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Shared Path Etiquette

An 80 year old woman, who was knocked down by a cyclist on a shared walk and bike trail in Arlington has died from head injuries. Incidents like these make me both sad and angry, because it could have been avoided if the cyclist had just slowed down.

Here is a lady who had lived to be a great age only to have her life ended abruptly, and unnecessarily; and the cyclist himself 62 years old now has to live with the fact that he killed someone.

I ride on a shared bike path during the week, weekends I ride on the road. I accept that it is a “Shared” path; people riding bikes, or walking with or without dogs, and others running, all have an equal right to be there. If I cannot accept that; I should not be on the path.  

I regularly see a twenty-something girl, probably a triathlete as she is always down on her aero bars riding very fast. She will sometimes pass me without any warning, and I gave up waving to her long ago as my acknowledgement of a fellow cyclist is always met with a blank stare.

I was talking to a neighbor of mine who regularly walks her dog on the trail, she told me this same girl shouted abuse at her for being on the wrong side of the path. It is this attitude of superiority by some cyclists that annoys the hell out of me.

People walk on either side of the path; they sometimes walk in groups taking up the whole path. They often wear ear buds or head phones and can’t hear my warning. They let their dogs run loose when by-laws state they should be on a leash.

It would be annoying if I allowed it to be, but this is the nature of shared path.

Cyclists on the road would not be annoying to motorists if they would just accept the fact that they have a right to be there and just deal with it. 

If I hit someone and fall I could injure myself; it is in my own interest to ride with caution around other pedestrians and cyclists alike. The onus is on me as the faster trail user to watch out for more vulnerable persons on the trail.

Is this not the exact argument we have on the public roads? The ones driving automobiles are the ones with the potential to kill or injure others; therefore the responsibility for our safety is largely up to them. How is it when the position is reversed and cyclists are the fastest, the rules change?

I always ease off the pedaling as I approach someone else on the trail. If there are dogs or children I will coast and be prepared to stop. I call out a warning, “On your left,” or “On your right,” depending which side they are on.

If there is more than one person and they are not clearly on one side or the other, I will shout, “Coming through,” and let them decide which way they want to go. Sometimes to shout on your “Left” or “Right” confuses people. I always say “Thank you” as I pass.

Most people riding bikes on shared trails are doing so for one reason; exercise. It is not a race with prizes for the fastest time. Actually by slowing down and speeding up again, I am actually increasing my rate of aerobic exercise.

If you ride on a shared walk/bike path, expect other people; deal with it. If you can’t, stay off shared paths, ride on the road and deal with motorized traffic.

Just because as a cyclist I am faster than most other trail users does not mean everyone else should watch out for me. It is the other way round; I have the potential to seriously injure someone, or even kill them. It is my responsibility to ride with caution for my own safety and that of others.

In the case of this unfortunate Arlington woman, one could argue that the cyclist was not at fault because he called out a warning and rang his bell, and then the woman stepped in front of him. How would any of us feel if a motorist said, “I didn’t slow down, but I sounded my horn and the cyclist turned in front of me.”

We all know that sounding a car horn can startle a cyclist and cause him to swerve. It appears that this elderly lady may have been startled and somewhat confused, as she turned around and stepped to the left. The cyclist has to be at least partially held responsible because he should have slowed to a speed where he could have stopped.



Reader Comments (28)

It was still his fault even though he warned her. If he couldn't stop in front on her on time he was riding too fast. It is a SHARED path after all...

This is really bad news and I hope the cyclist was prosecuted for it. I live in Arlington too (MA) and we have a shared path here as well - the Minuteman Trail. It is packed with dog walkers, bikers, parents with children. And there are always those racers, like the triathlete woman you mentioned, who ignore all others on the road. If they want to race, do it on the street, in car traffic. Leave shared paths to others. Shared paths are not race tracks.

