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Votes

Cyclists Choose the Open Road

Springfield resident Walter Brodtman doesn’t enjoy the 1- to 2-inch bump he encountered where the bike trails meet the bridges along the Fairfax County Parkway, particularly east of Springfield Mall. That's just one of the reasons he rides on the road instead of bike trails around the county.

“They got places where the bridges don’t match the trail. One or two inches is pretty severe on the bike tire,” he said.

Despite the dangers on the road, Brodtman is among a number of bicyclists who will not ride on the bike trails. He cites bad trail conditions, speed, access and destinations as reasons he travels on roads. He goes from his home in Springfield, east on Franconia Road to Eisenhower Avenue, through Alexandria to his office in Washington, D.C., every day for six months of the year. The trail segment along Eisenhower is another place that needs work, according to Brodtman.

“That trail is getting to be in very bad shape. The asphalt needs to be replaced there,” he said.

Another hazard Brodtman encounters is the broken glass that litters the bridge over I-95 just south of Springfield Mall.

“I don’t think they put any money into the maintenance,” he said.

Ed Gilliland, a project manager at the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA), knows the rights bicyclists have on the road.

“A bicyclist has full use of the roadways as any other motorist. Bicyclists are required to follow the same rules as cars,” Gilliland said. This includes stop signs and lights as well as riding on the sidewalk in the District of Columbia. WABA recently teamed up with the D.C. police in the Safe Streets Campaign to enforce the rules of the road for bicyclists.

Kingstowne resident Jeff Wood is another cyclist who sticks to road riding. Wood has both a high-end racing bike and his everyday bike, which is a Cannondale brand. He estimated putting 200 miles a week between his two bikes. Speed is one reason he stays on the street.

“I’ve gone fast on the trails, and I know I shouldn’t. They’re overcrowded,” he said.

Wood is from Ohio, where road riding is more common.

“In Ohio, they don’t have trails like they do around here,” he said.

He likes the open road, without dog walkers, mothers with strollers or slow riders to worry about.

“You don’t have anything to worry about. Why can’t we share the road?” he said.

Brodtman noted the same hazards on the trails, in addition to the bicyclists enjoying the scenery more than riding.

“There’s a different class of bicyclists on the trails,” he said.

ALAN MUCHNICK, a WABA member of 14 years and past president, takes his bike everywhere and rides on the roads most of the time.

“That’s where I ride,” he said and goes on the trail only “if there’s a good trail going where I’m going.”

Muchnick is a resident of Arlington, where there are 26 miles of bike trails that are part of the road. He likes that better than a strip of asphalt off to the side.

“That’s the most dangerous place to ride a bicycle," he said of the side trails, "You’re much more likely to get in an accident on those trails.”

Dangers that Muchnick has seen on trails include intersections with commercial driveways, poor designs, inadequate maintenance and potholes.

“The trails are essentially pedestrian facilities. All my crashes have been on trails,” he said.

He remembered one accident he had involving a jogger.

“One time, I had a jogger that came around a blind curve. It was a poorly designed trail,” he said.

He avoided a collision with the jogger, but his bike suffered some damage.

Springfield cyclist Teri Larriva experienced bad trail conditions as well.

"I had nine flat tires last year," she said.

Larriva predominately uses the trails for safety reasons but occasionally rides with a group that uses the roads.

"When I'm with the Potomac Pedalers, I ride on the road," she said.

FAIRFAX COUNTY Park Authority trail coordinator Jenny Pate looked at the budget woes, realizing the priority of the park bike trails.

"We have a maintenance schedule for the park trails. A lot of our trails are getting older," she said.

Most of the trails along roads are a Virginia Department of Transportation issue, and Pate is exclusively involved with the trails that go through the parks. She looked at the wide variety of users.

"There's a lot of different kind of riders out there. Our trails are not designed for speed, they're designed for recreation," she said, reiterating the parks' bike trail code: "Keep your bike under control."

New park trail additions for the near future are an extension of the Accotink Trail under Little River Turnpike, stream crossings, and the Long Branch Stream trail, which will be a stone-dust trail but will allow bikes.

