Shared-use paths, or mixed-use paths, are popping up left and right in both cities and rural towns. They provide a fantastic way to get out of the house and get some exercise while enjoying a nice day in the sun. Bikers and pedestrians can both enjoy these paths without interference from motorized traffic.
Unfortunately, there’s some inherent danger whenever bikers, joggers, and walkers are using the same path. According to the Telegraph, 108 people sustained serious injury from a collision with a cyclist in Great Britain alone.
Pedestrians and bikers alike need to take more precautions to avoid injury. Ahead, we’ll give you some steps you can take to prevent injury and argument with fellow mixed-use path commuters.
What Are Considered Shared-Use Paths?
According to the AASHTO, a shared-use path is “a bikeway physically separated from motorized vehicular traffic by an open space or barrier and either within the highway right–of–way or within an independent right–of–way. Mixed-use paths may also be used by pedestrians, skaters, wheelchair users, joggers, and other nonmotorized users.”
In simpler terms, a mixed-use path is a usually paved area where foot traffic, bikes, and skaters can all live in harmony. Of course, there is a fair bit of in-fighting on the mixed-use paths (more on this later), but they’re very useful in many communities for people who want to get around without cars.
Although the broad definition of a mixed-use path is simple, there are several different types of trails that fall into the category of a mixed-used path. The following is a list of those paths with their accompanying definitions:
- Greenway trails: Paths that go through natural areas, as you might see in a state park or reservoir.
- Sidepaths: Paths that are adjacent to regular roads
- Rail-trails: Reformed train tracks turned into mixed-use paths
- Rails-with-trails: Paths next to active railways
- Utility paths: Paths used for the maintenance of such things as power lines, irrigation canals, etc.
- Development paths: Paths on college campuses or in residential buildings for easier commuting on foot and bike.
Best Options for Biking
As a pedestrian, pretty much any of the listed paths work well for walking. Greenway trails are everyone’s favorite, but they might also be heavily populated. Riding a bike on a more remote greenway trail might draw some eyes or negative comments. People don’t tend to love bikers when it’s mostly people walking.
What kind of path you choose depends on your location and riding interest. If you want to go fast, it’s better to pick a less populated area like a rail-trail. If you’re going to ride comfortably and see some scenery, take your time on one of the busier paths.
Controversy on the Path
A lot of pedestrians will get mad at bikers for going too fast, passing them, or coming close to hitting them. On the other side, many bikers will resent pedestrians for going too slow or yelling at them for passing. Each situation is different, but there’s blame enough to go around. Ahead, we’ll cover some general rules that pedestrians and bikers should follow so that everyone has a good time on the path.
The best way to avoid controversy with pedestrians is to take all accommodations into account. In most cases, people use these paths as a leisure activity. People jog, go for walks, and leisurely ride bikes on these kinds of paths. It’s rare to find someone on a serious commute on a mixed-use path. Nobody wants their day disrupted by an argument or accident, so take these tips into account when riding on a shared-use path.
It’s fun to go fast, but if you’re a speed demon, you belong on the road, not on one of these paths. If you’re late for something, choose a more efficient means of travel. Like we said above, these paths are primarily used for leisurely strolls and bike rides, not for races and commuting.
Of course, if there isn’t anyone on the path, you can go as fast as you like. Just keep in mind the fact that kids can be hard to see. They’re quick out there, and one might dart in front of your bike without thinking. Be respectful of your speed, and you shouldn’t have an issue with anybody.
Be Attentive On Busy Paths
If the area is busy, you never know what you’ll run into. Kids can be sporadic, and dogs can be worse. If they see something they’re interested in, a lot of them will go for it without a second thought. If you’re riding at a slow base, you may find yourself drifting off into the scenery. Doing this is fine on unpopulated paths, but on busy paths, you should always keep your eyes facing front.
Keep yourself ready to stop on a dime. You never know if a dog, kid, jogger, or skater is going to jump right in front of you. If your behind another biker, they may even stop short and cause you to ram into them.
Stay With the Flow of Traffic
Riding a bike (or even walking) on a mixed-use path is just like riding in the street when it comes to flow of traffic. Ride on the right, and pass to the left. Don’t try to squeeze by on someone’s right-hand side. That’s a good way to get an earful from a pedestrian.
Stay with the flow of traffic, and don’t try to pass everyone who’s going too slow for you. Wait until the path is clear before passing, and nobody will have any reason to get mad.
Signal Before Passing
Before you pass someone, make sure they know you’re passing them. Give them the traditional, “On the left!” or your version of that. This puts you and the person you’re passing in a better position to stay safe. If it’s easier, attach a bell to your bike and give them a ring to let them know you’re coming. If you’re passing someone who is unaware, they may step into your lane and cause a serious accident.
Even a slight step could cause you to go toppling over your handlebars. If you don’t get hurt, it’s still probably an argument and a damper on your whole day. Stay considerate while passing, and give pedestrians the chance to get out of the way.
Give People Enough Time to React
Just because you yelled, “On the left!” just before passing someone doesn’t mean you’ve done everything the right way. Let them know you’re passing a few seconds before you go ahead of them. Let them process the information and move in the other direction, so you don’t hit them.
You can apply all of the previous considerations to joggers as well, as they’ve been known to run people over from time to time. If you’re a pedestrian, though, you have your own responsibilities to worry about; the primary among them is not getting hit. Many pedestrians blame all of their accidents on runners and bikers, but there are several things pedestrians can do to avoid any altercations on the mixed-use path.
Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
A shared-use path, as the name suggests, is for shared use. It isn’t just a path for pedestrians. As a pedestrian, you need to stay just as attentive your counterpart on two wheels. People who are walking tend to lose themselves in conversation or the scenery, and forget that other people might bowl them over at any second.
If you know, there’s a biker behind you, be ready for them to pass. Step to the side and allow them to go by. They should signal before they pass, but not everyone is going to be so courteous. Assume that the biker behind you doesn’t have any manners, and you’ll be ready to let them go by and continue to enjoy your day.
Don’t Block the Path With a Group
If you have a group of people, stay on one side of the road. Frequently, this means breaking up your group into a few people walking and talking to one another. This way, if a jogger or biker comes by, they won’t have to slam on their brakes as they hit a wall of people.
This consideration is also important when regarding foot traffic going the other direction. Never block the whole path with a group – it’s terrible mixed-use path etiquette.
Don’t Stand in the Path
If you’re tired of walking, don’t stop immediately and take a sip of your water. Pull over to the side so that joggers and bikers have a wider lane in which to operate. If you know there’s a biker behind you, never stop short. This puts you at risk, but if they’re traveling at a slow speed, it might put them at even greater risk. There’s a chance they go sprawling over the handlebars in an attempt to avoid you.
Everyone Get Along
The mixed-use path is for everyone – joggers, skaters, walkers, and bikers. Be nice, polite, and don’t look for a fight with someone. For bikers, this advice is especially true, since bikers get a bad rap as a group. Make your interaction with pedestrians positive, so they don’t hate every biker they see on the road.
Stay alert, stay safe, and have fun. Everyone on the path is enjoying the beautiful day, so make the most out of it and don’t cause an argument over a small indiscretion.