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Bicycling on Popular W& OD Trail No Longer a Breeze

More than 2 million people a year  --  including bicyclists and other athletes, commuters and walkers  --  use the Washington &  Old Dominion Trail, making accidents more frequent.
More than 2 million people a year -- including bicyclists and other athletes, commuters and walkers -- use the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, making accidents more frequent. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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The national panic over widening waistlines is partly responsible for the increase, but higher gas prices and traffic congestion are also factors, Peel said.

"For a lot of commuters, cycling to work is not only the healthiest way to get to work, but in an area where the population is growing and in a place where there's so much traffic, it's also the fastest way to get to work," he added.

Scott Binde wouldn't trade his commute on the Mount Vernon Trail from his Alexandria home to his office at the Department of Agriculture in the District for anything, even though he has firsthand experience with the dangers.

Binde, 47, took a spill on the W&OD last year during a ride with friends. The crash threw him over his handlebars, knocked him unconscious and landed him in the hospital, where doctors monitored a brain injury overnight. Still, he prefers biking over driving.

"I have some friends who won't bicycle on the Mount Vernon Trail because they think it's too dangerous," Binde said. "But I'd rather be on my bike than on the Beltway."

Still, the dangers give some W&OD trail users pause. Lorrie Madigan of Ashburn took a break from negotiating traffic on the trail with her three children one recent weekday morning near the 23.5-mile marker in Sterling.

Madigan, 37, felt a little nervous. There was too much congestion and speeding on the trail to let her kids ride unsupervised, she said. "I think it's safer on the street," Madigan added, as a cyclist in sleek wraparound sunglasses and a Ben & Jerry's racing jersey whipped by.

Cindy Cluck, a substitute teacher who lives in Reston, is one of about 35 volunteers who routinely patrol the trail to issue warnings to speeders. Recently on patrol, Cluck, 56, stopped to catch her breath at a makeshift lemonade stand a little west of the 7.5-mile marker in Falls Church. She shook her head as a teenage boy without a helmet whizzed by on his bike.

"Half the people out here aren't wearing helmets," Cluck said. "It just frosts me."

Cluck thinks the patrols are effective but said she wouldn't mind seeing a speed limit imposed. Not long after Cluck moved on, a line of cyclists in yellow race jerseys streaked by, startling a young girl who lurched along unsteadily on her training wheels.

They were long gone before anyone could stop them.


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