Safety in the W&OD Trail

W&OD Trail Rules and Guidelines

The W&OD is a multi-use trail. Please use common sense and courtesy when using the trail. Here are some rules and regulations to make the W&OD a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone:

  • Wear a helmet. While required by Viriginia state law only for those under 15 years old, the wearing of a helmet very often protects the cyclist, skater, etc. from serious or fatal injury if s/he is involved in an accident.
  • An up-to-date, state-by-state overview of the laws regarding the wearing of a helmet may be found at the website to which this link leads. Also useful in this connection is the material at
  • No mopeds or other motorized vehicles are allowed on the trail.
  • Pets must be kept on a leash and under control at all times.
  • Please place all trash in receptacles.
  • The trail is open from 5:00am to 9:00pm from Shirlington in Arlington County, all the way to the western town limit of Herndon in Fairfax County. In other areas, the trail is only open during daylight hours.
  • When on the trail, please travel in the right lane only, and pass on the left.
  • Give an audible warning when passing.
  • Move off the trail when stopped.
  • Unless otherwise posted, pedestrians have the right of way.
  • Travel at speeds that are safe and appropriate to trail conditions and usage.
  • Racing and competitive speed training are not allowed. Permission for footraces, however, may be obtained from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

Tips for Running Safety

by the Road Runners Club of America

  • DON’T WEAR HEADSETS. Use your ears to be aware of your surroundings.
  • Carry change for a phone call or carry a small cell phone.
  • Run with a partner. Run with a dog.
  • Write down or leave word of the direction of your run. Tell friends and family of your favorite running routes.
  • Run in familiar areas. In unfamiliar areas contact a local RRCA club or running store. Know where telephones are, or open businesses or stores. Alter or vary your route pattern.
  • Always stay alert. The more aware you are, the less vulnerable you are.
  • Avoid unpopulated areas, deserted streets, and overgrown trails. Especially avoid unlit areas at night. Run clear of parked cars or bushes.
  • Carry identification or write your name, phone number, and blood type on the inside sole of your running shoe. Include any medical information. Don’t wear jewelry.
  • Ignore verbal harassment. Use discretion in acknowledging strangers. Look directly at others and be observant, but keep your distance and keep moving.
  • Run against traffic so you can observe approaching automobiles.
  • Wear reflective material if you must run before dawn or after dark.
  • Use your intuition about a person or an area. React on your intuitions and avoid if you’re unsure
  • Practice memorizing license tags or identifying characteristics of strangers.
  • Carry a noisemaker and/or OC (pepper) spray. Get training in self defense and the use of pepper spray.
  • CALL POLICE IMMEDIATELY if something happens to you or someone else, or you notice anyone out of the ordinary.

Some additional suggestions for your safety:

  • Let common sense and courtesy be your guides when you use the W&OD Trail; please remember that this is a multi-use resource.
  • When the trail is heavily trafficked, users are advised to proceed in single file.
  • Cyclists and horseback riders should dismount and proceed cautiously across intersections. Be alert to obstacles that may impede vision.
  • Be alert for steep embankments where the roadbed has been built up.
  • Watch for barricades and other potential hazards.
  • Keep off of private property bordering the trail.
  • For your safety, use the trail with a partner.
  • Please report all hazardous conditions to the trail office (703-729-0596, or by e-mail). Emergencies and suspicious activities should be reported to the police immediately.

Skating Rules of the Road

from the International In-line Skating Association

Skate Smart

  • Always wear protective gear: helmet, wrist/elbow/knee pads.
  • Master the basics: moving, stopping, and turning.
  • Maintain equipment: replace worn brakes and rotate wheels.

Skate Legal

  • Obey all traffic regulations (example: stop for stop lights/signs).
  • Skaters have the same obligations as any wheeled vehicle.

Skate Alert

  • Control your speed. Avoid water, oil, and sand.
  • Watch for road hazards. Avoid heavy traffic.

