August 2011 - Spokes Magazine

August 2011 - Spokes Magazine

Zig Zags

by charles pekow

What may prove the most efficient way to slow down motorists at bike trail crossings?

The straight answer: zig-zags. Not zig-zagging the road; just bending the stripes on it.

An experiment on the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail found that the break

in the pavement marking pattern warns them of a bicycle/pedestrian crossing very

well at a much lower cost than alternatives.

the experiment proved so successful that

it may turn into the start of a change in they way we

warn motorists of trail crossings.

Proponents, however, will have to put the idea

through a long ride with a bunch of stops before traffic

authorities can adopt it at will.

The 45-mile bike trail through Northern Virginia is

one of the most well-used, well-maintained trails in

the mid-Atlantic and connects with many other trails.

It provides a linear path for many commuters and recreational

cyclists as well as other trail users between

Arlington and Purcellville. In its 45 miles, it crosses

roadways more than 70 times and therefore creates

more than 70 potential spots for serious collisions

with automobiles.

To find a way to reduce collisions and injuries, the

Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) tried

a special kind of on-pavement warning for motorists:

a zig-zag. It just replaces white or yellow straight

strips with ones that streak back and forth at an angle

between lanes and along the side of the road as the

street approaches crossings. Alternatively, VDOT

painted wavy stripes down the middle of the lanes.

VDOT tried the markings only at two crossings in

Loudoun County: where the W&OD crosses Belmont

Ridge Road and Sterling Boulevard. But the effect

on alerting motorists proved so effective that VDOT

thinks it should be adopted not just on the trail or in

Virginia – but in many places where bike trails cross a

major road.

The Virginia Transportation Research Council

(VTRC) published a study of the effectiveness of the

markings. It put the burden on VDOT's Northern

Region Traffic Engineering Division to persuade the

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to recommend

zig-zag markings in the Manual on Uniform

Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the guide it publishes

for road managers for all bicycle and auto traffic

signals. And, of course, Virginia wants the National

Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to

consider recommending them in the manual. The

committee will have to do so before the potentially

life-saving and injury-preventing strategy catches on in

this country.

“This is only one study but we thought the results

were so good that they would translate to other areas,”

says Research Scientist Lance Dougald, the principal

study author. (Before testing them in Virginia starting

in 2009, however, VDOT had to get an exemption

zig zags continued on p.20

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August 2011


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