Read more here, if interested: http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2012/02/multi-user-paths.html

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbostonbybike

Dave, The Denver area is blessed with a large network of bike,hike walk run skateboard, horses, paths that I ride every day. BUT I will not ride the roads on the weekend due to the traffic, I ride 4days on and take2 off usually the week ends then I spend time with wife and grandkids. The one thing that I have found thats works best, Is to have a bloody BIG BELL, Pref an old Lucas or some such.IF the bell does not work I will SLOW down go up behind the people blocking the trail and In a LOUD still ENGLISH accent say "EXCUSE ME! ON YOUR LEFT OR RIGHT" This seems to work and most people will move over. Now I do not daudle when riding BUT the other day after my 79th D/B I was in a reflecive mood thanking the man upstairs for the GOOD life I had lived. When behind me a young girls voice said "On your left" Well Where does it say Pass Old Guy! So I sat up and slowed down to see who this wipper snapper was.A young girl with the full kit on riding a $6k Black carbon Cervello goes past OUT OF THE SADDLE riding like the clappers! At first I thought Naww John you just dreaming she must at least 30yrs old prob a Cat3 racer! So I took up the challenge, I was riding my plastic super bike Campag Rec gruppo, I caught up with her and she ONCE again got out of the saddle and took off! WELL I may be 79 but I aint dead yet! So off I went again, this tme she I think was curious who this OLD chap was, My grey hair sticks out of my helmet I am sure, I asker her what age she was. "I am THIRTEEN" she said! So here is this 13yr old super teen, riding a Carbon $6k bike ALONE on the bike path! going like the clappers. What is this world coming to? I can just imagine the car her parents will buy her! My how things have changed from when I was 13 and just starting riding and racing in Brum. I had my Uncles old 1948 Raleigh with a CycloAce 3speed that never did shift, I never even THOUGHT about a car untill arriving in the USA in 1957 age 23yrs. Oh well hope I dont meet up with her to day on the bike path, I will LOTS of questions to ask, Maybe her Dad is Lance what ever his name is?

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

I usually agree spot on with what you have to say, but here I think I have to dissent a little bit. This story hit particularly close to home, as I live in Arlington, and ride on that particular path quite regularly. While I don't mean to cast a general net of blame over any population subset that uses bike paths, I do feel that there are rules that should be observed on bike paths just as there are on the road, and these rules should be equally applicable to all. Just as I wouldn't drive my car or walk in the middle of the lane in the wrong direction, I think individuals that behave in this manner on bike paths are at fault as well. Just because a path is a "shared path" does not give individuals license to do as they please. While chaos and pandemonium may be the "nature of [a] shared path" as you state, it shouldn't be. That said, cyclists also need to be cognizant of the rules, following speed limits (most paths around here have a 15 mph limit) and passing individuals only when it is safe, and they can do so without putting the individual in danger. Still, I reiterate that condoning all types of irresponsible behavior (e.g. dogs off leash, large groups stretching across the path, traveling the wrong way, etc.) simply because it is a "shared path" will only lead to more accidents and altercations. Everyone needs to police themselves and follow the rules. It's interesting to note that Arlington has aired programs on the public t.v. channels that seek to educate individuals on proper usage of the paths. The programs address things such as traveling in the correct direction, obeying the speed limit, staying to the right at all times and not moving into the oncoming lane except to pass, stepping completely off the path if you are stopped, and other common recommendations.

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterB. Erath

I had a similar experience last year. As I approched an older couple, I called out "On your left". They separated, thus taking the whole path. I slowed down, and ended up in the situation of moving side to side in tandem with the wife. She tripped and fell, cutting her head quite badly. I stopped before I reached them, and she was all right after a couple of days.
Being older, their reflexes were not as quick as a younger person's might be. Also, an older person might not be as steady. Additionally, they were immigrants, and while their english was good, there may have been a bit of a lag in comprehension. None of those things were their fault. I was the one who created the situation.
I was the one who needed to be more alert to not just the presence of others, but also their potential limitations. If I had been thinking, I would have slowed much earlier and approached more cautiously. It is one of the few on-bike moments that I regret. I hope I learned something from it and will be a better neighbor in the future.
It may have been a shared path, but my being in the right (if I technically was) would not have stopped her bleeding. Had she died, my being legally in the right would not have taken anything away from her husbands grief. And I don't thing it would have helped me to sleep at night. Much better to look out for one another.

