Capital Crescent Trail Puts in Speed Limits to Slow Cyclists

Park officials will begin installing speed limit signs and other safety enhancements this week along a 5.5-mile portion of the Capital Crescent Trail.
Park officials will begin installing speed limit signs and other safety enhancements this week along a 5.5-mile portion of the Capital Crescent Trail. (By Chris Rossi -- The Gazette)

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By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Lance Armstrong wannabes be forewarned: Starting this week, the speed limit on the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda will be 15 mph. Tour de France training? Take it elsewhere.

Park officials are installing speed limit signs along the trail in an effort to slow down riders who they say can make the popular pathway dangerous.

Preposterous -- and probably ineffective, many cyclists say.

"People will tend to ride as fast as they ride, whether there are speed limits or not," said Jack Cochrane, an avid cyclist from Bethesda.

Nevertheless, beginning tomorrow (weather permitting), officials with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) will shut down sections of the trail so they can begin posting the signs and installing other safety enhancements along the 5.5-mile portion of the trail that begins in downtown Bethesda and extends to the District line.

People caught violating the limits could face a $50 fine, park police said, although the emphasis will be on educating, not ticketing.

Few, if any trails, in the region have posted speed limits. Trails managed by the National Park Service, for example, have a 15-mph limit, but it is not posted.

The speed limits in Bethesda are just one of several measures officials are undertaking to improve safety on the trail, which attracts more than 23,000 users a week, according to a 2006 survey by the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail.

But many in the Washington region's cycling community are not pleased and think they're being unfairly singled out. What about the dogs that run without leashes? The joggers with the iPods? Cyclists say that the trail is a popular commuter route for cyclists who work in the District and that imposing speed limits might prompt more people to drive.

"It hasn't been thoroughly vetted by the bicycling community," said Eric Gilliland, director of the 7,000-member Washington Area Bicyclists Association. "They've put forward a plan that treats cyclists with a heavy hand and doesn't address other trail users, such as joggers or dog walkers. Speeding on the local trails is an issue, but I think we want to make sure we're taking the right measures to make the trail safer."

Mary Bradford, director of the Montgomery County Parks Department, said the decision to post speed limits did not require a public hearing.

"These measures are not aimed just at cyclists, they're also designed to educate the joggers and walkers," Bradford said.

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