Friday, March 07, 2014

Snow on the W&OD Trail

Snow Blowing on W&OD in Arlington
As cycling on the W&OD Trail is used more and more as a commuting alternative there is more pressure to clear the trail after snow storms. 

Years ago, when the trail was purely recreational some cross country skiers would enjoy the trail when it was snow covered, and there was less pressure from cyclist to have it cleared.

After the snowmageddon of 2010, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority purchased an industrial sized snow blower attachment for one of our tractors to clear areas of the trail after significant snow (pictured). Although we had a lot of snow in the winter of 2014, it is interesting to think about the extremely mild winters we had in 2011 - 2013. While we can get a foot of snow or more on occasions, it is rare for us to have winters like we just had.  

After the 'arctic vortex' winter we have just had we can all see that the roads are very damaged: lots of pot holes, lane striping and sidewalk marking are worn off. VDOT and City/County transportation departments will spend a lot of money in the spring and summer fixing the damage. Some of this damage is from the impact of plowing. Because the Regional Park Authority does not have the resources to rebuild the trail after every snowy winter, our preferred snow removal technology is blowing the snow. While blowers have an impact, it is less than the plows. In 2009 NVRPA invested in significant pavement markings to improve safety. These markings include rumble strips prior to every intersection, "Stop Ahead" lettering and other markings. In 2012/13 we added a highly reflective center stripe, again to enhance safety. With a ten foot wide, and 45 mile long paved trail, we are re-paving areas of the trail, and placing the markings in the re-paved areas every year as part of our ongoing maintenance, to keep it as the premium trail in the region. This maintenance investment means that every inch of the trail is rebuilt about every ten years. 

For significant snow fall of more than a few inches, and when the weather forecast calls for below freezing temperatures for a number of days, NVRPA will start in Arlington and clear the trail of snow with its snow blower moving west. If it is a very minor snow with a forecast for warm temperature and sunshine within a day or two, we will likely let mother nature clear the trail.

Large snow falls create many hazards to cyclist including: roads narrow, sidewalks disappear, sight lines are blocked by mountains of snow, and then there are all the slick areas with ice patches. Even if the W&OD trail is passable after a large snow storm cyclist should consider their entire route and think about whether it is safe to break out the bike, or if they should consider another route until conditions improve. Remember snowy streets in Northern Virginia is not a long-term condition.

I cycle to work sometimes, and I understand the desire to get out there and ride. But please consider the safety of you and others before heading out.


Bruce Wright said...

Thanks to NVRPA for committing to clearing the trail. It's such an important asset to the Northern Virginia community that having access during the winter is a great benefit to cyclists and all the other trail users.

S. Arlington Observer said...

Thank you for getting the blower. It gives confidence that the trail will not be clogged for weeks by a heavy snow --- especially in Arlington where the heaviest commuter traffic exists.

Henry said...

Please add my thanks to Paul Gilbert and the NVRPA. The W&OD is such a huge part of the growing bike transportation network. This effort is much appreciated and will complement Arlington's trail clearing plan nicely.