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

Great post- we have a network of multi use and heavily used trails here in Seattle. When I am riding on them, I try to be respectful of pedestrians and other users. If you need to be 'training" and riding at higher speeds- ride on the road. Expect that a lot of pedestrians will act like squirrels when you ring a bell or say something like "on your left". That is just the way it is, so ride accordingly.
I have another question for people though- when riding on the road (not a trail)and overtaking another cyclist, is it really necessary to ring a bell or bellow "on your left" ? And you do have to bellow most of the time given traffic noise and such. When other cyclists or vehicles overtake me, I would prefer they just silently pass me. I don't need a honk or anything- just pass with a respectable amount of space when it is safe to do so, and I'll keep riding in a predictable manner in a straight line.

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterConrad

Don't think it is fair to blame the cyclist without knowing all the facts. It is not uncommon for some people to purposley block or walk on the wrong side of shared paths in the DC area. It also not uncommon for people to move abruptly to the left when someone is passing. How do you know these things did or did not happen or contirbute to the accident?

If you were going two miles an hour and that happened you could eaasily knock someone over who moves into your path. An 82 year old could die from triping over their own feet.

Yes, I have frequently come to a complete stop on trails in the DC area, and always slow down when conditions/crowds demand (and not all cycists do of course) but this particular situation was not a generalization it was one specific situiation that people and the media are projecting their own prejudices on to. I have come very close to accidents on trails even when being very careful, and I would not want to blamed if someone else's actions were the major contributor to an accident.

Meanwhile, a woman backed her SUV over several kids last week, killing one, and it got less attention than this accident. Bike accidents like this are extremely rare and that's one of the reasons for the attention (and over reaction).

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Bill, DC is somewhat different with the thoughtless reactions to bicyclists, cars or nearly anything else. Common sense often is nowhere to be found!

I have ridden on a shared bike path down GW Parkway where there are a lot of inconsiderate bikers flying down the path without warning like it was criterium! Part of the problem is that the road way is off limits so they should find other roadways to ride.

I appreciate hearing "on your left" or a bell but only when the timing is right. Too late for me to react or be prepared for being passed is more irratating than recovering after being overtaken!

Clearly it doesn't matter what you are driving, truck to roller blades, you should be aware of your surroundings and be considerate of others no matter where they are in the mobility spectrum.

I won't even start a discussion of shopping carts and how they are driven!

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSJX426

Yeah; mulituse trails. We have a nice one along the Poudre River in northern Colorado. And, it's been expanding bit-by-bit to link various municipalities. It's a nice ride. On weekends we have the full complement of riders, roller bladers, skate boarders, walkers, parents pulling kiddie-trailers, dog walkers, runners, birders... you name it, it's out there. And, you get the full complement of human behavior to go along with; packed up in groups and oblivious, standing in the middle of the trail and oblivious...The works. On weekends I leave the road bike home and pull out the cruiser. On that cruiser I can handle just about anything other users throw at me without getting ruffled except the fifteen foot retractable dog leash. If there is one thing I wish they'd outlaw on the trail (ban it, ticket it, punish it) it's the retractable dog leash. People who buy them simply do not know how to use them and/or cannot react quickly enough even if they do know how to use them. The dogs on the trail are a lot more alert than the humans, and a cyclist is a really interesting diversion for them. Any near miss I've ever had has been with a dog on a retractable leash. When I see "dog" anymore I slow immediately to a crawl and check to see what kind of leash it's attached to. Even the kids rug-rat size on their first bike with training wheels are more predictable than a dog on a retractable leash.

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

One final thought. I note that in the comments to the article cited people observe that calling on your left to a pedestrian often prompts them to move left. I've noted the same, and when on foot myself, I've an impulse to move in the direction someone calls, too. I gave up on that verbal alert in favor of bike behind. People can move either right or left as their instinct dictates, but neither of us has assumed a direction.

