Shared Use Paths: Bikers and Hikers Side by Side on Safety Paths?

“I was doing my morning run with my friend and was clearly visible. The biker hit me. He was going so fast he never even stopped to ask if I was ok. I had to go to the hospital.”

“I was biking on the path and tried to avoid the lady with the big dog. I used my bell.  I called out ‘on your left,’ but her music must have been too loud in her iPod. She finally seemed to hear me and when I was passing, her dog, on an extending leash, suddenly lunged and knocked me over. You should have seen the pebbles embedded in my elbow—they were even worse than the dog bite! And my bike gears got entangled in the retractable leash and needed major repairs.”

In 2012, an elderly female pedestrian was killed by a biker on a shared use path. This wasn’t a reckless young biker in spandex going at high speeds and training for a race. It was a gentleman in his 60s on an $88 hybrid bike who had rung his bell and called out before passing. The woman startled and accidentally moved in front of him.

Conflicting Needs, Varying Speeds

Arkansas River Trail featuring biking, hiking, and jogging side by sideShared-Use Paths are off road trails (paved, crushed limestone or rough) that are used for recreation, commuting and fitness training. Shared-Use Paths attract a variety of users that sometimes have conflicting needs—being shared by people walking, biking, running, skating and exercising their dogs. On some trails pedestrians and bikers are also sharing with those on horseback. Shared use paths attract bicyclists across a wide age range (including children), with a wide range of skill levels, and traveling on many different types and sizes of bikes—hybrids, racing bikes, hybrids pulling a caboose, trail bikes, recumbents, and elliptical bikes. Speeds on a shared trail can range from 1 to 2 miles per hour (slow walkers) up to 30 miles per hour (cyclists).

Tandem Recumbent BicycleIt becomes especially dangerous when some of the users have mobility impairments (and can’t react quickly to the sudden presence of others on the trail at fast speeds). Nearly all shared use paths are used by pedestrians and most paths must also meet accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Some trails having a separate lane for pedestrians and bikers, but on most trails, those sharing them must learn to exercise safety and courtesy.

Trail managers or park districts should post signs and provide information, in different formats, that clearly indicate right of way rules and safety guidelines for trail sharing. These should be available at trailheads and in rest areas. Also, there are safety and courtesy guidelines that can help.

10 Safety Guidelines for Sharing the Trails

  1. Know the right of way rules: Generally, bikers yield to equestrians and to pedestrians. Pedestrians yield to equestrians and allow cyclists to pass. Horseback riders need not yield, but should have control over their horse.
  2. Half a trail: Pedestrians in groups or with pets or children must be mindful to not use more than half the trail. Providing adequate space allows bikers the chance to pass safely. If biking or walking with friends (or with children or pets along) be in single or double file, and when possible, move to single file use when someone is passing you
  3. Right and Left: Stay to the right unless passing. When passing, always pass on the left. However, before passing, look back to ensure that the path is clear. This is true for cyclists and pedestrians. Be sure there is at least  2-feet of clearance.
  4. Stopping—move over off of the trail if you need to check your phone, adjust your lights, eat a snack or.  Adjust your speed to the trail congestion.
  5. Those with pets and children—keep them on a short leash. Children cannot be leashed, but they should be monitored so that they are not walking in the middle of the trail or running unpredictably. Dogs should be on a short leash that is not retractable.
  6. Lights: Use lights at dusk, dawn or at night. Bikers should be equipped with lights on the front and back of their bike. Walkers and runners should also consider using lights at those times of day—either a headlamp or knuckle lights that are made for runners.
  7. Music: Those sharing the trail should not have earbuds in both ears. Walkers, runners, and even cyclists love playing music while they get their workout.  Leave your left earbud out, or get singular earbuds, one type is called One Good. These are safer when sharing the trails.
  8. Courtesy and Offerings: Be courteous. Say thank you when someone allows you to pass. Thank the biker for notifying you that they’re passing. Say good morning or have a great day. If you bump into someone or even startle them, stop, offer an apology and offer assistance–even if (in your mind) it’s not your fault.
  9. Obey traffic signs and signals:  Stop at stop signs and intersections.  Even when crossing driveways.
  10. Bikers and those on wheels on the shared use paths should prepare for the unexpected. Even with sufficient warning pedestrians often are startled and step out in the wrong way, or they step out and turn around to look. Try to prepare for the unexpected.  Unclamp your shoe from the pedal, in case you need to stop suddenly. Slow down. Try to wait to pass when there are none.

Some cities have developed “shared paths” that have separate sections for pedestrians and cyclists.  This is expensive and time-consuming. The Federal Highway Administration suggests ways to solve conflicts between multiple user groups on shared paths:

  • Enforcing local ordinances
  • Posting information about safety rules at trail heads and along the paths.

Illuminated or non-illuminated Informational kiosks can hold brochures about safety guidelines to improve safety and enjoyment on shared use paths. There are many options to choose from and customized kiosks are possible as well.

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