Biking for Transportation

An Audible Warning

Multi-use trails, a respite from the hectic traffic that the DC area is known for, right?

If you have ever set foot, bike tire or hoof on the W & OD trail on sunny Saturday morning, you might know that the experience can be quite the opposite.

It is great that so  many people use the trail for bike commuting, running, walking, rollerblading, horseback riding, standing still in large groups to have conversations and confused looks when angry cyclists swerve around them at dangerous speeds.

The issue is that with so many different uses & high traffic there are countless opportunities for accidents, frustrations and weird interactions.

So there are these cute little signs that have a list of rules and recommendations for trail use. They are in fairly small print and lengthy to boot.

I am a rule following type, so I actually have stopped and read the rules ( more than once). It is pretty unrealistic that the entire population would have this same tendency and really unlikely that those who do read rules interpret them the same way.


One of the rules posted on signs along the trail is to give “an audible warning when passing on the trail”.

I think this is a good rule.

Nothing like being snuck up on by a person on a $5,000 bicycle outfitted in $500 worth of clothing to scare you into to doing something stupid like swerve right into them or off the trail.

Is it really such a bother to say “passing on the left”? I know you may not want to weigh down your carbon fiber masterpiece on wheels, but bells work great.

If you are pedestrian using a multi-use trail, I have one piece of advice, expect bikes to pass you. They might be of the silent ninja variety or over-eager bell ringers, or vocal “on your left” types.  But there are bicycles on these trails, my friend.

I am a bell-ringer, myself and I am always amazed by how many pedestrians look  shocked when I sound my bell.

There are times when I have a choice between two different bike-able routes to a destination. The question I ask myself is – Do I want to deal with the bike and pedestrian traffic on the trails or the car traffic in the bike lanes?

It might seem like an obvious choice given the potential for serious injury with cars. But I often choose the bike lane and deal with the cars ( when I am not pulling  my daughter in the trailer) because of the stress I feel dealing with the complex soup of passing pedestrians who are trying to pass other pedestrians and sharing the trail with cyclists who can be unpredictable due to the variation of rule following styles.

I have had some terrifying near misses that have mostly to do with people moving too fast or pretending like they will have the whole trail to themselves as they travel through blind curves.

There was a recent accident between a runner & cyclist.

Bike Arlington ( a program aimed at increasing more biking in Arlington) has a cute acronym to remind everyone about how to travel through the environment with safety in mind.

Here is a link to their website:

“Be a PAL” is their campaign. It stands for be Predictable, Alert and Lawful.

I like it because it short and to the point and applies to everyone, no matter their chosen form of transport on a given day . So many times lists of rules become overwhelming and the tendency for many of us is to ignore them.

So, be a PAL when you are passing someone on the trail and give an audible warning.

8 thoughts on “An Audible Warning”

  1. Thanks for the post! I often choose the bike lane because I’m traveling faster than I deem safe for the multi-use trails. I think those trails are designed more for the leisure rider or the riders with trailers. My pet peeve is when you have 3 or 4 pedestrians that span the width of the trail, completely oblivious to what/who is around them.

    1. Thanks for reading, Andrea. I am so happy to hear that you choose the road because you know you are too fast for the paths. It is an excellent point!

  2. Yes, I’m a rule follower and a audible warning giver, but the number of people (walkers, runners, riders, etc.) wearing headphones does not help the cause of safety.

    1. Thanks for reading, Greg! Yes! It is hard to be alert if you shut yourself off from being able to hear the world around you. I was planning to write a post about this very issue! Staring at little screens is also problematic.

  3. Hi! Nice to find your blog! I’m glad I’m not the only rule-follower. : ) I’m not sure which is worse – the roadie who says nothing or the roadie who mumbles “onyerleff” as he’s passing you (yes, it’s usually a guy). My bells (one on both the road bike and the commuter bike) sound louder, more clearly, and can be used BEFORE I reach whomever I want to pass. It’s not that hard. (now, don’t get me started on joggers running the wrong way, towards me, in bike lanes! lol)

    1. Thanks for reading! And I am happy to find your blog now,too. I had one of those mumblers pass me yesterday. I felt like he was trying to whisper in my ear. Ha!

  4. Gina, Going Car-free sounds like a wonderful adventure and challenge for your family.
    Way to go! Wish I could be there right along beside you pedaling away. Actually, that sounds rather dangerous:) but truly, what a great undertaking for your family!

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