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

imho the problem is with the shared path. I give everyone the right to get lost in thoughts while walking, and not walking in a straight line or getting scared and moving in the wrong direction when someone is shouting from behind. And also i know that not everyone is thinking about how to ride, or needs some risky situations that teach one how to, so id like to say that the pedestrian is saint and untouchable, especially if its a child, woman, or elderly, and the stronger should take care of the weaker, but the best solution would be to reduce the car traffic, put the bicycle traffic on the roads, and leave the pedestrians alone.

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdaniel

This could become a heated topic. I like what Tulsa, OK has done down by the river. We have 2 paths, separated by a grass median. One path is for walkers, runners, etc. The other is a 2 way bike lane. Although, today I passed 1 runner on the bike side, even though everything is clearly marked with signs everywhere and it's obvious who belongs on which side just by all the traffic going by. We have over 100 miles of multi-use trails here, unfortunately most of it is a single path. I hope they upgrade the paths around town to what they have done by the river. Certainly makes things safer for everyone, even if it costs more and uses up more space.

That being said, my motto, don't assume people are paying attention. As a cyclist, initiate the safest thing for everyone. If you have to slow down, do it. Be polite. Be vocal. And say thank you. The majority of people will respond in a gracious way and everyone is happy and safe.

June 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJay


Thank you for this post. I'm an ex-racer and I still like to go fast (or as fast as I can) when I ride, but I'm often angered by the arrogance/ineptitude/lack of courtesy shown by many cyclists. It's gotten to the point where I 1/2 jokingly tell my friends that I hate cyclists. I frequently witness all of the ill behavior you mentioned in your post. Early this year I was hit from the rear by another cyclist while I was stopped at a stop sign. This was on a straight road, on a clear day around noon, so visibility was not an issue. The other cyclists excuse? "I didn't see you." (!!!!!)
I admit that no one group has a monopoly on arrogance or stupidity, including pedestrians and motorists, but it does seem to me that a fairly large percentage of cyclists seem to think the roads belong to them and courtesy to others is not required. I also think that it's only a matter of time, unless more riders start acting responsibly, before rules and restrictions on bikes become much stricter
(riders' training, licenses, bike license plates, etc...??)
Thanks again.

June 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn C

I agree with Daniel, peds should be isolated as they and their extensions (dogs) are unpredictable and are most vulnerable. Containing peds in a “shared” path by passing laws for everyone else appears to be rule. But no matter how many rules/laws exist, they will still behave as they wish like walking or running in the street when there is a sidewalk. They cannot be contained! Our legs are the freest form of transportation and go wherever our minds take us. We even create tools to climb sheer cliffs and overhangs. Thanks for letting me vent!

June 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSJX426

I agree with your article. As to calling "on your left" (or right), I think this is confusing (and this was also my own experience). The mind of the pedestrian is not expecting the approaching cyclist, so when the cyclist starts speaking, the first word, or perhaps even the second word, is/are not registered by the pedestrian. So she actually hears "on left" or "left" Does it mean that the cyclist is approaching on my left or I should move to the left? Ditto for even when the whole warning registers; "on your left". It may be clear to an experienced cyclist or an outdoor person, but it can be confusing to many. I call "passing left...passing left". That leaves no doubt as to what situation is developing,
and repeating it registers more clearly.

I leave as much space between me and the pedestrian as possible, though I can see situations that if the pedestrian would unexpectedly walk into my path
I may bump into him/her, even when going slowly. It wouldn't take much to bump an old person off balance, and even a small fall can result in serious damage.

June 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMicheal Blue

Talking about OLD people like me AND YOU DAVE, A few years ago, Every day I passed a OLD woman who walked with a cane, I would ring my bell and she would wave her cane, one day I stopped and talked to her she said she was in her 80s and was from Ireland, She said she was use to walking back there and enjoyed it. she seemed in good health and fun to talk to with her Irish brogue! she had married a Yank many years ago he had passed on and she now alone, loved to walk and get fesh air, I did not see her for some weeks and I stopped a Parker city worker and asked her what had happened to old Irish gal, Well she had stopped to look at the fish in the creek and had fallen in face down, unable to get up she bloody drowned! So whats this got to do with cycling? Who knows some sob cyclists could also have run into her, with a cane and inmobility she could have gone like the poor women this all about. Makes you wonder, life is SHORT and NOT worth the risks, who wants to finish there life like these two women? If you want to play Lance what his name, go join a club and go racing, The paths are to be shared they are NOT YOUR own property (Even if you do pay taxes) Slow down and SMELL the roses like my Old Irish friend did GOD BLESS HER!

