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REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Cyclists and walkers share the Roanoke River Greenway near Smith Park in Roanoke.
Kyle Green | The Roanoke Times 5/15/2012 Roanoke Mayor David Bowers (middle, dark suit) shakes hands with Randy Newberry (left on recumbent bike) while walking on a bridge over the Roanoke River with Roanoke City Vice-Mayor David B. Trinkle (middle, back) after the opening of an extension of the Roanoke River Greenway on Thursday. The newest stretch of Roanoke River Greenway runs between Memorial Bridge and Bridge Street.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Last week in this space we established that, at certain times and places, there’s a problem with user conflicts along the Roanoke River Greenway. Between my inbox, my blog and this newspaper’s Facebook page, the subject attracted scores and scores of comments from readers.
Pedestrians feel threatened by speeding bicyclists; the cyclists feel threatened by dog owners who don’t control their leashed pooches; certain walkers hog the whole width of the asphalt path — and so on.
So, what can be done about it? For some answers, I looked to some other communities that have more extensive greenway systems and longer experience dealing with user conflicts.
The first was Raleigh, N.C., which has been developing a greenway network since 1976. It now has 100 miles of paved paths, said Victor Lebsock, Raleigh’s senior greenway planner. His first words of advice were that such conflicts will always exist.
They’ll also always be greater in the spring, he said, because that’s when more users flock to greenways than any other time of the year.
“I don’t think you can ever alleviate [conflict],” Lebsock said. “What you can do is mitigate it.”
Since its inception, Raleigh has posted a 10-mph speed limit for cyclists on its greenway (it’s 15 mph here). They have a center line striped on certain congested sections, to remind users to keep to the right.
Through the police department, Raleigh also has an “ambassador” program that puts trained volunteers out on greenways. Ambassadors are not greenway nannies who confront rule-breakers. Rather they answer questions and serve as eyes and ears for police, Lebsock said.
Most important of all, he added, is continually educating and promoting the need for courtesy by everyone: stay on the right; allow passing on the left; cyclists should warn pedestrians when they’re overtaking; leashes on animals should be no longer than 6 feet.
“By providing information and guidance we hope to mitigate the problems,” Lebsock said.
Another place I checked was the WO&D Trail in Northern Virginia, a 45-mile long asphalt path between Purcellville, in Loudoun County, and the Shirlington area of Arlington County.
It opened in 1974 and may be the most heavily trafficked rails-to-trails project in Virginia. One advantage it has over many greenways is revenue it derives from sharing its right-of-way with fiber-optic cables owned by telecommunications providers.
Similar to Raleigh’s ambassador program, the WO&D has a trail patrol that numbers about 50 volunteers who “are out and about on a daily basis,” said trail manager Karl Mohle.
“They are eyes and ears for us,” Mohle said. “They help make sure people are maintaining trail etiquette and so forth.”
There’s no speed limit, he said. If there were, it would be impossible to enforce because the trail crosses so many different jurisdictional boundaries, Mohle added.
In some congested sections, the WO&D has widened the paved asphalt path to 12 feet. For 32 miles on the western end, there’s an adjacent crushed stone path that many pedestrians feel more comfortable on.
The city of Denver has about 200 miles of greenways, said Jeff Shoemaker, executive director of the Greenway Foundation, which oversees and promotes them.
In many places Denver has parallel paved paths — one for road cyclists and roller-bladers and another for everyone else. In other places there are adjacent crushed stone trails for pedestrians. In locations where both are unfeasible, the greenway has a yellow center line.
“As simplistic as [the center line] sounds, it’s proven to be effective. It keeps me focused and on the right. … It’s as beneficial for pedestrians as it is for cyclists,” Shoemaker said.
All of the above is worth mulling because of a fatal greenway accident in the summer of 2012 on the Four Mile Run Trail (which is 7 miles long) in Arlington.
A cyclist about to overtake an elderly pedestrian warned he was approaching by signaling her with his bell and calling out. Rather than moving out of his way, she moved directly into his path.
When he hit her she went down and struck her head on the pavement; she died later at the hospital. Police deemed it an accident and no charges were filed.
Something like that is the last thing anybody wants to happen on our popular and growing greenway. A little bit of extra courtesy and care by all users will help make sure it doesn’t.
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