"These are things that are going for bid this winter," she said.

WOOD ADMITS he doesn’t always adhere to the rules, though he’s aware that bicyclists are supposed to.

“I’ll admit, I don’t,” he said.

There are tickets issued in Fairfax County to bicyclists, according to Fairfax County Police spokesperson Julie Hersey.

“They have to follow the same vehicle code. It’s the same kind of ticket,” she said.

Although the ticket is physically the same as a motorist’s violation ticket, it does not put points on the bicyclist's driving record, even if the bicyclist has a driver’s license, according to Hersey. Fairfax County Police did not have statistics on the number of bicyclists that have received tickets.

“We don’t write enough to warrant keeping statistics on it,” Hersey said.

Muchnick said he always obeys the traffic rules while biking but also noted the “California roll” coming into play when he comes to a stop sign.

“It’s not necessary to come to a complete stop, the important thing is to yield to traffic,” he said.

Muchnick was confronted by police once when he was riding on a bike trail at night, which is not allowed. He thinks that doesn’t make sense, because cyclists are much more likely to get hit by cars on the street at night when visibility is even less. Riding on a trail at night would make more sense, according to Muchnick.

“It’s a Class IV misdemeanor to ride your bike on the trail after dark. I talked my way out of it, but they said, 'don’t ride on the trails after dark,'” he said.

Brodtman knows all about rolling through stop signs, but he limits it to when he’s in a residential section.

“It’s truly a rolling stop. If there’s not a reason to stop, you keep your momentum going. I’ve heard stories about bicyclists getting tickets,” he said.

MOTORISTS DON’T always agree with sharing the road. Wood has heard their dissatisfaction.

“I have some people stop, they wait for you up at the light. If you get somebody that’s really mad, you just get on the trail. I have some people screaming at me,” he said, noting a common complaint he’s heard is the fact that there are a lot of tax dollars going into the trail system, and there are still bicyclists on the road.

Larriva's seen hostility, too.

"I had a full can of Coke thrown at me," she said.

In “The Essential Touring Cyclist” by Richard A. Lovett, a motorist confrontation is addressed.

“Keep a cool head, even if they throw things or deliberately run you off the road. Ignore them if possible; pull off the road if not,” it stated.

Muchnick has experienced hostility on the road as well. He thinks it comes out from a lack of knowledge by the motorists.

“They don’t understand that a bicycle has just as much right on the road. Bicyclists are driving a vehicle,” he said.

There are dangers involved on the road as well. According to Hersey, there were 40 accidents on the roads involving bicycles in 2001, and as of Oct. 7, there were 48 accidents thus far in 2002.

Although Brodtman has had his share of encounters with irate motorists, it hasn't occurred that much with him.

“There’s not that many, but a few. Most motorists are fairly polite,” he said.

SPRINGFIELD motorist Luke Myers thought since it's tax dollars that pay for the roads, everyone has a right, but bikers should follow the rules, just as the motorists do.

"I don't mind when they're on the road when they're following the signs and all. Roads are for everybody, it's all our tax dollars paying for it," Myers said.

Alexandria resident Servio Medina rides on a professional level and has been in 25-30 races in recent years. He rides with a group, National Capitol Velo Club, which consists of 180 members, though not all ride at one time. He is a "Cat 4" rider, which is Category 4. Cat 1 is the best, and Cat 5 has the least racing experience, according to Medina. The races give the riders points, and that determines their Cat level.

Those riders ride on the road in groups, usually two side by side, with brightly colored biking attire for visibility purposes. There are usually 12-18 inches in the front and rear between bicyclists and 12 inches on the side, he said.

“Two riders abreast on the road is very noticeable to motorists. There is some danger involved; if one person goes down, others go down,” Medina said. In the racing world, they also do that for "drafting," which is to lessen wind resistance.

He stays strictly on the roads as well, and maintains a 20-22 mph speed.

“Bicycles going at 15 mph is basically three times what joggers or people walking dogs [travel]. The trails are for people that want to enjoy nature,” he said.

Medina did receive a ticket for rolling through a stop sign in Gainesville, Fla., when he lived there.