Park Authority Extends Hours on W&OD Trail
Users can now walk or ride on the trail from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Arlington to Herndon.
Sunrise and sunset will no longer bind walkers, runners and cyclists using the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has extended the hours of the trail for the first time, posting nearly a dozen signs from Shirlington in Arlington County through the far town limit of Herndon announcing new hours of 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The NVRPA said the decision was driven largely by the needs of commuters, who — especially during winter months — have no other choice but to use the trail after dark.
“As we all look for ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and improve both our health and environment, cycling to work is one great option. We want to be part of the solution, and help make this kind of healthy choice an option,” NVPRA Executive Director Paul Gilbert said in a statement. “Making the W&OD available during commuting hours is a significant step in the movement to encourage more non-motorized transportation.”
The new hours also come with a set of additional rules. Among them, according to the NVRPA:
- Riders are required to wear reflective clothing that can be easily seen from the front and rear.
- All bicycles must be equipped with at least one white headlight light that is visible in clear weather from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and a red reflector visible from 600 feet to the rear.
- Bicycles must be equipped with a taillight visible from a distance of at least 500 feet. This taillight may be affixed to the bicycle or rider and may be steady or blinking.
- Pedestrians are required to wear reflective clothing that can be easily seen from the front and rear and must carry a light or wear a flashing light.
Before now, the trail was technically "off-limits" each day from sunset to sunrise — a rule that caused problems for late night or early morning commuters.
Elizabeth MacGregor, who posted a photo of the new hours on an online BikeArlington Forum, said the new hours make sense.
She said she's glad there is "now official acknowledgement that we can use the trail during non-daylight hours.
Many of the region's trail users — both pedestrians and cyclists — were already using the trail outside of "official" hours anyway, MacGregor said in an email to Patch.
On some nights, riders, walkers and runners could get away with after-hours use. But on others, they ran the risk of being ticketed by local law enforcement.
They told him to get off the trail, he wrote.
While Wright welcomes the new rules, he wishes the authority would have asked for user input.
For instance, 9 p.m. seems "an arbitrary time for closing the trail. How is that time different than 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.?" he wrote.
"Last night I rode home from a meeting at [Washington Area Bicycling Association] and returned after 9 p.m. According to the new regulations, I'm breaking the rules," Wright said,.
While he and MacGregor welcomed more rules around nighttime visibility —MacGregor noted as a cyclist it's hard to see other trail users even with a good headlamp — Wright wondered how the regulations could be enforced.
He noted in Virginia, cyclists aren't required to use reflective gear on the road, and are only required by law to have a flashing taillight on roads with speed limits of 35 miles per hour or greater.
"It's unfortunate that a cyclist who can ride legally at night on the road would be breaking the trail rules under certain conditions," Wright wrote.
FABB plans to be out on the trail in the coming weeks offering free lights to trail users.
What do you think of the new rules? How will they affect your commute? Tell us in the comments.