June 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

A San Francisco bicyclist entered an intersection on a yellow light. Pedestrians, not paying any attention, entered the crosswalk and were struck by the bicyclist. An 80 year old woman was injured, fatally.

Today the D.A. announced that felony charges were being placed against the bicyclist, not for entering the intersection on a yellow light (which is legal) but demonstrating he was an unsafe rider based on testimony of other people who had "seen him" run red lights.

Dave, I think you ought to address this particular case. It's pretty interesting.

June 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

We have a few shared paths here. I think for slower cyclists and children on bikes they are brilliant. For roadies who go fairly quick id say def a no no.
I wouldnt dream of riding on a shared pathway.
Too dangerous and its not a good ride anyway with so many other users about.
Im a roadie, therefore i ride the roads.
And dont get me started on riders who just simply do not know how to ride a bike safely.

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDarren h

not all people can hear. some of us are deaf. even with hearing aids they might not hear or identify it. you never know. slow down and be prepared to stop. thank you.

June 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commentero7o

The best approach I have found is for pedestrians/dog walkers/runners to stay on the LEFT side of the path, facing oncoming traffic, just as they are instructed to do when walking on a street that doesn't have a sidewalk. That way the pedestrians can see oncoming cyclists, and the cyclists who are approaching can more easily see if other cyclists are approaching from behind and pass by either speeding up or slowing down as appropriate. This avoids the need for any of the bell-ringing or other confusion to the pedestrians (and runners are often wearing earphones and might not even hear the warning).

I agree about the ban on the retractable leashes on a shared path. I personally walk two dogs on a shared path and I have them on 6' Kong leashes that have an extra handle 1/2 way down the leash. When I'm on a shared path I use the shorter handles to keep them right next to me and prevent them from darting out into the path of a runner or cyclist.

Just common sense, folks. But as the saying goes, "Common sense isn't so common."

August 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarkovian

It's lovely to find a site with cyclists showing real concern about both pedestrians and cyclists having rights on a 'shared' pathway - I know lots of cyclists really feel that way but so many sites I have found seem to be dominated by people who think a shared pathway is really a bike lane.

I have stopped taking my mother for a walk on ANY shared pathway. She is legally blind and therefore as I am guiding her we must walk side by side. She is also now elderly and a little unsteady on her feet, but perfectly capable of going for a walk, in fact her doctor recommended her do this more often.

But too many times cyclists have been nasty because we weren't walking in single file which is impossible when you are a blind person being accompanied. Being in a wheelchair is obvious and people make allowances which is great,, but being blind is a kind of invisible disability and I cannot tell you how upsetting it has been for her to be abused. And of course they haven't stuck around long enough for me to say anything.

I have also seen someone yelled at for not moving aside because the cyclist rang their bell when they were getting close. Problem was the pedestrian is deaf. The cyclist probably felt bad when they realised, but it was like a deaf man had no right to use the pathway. He too has stopped going for a walk on any shared pathway in his local area, not only due to this but it definitely played a part. It's a pity because all the really nice areas to walk in are now nearly all 'shared'.

So thanks again for the thoughtful comments on this site, it helps make up a little for the behaviour of the aggressive ones who are small in number but whose actions and attitude are a major part of the problem.

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRina

A tragic bike pedestrian accident on a path in Minneapolis many years ago led to the establishment of separate bike and pedestrian paths across the city. In most areas the two groups don't mix. A great solution...

March 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterconcerned

Bikers most often are the worst people on the roads and shared pathways. They expect everyone, cars and peds, to get out of their way. The tighter the spandex and the more expensive the bike, the bigger jerks they tend to be.