Skate Polite

  • Skate on the right, pass on the left. Call out, “passing on your left.”
  • Always yield to pedestrians.
  • Be a good-will ambassador for in-line skating

Basic Beginner Skate Tips

    • Always practice on a flat, smooth surface.
    • Always control your speed in a manner consistent with your skill and the terrain.

to stop…

  • Assume Ready Stance: Skates shoulder width apart, knees bent, head up, hands in front, and slight pressure on heels.
  • Scissor Your Skates: Move skate with heel brake forward.
  • Apply Brake: Lift toe gradually and put firm pressure on brake.


to start…

  • Assume Ready Stance (see above).
  • Angle Your Skates: Form a “V” with the back wheels touching.
  • Begin Walking Forward: Once moving forward, put weight on one leg and bend knee while pushing and extending the other leg at an angle to the side. Glide while bringing skates back together. Alternate pushing and weight-bearing legs to skate forward.
  • Increase Stroke Width: The wider your stroke, the faster you go.

E-bikes, etc. on the W&OD

Users should be aware that regulations do now permit the operation of electric-assist bikes, etc. on the W&OD Trail. Details regarding the decision as well as some additional information may be found by following either this link (to the NOVA Parks website) or this one (to an article published in Arlington Now back in 2019).


Getting Along with Horses

The W&OD Trail is a shared-use linear park. Trail users are often unaware of the unique safety concerns of horseback riders on the W&OD. Although horses remain on the bridle path that parallels the paved trail most of the time, they do have to cross the paved trail or merge with bike traffic at times. Here are some facts that will help you understand why bicyclists, inline skaters and others should stop when horses are in a shared trail area.

Did you know that…

…horses can see behind themselves because their eyes are set on the sides of their heads?
…what a horse has already seen with one eye may startle it when seen by the other, because the two hemispheres of the equine brain communicate with one another less quickly than those of the human?
…horses have a highly developed flight instinct to escape predators?
…the brain of a horse is only the size of a grapefruit? This accounts for the fact the animal cannot assess the level of seriousness of a threat. When frightened, a tame horse either flees or relies on humans to tell him it’s OK
…horses can panic when approached quickly either from the front or the back?
…any surprise, no matter how small, can cause a horse to panic?

Some helpful tips to prevent accidents involving horses:

  • Do not ring a bell or blow a whistle at or around a horse.
  • Call ahead to the rider “Heads up!”
  • Ask when it will be safe to pass, and wait until the rider says it’s OK to pass.
  • Stop before approaching horses in areas where the bridle path and paved trail intersect or merge. In fact, whether approaching from the back or the front, you should stay off bridges (and their ramps) until horses have cleared them.
  • Mountain bikers on the bridle path should stop before approaching horses either from the front or back, and ask the rider when it will be safe to pass.

How to Preserve the Environment While Cycling

contributed by Rachel Gaffney


Mileage and location markers, and reporting problems

Starting from the southeastern terminus in Arlington, mileage markers have been placed every half-mile along the W&OD Trail. Arlington County has placed an additional set of numbered and color-coded markers every 1/4 mile along the W&OD Trail and the connecting trails in Arlington. Please refer to these markers when reporting to the office on trail conditions, etc., and also when reporting (promptly) to the police any suspicious activity or emergency that you may happen upon.

Alert the W&OD about vandalism

Please assist the W&OD Trail in its effort to control vandalism by promptly either e-mailing or calling the office at 703-729-0596 if you see any graffiti spray-painted on the trail, bridge abutments, retaining walls, or electrical towers. The park staff itself will remove or cover most graffiti. If an electrical tower has been defaced, we will pass along the information to Virginia Power so they may cover the graffiti with gray paint. Be as specific as possible about the location, including the town, nearest mileage marker, nearby streets and, in the case of the power poles, the number on the metal plate attached to the tower. Also, tell us whether it is a round or a steel beam tower.

Studies have shown that a location from which graffiti is quickly removed is much less likely to attract additional defacement.

With your help, we may eliminate — and can certainly minimize — unsightly and sometimes obscene vandalism along the W&OD.