on a road on which people travel faster than they should and suddenly encounter stopped vehicles.

    Rumble strips helped considerably on Evergreen Mills and, given the similarites, I suggest they look at them for this issue also.