Advancing a livable & sustainable greater Prince William, Virginia

Tag: shared-use paths

City of Manassas Installs Dangerous and Unnecessary Trail Bollards

 

Active Prince William board member Allen Muchnick, a City of Manassas resident, sent the following notice to multiple City of Manassas officials on February 7, 2021:


I was pleased to see the lead article in the January 2021 issue of City Connection newsletter, featuring several newly built asphalt shared-use paths around Manassas.  I commend City staff for working inter-departmentally to quickly fund, design, and build these valuable neighborhood connections.

However, my initial joy over these new connections was soon marred by disappointment and dread upon seeing the four photos of dangerous, unnecessary, and closely placed rigid trail bollards on Slides 20 and 21 of the Manassas Public Works annual report.

While intended to prevent both intentional and accidental intrusions by motor vehicles–and occasionally needed to prevent costly damage to fragile infrastructure, such as foot bridges–hard, rigid bollards installed within the traveled way of shared-use paths have been widely recognized for decades as a substantial hazard for people riding bicycles, causing many severe and permanent injuries and even deaths.   An extensive bicyclist critique of trail bollards is posted here.

For that reason, nationally recognized guidance for the design and construction of shared-use paths have long cautioned against installing hard, rigid bollards on shared-use paths.   A variety of simple and cost-effective alternative design treatments—starting with signs prohibiting entry by motor vehicles—are quite effective at preventing motor vehicle intrusions and vastly safer than trail bollards.

Although NOVA Parks’ 45-mile Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail includes scores of at-grade road crossings, NOVA Parks removed all of its former bollards and fences along that trail more than 20 years ago, in recognition of the significant danger that such obstructions pose to trail users.  NOVA Parks has not seen any need to reinstall trail bollards since.

Where the risks and consequences of unwanted motor vehicle entry is significant and demonstrated, trail bollards should be installed only on the centerline of two-way shared-use paths, and flexible bollards should be used if feasible.  If multiple bollards must be used, they should be used in sets of three (never two or four, to reduce head-on collisions) and spaced at least five feet apart to allow safe passage by bicycle trailers.

The Federal Highway Administration has long warned against installing bollards on recreational trails.  The first bullet point states:  “Even “properly” installed bollards constitute a serious and potentially fatal safety hazard to unwary trail users. In addition, no bollard layout that admits bicycles, tricycles, and bicycle trailers can exclude single-track motor vehicles such as motorcycles and mopeds. For these reasons, bollards should never be a default treatment, and should not be used unless there is a documented history of intrusion by unauthorized cars, trucks, or other unauthorized vehicles.”

Similarly, the AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities (4th Edition, 2012) contains extensive guidance on trail bollards on pages 5-46 and 5-47, including these paragraphs:

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Since the above-referenced newly installed trail bollards are a well-recognized defective and unreasonably dangerous property condition for people riding bicycles, scooters, skate boards, and other devices, I ask that these trail bollards be removed immediately from the paths at Kinsley Mill Park, Tudor Lane, Oakenshaw Park, and Bartow Street and that none be installed along the still-unfinished path along the southern perimeter of the Metz Middle School property.

I’m confident the City of Manassas would never install a rigid bollard within a few feet of any vehicular travel lane, although such obstructions would mostly endanger vehicle exteriors, not human bodies.  So, how can it be considered acceptable to expose non-encapsulated people traveling on balanced bicycles (or simply walking) to such dangerous obstructions?

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How to Submit a Request to Clear Debris from Sidewalks and Trails

If you walk or bike with any frequency in Northern Virginia, I am sure that you have encountered sand, dirt, gravel, grit, broken glass, etc. covering sidewalks and bike trails along our roadways. VDOT has a website for residents to submit service requests that takes only a few minutes to complete. The process is outlined below.

Debris on sidewalk before request was submitted

Photo of debris blocking sidewalk along Old Bridge Rd across from the Old Bridge/Rt 123 Commuter Parking Lot

Sidewalk after clearing by VDOT

Sidewalk after clearing by VDOT within 24 hours of submitted request.

Most roadways and their associated sidewalks and shared-use paths in Northern Virginia are managed by the Virginia Dept of Transportation (VDOT). Exceptions to this rule are where roads are privately owned, such as in some Home Owners Associations, and in some cities, towns, and Counties (such as Arlington County). Most roads in Fairfax and Prince William Counties are owned and maintained by VDOT, not the County governments; therefore, requests to fix problems on the roadways and their associated sidewalks and shared-use paths need to be directed to VDOT on their My VDOT website.

Much of the sand, gravel, grit and debris on our roadsides, curbs, sidewalks, and shared-use paths is left over from the heavy salting, sanding, and plowing that occurred back in January. VDOT does not have a scheduled maintenance program for clearing debris, but they do respond to resident’s requests.

You can easily submit a request on-line for VDOT to clear debris from specific areas that you identify. We recommend that you take a photo of the issue that you want addressed, then visit the My VDOT website.

1. Select the Type of Request

My VDOT Service Request

My VDOT Service Request Initial Page

On the My VDOT website, select “I need something removed from a road”, then on the right, under “What do you need removed?”, select “Remove debris”, then below that, under “Where is it located?” select “On the shoulder or in the ditch”. Once you have done this, click the Continue button.

2. Enter the Location

My VDOT Service Request

My VDOT Service Request Location Page

On the Location page, you will enter information about where the debris needs removal from. You can either zoom in on the map and click the location to drop a pin, or you can enter an address.  Once you have provided an accurate location, click the Continue button.

3. Add Details and a Photo

My VDOT Service Request

My VDOT Service Request Details Page

On the Details page enter any other information VDOT maintenance crews should know about the issue, such as details about the debris, or if it is blocking or impeding use of the road/sidewalk/trail. Enter a description, and be sure to mention if the debris needs clearing from a sidewalk or trail (shared-use path). Under the “Do you have an image or file to share?” section click the Choose File button to add the photo that you took of the debris, then click the Continue button.

4. Enter Contact Information

On the last page, enter your name and email address, and check the boxes if you want to be notified about status updates or create an account (both optional). You can receive status updates via email or text messages (if you provide a mobile phone number).

My VDOT Service Request

My VDOT Service Request Contact Page

You can also check the status of your submitted service requests by returning to the MyVDOT website and logging on if you created an account, or by entering a service request number.

MyVDOT Service Request Status

MyVDOT Service Request Status

NOTE: Residents can also submit service requests to VDOT for trail and sidewalk repairs, and road issues like pot holes and sign repair. The first webpage  has options for other types of requests under “How can we help you?”