Bikes and Peds Sharing a Path?

Another question!!!  I’ve been sitting on this one for a couple weeks now.  Sorry it’s taken me so long to answer.

Hi, Reuben! Since you are a biking expert and seem willing to answer questions, I have one concerning biking in the suburbs. Are there rules or etiquette – either written or unwritten – about bikes and pedestrians sharing paths? I feel much safer on pa

Great Question!  It looks like the last part of the question got chopped off!  OOPS.
The answer is YES!  There are rules and etiquette for bikes and peds sharing the same paths.  Here are a few things to remember:
  • All paths (including sidewalks not in business districts) may be shared by bikes and peds.  Some paths are completely unmarked, some have simply a dashed line down the middle, and others attempt to separate bikes from peds using a solid white line.  Whenever there are lines on the paths, you should always follow them.  That being said, plenty of people don’t follow the lines, and often even if the people are, their dogs aren’t.  Most paths, are a little bit of a free-for-all.
  • The guiding principle when riding on a shared path is to always protect the most vulnerable users.  So experienced cyclists should yield to kids on bikes, and cyclists should always yield to pedestrians.  Faster traffic must slow to accommodate slower people on the trail.  Slower people (bikes or peds) should be aware that they are slower and try not to impede traffic, but they shouldn’t do anything to compromise their own safety or traveling experience.  When an experienced pedestrian (like a very quick jogger or something) encounters a kid on a bike – common sense should prevail about which user is more vulnerable.
  • Traffic control on paths should generally mimic traffic control on roadways – if the path is marked with lanes, everyone should stay in their lane and there shouldn’t be any problems.  Where there are no lanes (which is most of the paths), pass traffic moving in the opposite direction on the right, and traffic moving in the same direction on the left.
  • It is generally considered courteous to call out “On your left.” to pedestrians or cyclists ahead of you before you pass them just to give them a heads up that you’re there.  This is especially helpful on narrow paths where you’ll have to pass them closely.
  • If you’re on a trail, and someone from behind calls out “On your left” and wants to pass, move as far to the right as it is safe to ride as quickly as possible.
  • It is generally frowned on to pass a pedestrian going WAY faster than they are walking.  It can be a little bit startling to the pedestrian.
  • Some of the regional trails have a 10 mph speed limit, although I’ve never heard of them being enforced.  I have, however, seen cyclists given tickets for not stopping at stop signs where regional trails cross roadways
  • Whenever an off-street path crosses a roadway, cyclists must treat the crossing as though they were a pedestrian.  This includes following traffic signals, and waiting for motorized traffic to stop before proceeding through a crosswalk (marked or unmarked).
  • Several suburban communities do not recognize regional trail crossings as crosswalks, so vehicles are not required to stop for cyclists or pedestrians waiting to cross.  Even though some of the trail crossings look exactly like crosswalks (painted lines, curb ramps, etc.), they aren’t.  If you ever encounter a crosswalk next to a sign that says “This is not a crosswalk,” then you are on your own.  I have no idea what these communities think is supposed to happen at these crossings.  These crossings are entirely inconsistent with engineering and traffic control standards (I’m glaring in your general direction, St. Louis Park…).

Anyway, I guess that’s it.  Hope this was helpful!

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9 comments to Bikes and Peds Sharing a Path?

  • This doesn't so much fit in the category of "churning out useless content." Thanks for the great information!

  • @J G-W – you're welcome. Hope it's useful!

  • I was actually just wondering about this yesterday! I found an AMAZING trail that stretches through 5 cities (maybe more) that I'd like to ride on as opposed to narrow roads. This is very useful information to have as I venture out on that trail! Thanks!

  • Ren

    Know what I love in Mpls? That some of the lakes have TWO, count 'em TWO trails around them – 1 for pedestrians and one for bikes and they are both clearly marked in multiple spots. And yet where do I keep finding pedestrians (which in my mind includes joggers)? On the bike trail.

  • @Ren – I love this, too. I heard a rumor once that the double lanes around the lakes was a result of an unfortunate bike/ped accident that resulted in a death, but I can't verify it. But clearly, bike & ped volumes are high enough that the separate trails are critical. Which trail should rollerbladers use?

  • Ren

    I've seen rollerbladers on both. Given their speed I'd say the bike trail.

    Hey, have you ever tried cross country roller skiing? I'd never heard of it before moving here. I see the roller skiers on the trails occaisonally.

  • bf

    Thanks for the indepth answer, Reuben!

  • Matt

    As a Saint Louis Park resident (and frequent trail user) I disagree with you. There are clear signs encouraging people to stop and trail users continue to ignore them.

    The productive way to deal with the busiest intersections at Beltline and Blake Ave would be to raise these concerns in the planning for the Southwest LRT line.

    What would be really cool is if Three Rivers could link the Cedar Lake Trail to the North and the Trail along Hwy 7 along the MNS railroad corridor. There are current discussions about shifting freight traffic to this line and the resulting reconstruction of the right of way could be widened to include more bike traffic.

    Just sayin'

  • @Matt – I'm not sure what I've said that you disagree with. Yes, St. Louis Park has clearly placed stop signs along the trails indicating that they expect trail users to stop and yield to roadway traffic, and yes, many trail users do not obey these stop signs. We can definitely agree on that. What I'm referring to is that there are several other aspects of the intersections that are generally inconsistent with engineering practices.

    For example, for several years, the city still had painted crosswalks at these trail crossings. At crosswalks, of course, drivers are legally required to yield to pedestrians, but this is inconsistent with the city's intent that trail users yield to roadway users. I believe at some of these trail crossings, they city has recognized this, and no longer stripes crosswalks (at least, I believe this is the case at Wooddale…). This correctly addresses the issue of requiring trail users to yield to motorists, but it introduces another problem: pedestrians are not permitted to cross a roadway mid-block between two traffic signals (like on Wooddale) except for at a legal crosswalk – and the city is emphatic that these are NOT crosswalks. So they accidentally make jaywalkers out of all trail users (although it is generally understood that nobody will be receiving tickets for jaywalking at these locations).

    Essentially, St. Louis Park is trying to treat the trail crossings the same way they would treat any thru-stop intersection with a minor intersecting street (i.e. major roadway traffic always has right of way & the side street is stop-controlled and required to wait for an acceptable gap in traffic to cross). I believe this is their intent, and it may even be the best approach, it's just inconsistent with modern engineering practices, which generally state that trail crossings should be treated as crosswalks (either marked or unmarked).

    Now, maybe the engineering standards need to be revised to recognize what St. Louis Park is trying to do, but as of yet, the standards have not yet been revised. If you know otherwise, or if my info is out-dated, I would love to be better informed.