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Biking by Rules

Town could start greater enforcement as bike trail safety concerns rise.

When Craig Burns, a local pastor of the Vienna Assembly of God church, jogs along the W&OD Trail in Vienna in the mornings, he notices that at least nine of 10 bikes with him on the trail do not follow safety regulations.

"It’s dangerous out here, it’s very dangerous to have children out," on the W&OD Trail, said Burns. "I’ve been here for 20 years, and I have to say that each year is worse."

While running on the W&OD Trail in the early dusk hours about one year ago, Burns was hit in the back and knocked over by a cyclist, he said.

Those same concerns were voiced last Monday in a Vienna Town Council meeting by the municipal attorney, Steve Briglia. He recommended increasing enforcement of the town’s bike laws to curb cyclist-related safety concerns.

"You hate to try and legislate common sense, but as these areas continue to grow, the bike traffic isn’t getting any better and we need to reinforce them as well," Briglia said, adding that police have seen a spike in recent years of citizens complaining of reckless bike riding on town trails and sidewalks. "We’re not trying to start a class war between pedestrians, bikers and motorists, we’re just trying to draw some attention to this … and say use your head."

WHILE ON STREETS, cyclists technically fall under the same rules as motorists, including stopping at stoplights and stop signs, and obeying proper lane usage, although they are rarely ticketed, Briglia said. On sidewalks and trails, town governments are able to exercise their own regulations, he added.

As the issue comes up to council at its July 2 public hearing, residents will have the opportunity to voice opinions about the possibility of increasing the enforcement.

It’s important to note that cyclists should not feel as if they’re being targeted unfairly by the town, according to Briglia. But they need to keep an eye out for posted rules and regulations that add to the safety of local sidewalks and trails, he said.

Briglia added that he, too, is a bike-rider.

"Police don’t like giving tickets to cyclists as it’s a pollution and traffic-free form of transportation, it’s healthy," he said. "There just needs to be more of a word out among the cyclists that they must also follow the rules."

THE NEED TO REMIND cyclists to follow the rules is important, said Oakton resident and bike rider Mark Hyer, as he took a break from an early-morning ride on the W&OD Trail in Vienna.

"I think sometimes cyclists can get a little aggressive with pedestrians, and I think that we need to think about and respect the bike rules," Hyer said, "but motorists need to also be reminded to keep an eye out for us."

Cyclists who slow at stop signs are more common than those who actually come to a complete stop, said Bud Rice, a Reston resident who rides his bike to work on the W&OD Trail on most days.

Enforcement on more crowded, family-oriented days in downtown areas on the bike trail may be the most prudent option for police looking to improve community safety, said John Whelpley, an environmental engineer and bike commuter on the W&OD Trail who lives in Vienna.

"It would be good to see some police out here, reminding people and making it a little safer, especially during the good [weather] months," said Whelpley. "I think especially with the improvement to downtown that you’re seeing a lot more people out here on the weekends and nice afternoons."

"And it gets congested and it can be a safety hazard for anyone trying to ride."