I almost got hit just today running on a path in Denver. Instead of yielding by moving slightly off his direction, the biker yelled at me. Charming. Bikers like that can kiss my butt.

October 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWalker

Thank you, Dave! I wonder when I walk on the sidewalk, why do I always hear the bell behind me warning me that a danger is approaching fast? I would hope to hear brakes on the rim, assuring me that the rider behind is concerned about my welfare and is in control of the vehicle. Its easy to suggest that Washingtonians of all stripes and using all modes of transport are a tad more self-absorbed than average, maybe . .. But the commuter or rider who is overtaking should always be respectful of the rider or pedestrian who is in front. Doesn't etiquette say that "the downhill skier has the right of way"? That is how I approach my shared path commutes and deferring to the pedestrian, who has the right of way, gives me an opportunity to work on my track stands!

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVinerRosa

I'm a runner and I had an altercation with a cyclist just today. Although I think jerk cyclists are generally in the minority, I wish I had this blog post to throw at him. Thank you for writing on this topic.

February 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHighdesertrunner

A current concern in London as the city increases the cycling infrastructure. The Royal Parks seem to have a distaste for cycles (preferring horses) and only provide access grudgingly. The shared paths are terrible as many of the pedestrians are tourists and from countries that neither speak English or drive on the left, yet they can also easily rent bicycles from the many stands. Add in that mix between dawdlers and commuters and you have conflict.

That being said, I think cyclists should always give way to pedestrians and get rid of this "I have the right of way" attitude. The UK has a bad mix of poor infrastructure, aggressive drivers, lax enforcement and ignorance. Other EU countries (the Netherlands being the most-used example) are much more progressive. I've cycled a fair bit in France and Spain and things are much better.

I do recall that in Girona, I saw many cyclists but the only conflicts were between the "Lycra-lout" racers leaving the crowded city centre and cutting up pedestrians on shared-use paths. You don't see someone with a shopping bike weaving in and out of the crowd - it's a particular mostly-male, testosterone laden (perhaps a bit extra) type that has a bad attitude. Save it for the open road or the track. Shared use means Be Aware, not Outa My Way

March 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteveP

I too was yelled at by a racing cyclist yesterday on a shared bike path. Since becoming a dog owner, I began running with him on the left side of the road. This way I can see what's coming, and keep him at my side accordingly. He is not going to jump at the cyclist, because I am between him and them.

It was a beautiful day outside, we were enjoying it, and then the bald, non helmeted bike racer yelled at this 96 lb. woman running with her dog for being on the "wrong side of the road." I too use to think everyone should be on the right side of the road, until I became a dog owner. I did not understand that dog's usually heal on a person's left. This keeps everyone safe, including the dog.

I am a biker as well. Those racers, and others that don't want to share the trail, should ride on the road, and leave the trail to the people that want to enjoy it. If you are not able to stop and be aware of what's in front of you, you should not be on the shared trail.

July 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl

In Albuquerque this month, me, on a bike, and also for example, a lady pedaling slowly on a recumbent walking her dog, and some elderly couples and family groups on foot, were sharing the path with the Day of the Tread bicycle event.

The Rio Grande Bosque bike path was not a closed course for the event.

A loud talking group of maybe thirty Day of the Tread participants came cycling towards me hogging both lanes of the path I yelled "I am here!" but they forced me into the shrubbery! Might makes right? Forget that chit! Try that in court when you hit an old or blind person. Plz do. And notify me so I can be there for the gavel drop.

October 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhil

There's a lot of discussion about this going on here in London, provoked by the Royal Parks' decision to install rumble strips on the bike path on the east side of Hyde Park. The bike line is clearly marked as a separate lane from the really quite wide footway, but as noted above people don't stick to it.It seems a bit much, considering that Park Lane running parallel and originally in the Park itself, is now a 10-lane highway and tourist coach park. There a very full discussion here: http://road.cc/content/news/218862-royal-parks-reveals-plans-put-speed-bumps-cycle-route-hyde-park

March 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMartin H.
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