August 2011 - Spokes Magazine

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August 2011 - Spokes Magazine

highways in other parts of the state about what they

knew about zig-zags and what they thought of the concept

– it would only catch on and work if motorists

know what the stripe pattern means.

The council got 425 survey responses, including those

from drivers and trail users. The survey indicated

that people are confused about who's got the right of

way. “Some view these laws as unclear, particularly at

W&OD Trail crossings where STOP signs are directed

toward trail users,” the report states.

Despite the STOP signs, state law clearly gives trail

users the right of way, but many people don't know

this, with 63 percent of respondents saying they

thought motorists did and eight percent saying they

didn't know. State code “does not specify that STOP

signs control pedestrians. It appears that pedestrians

are not bound to obey STOP signs at Belmont Ridge

Road and Sterling Boulevard,” the report states. The

same applies to bicyclists. (Note: trail users are, however,

required by Virginia law to obey flashing WALK/

DON'T WALK signals.)

The study recommends that VDOT's Traffic

Engineering Division and VCTIR study the confusion

caused by this issue with an eye toward perhaps

changing the law. “This confusion could compromise

safety at these and other similar multi-use trail/roadway

intersections,” the report states.

But 73 percent of the motorists surveyed said that

the markings cause them to slow down. As one put

it, “as soon as I hit the zig-zags during the day I bring

my speed down and look to the left/right of the

crosswalk to see if there are pedestrians. If there are,

I stop. Before the zig-zags, sometimes I would remember

and sometimes I wouldn’t.”

But motorists were split on whether they like the

markings. One stated “anything that draws a motorist

attention to pedestrians is a good thing.” But another

opined “the markings are not known by people and are

just a distraction and look silly. A flashing yellow would

make more sense.” Forty percent of the motorists said

the markings increased their tendency to yield.

One danger for motorists when warned to slow down

for a crossing is getting rear-ended by a following

vehicle whose driver didn't also slow down. This has

happened at the affected crossings. While not enough

such crashes took place to come to conclude statistically

that zig-zags affected these types of collisions,

at these sites, they didn't. The researchers looked

at crash data near the sites for five years before and

a year after the stripes were installed to check that.

VCTIR plans to continue to monitor the two crossings

for the next three years. But VDOT isn't sure if it

wants to do more trials.

But even Dougald warns, “you don't want to have

zigzags all over the place because they'll lose their

effectiveness.” They are likely to work best in crossings

involving hills, curves, high trail use, high traffic, high

truck volume, or high crash risk, he says.

The project couldn't say which types of markings work

best (where to put them, what color and so forth)

and indicated the answer to that question may vary by

specifics of crossings (speed limit, number of lanes,

curves, terrain).

So the big problem seems to be that people don't

understand what the zig-zags mean – but they get a

better idea when the lines are combined with other

warnings of an upcoming trail (signs, warning lights).

Traffic authorities simply need to educate motorists

about them.

While not part of the study, Pat Turner, co-chair of

BikeLoudoun, a local advocacy group, stated in an

email “I have seen cars slow, some stop and also some

drivers that seem to pass over the zig-zags way above

the speed limit....I have talked to riders on the trail,

asking what they thought of the lines....The responses

vary but it's not a large sampling.”

The intersections may need some more striping. After

checking the Belmont Ridge Road crossing one April

day, Turner, who is also vice president of the Friends

of the W&OD Trail, reported that “the lines are still

visible but there are sections where they are worn

off. The last time I checked at Sterling Boulevard,

those were worn also. I don't believe they have been

restriped since they were first painted.” (As this story

was written, VDOT had asked a crew to put the zigzags

on the paint list – a backlog naturally develops

over the winter.)

You can view the report at http://www.virginiadot.

org/vtrc/main/online_reports/pdf/11-r9.pppdf.

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