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Bikes and Peds Sharing Paths?

From the Mailbag:

I have a question concerning biking in the suburbs. Are there rules or etiquette – either written or unwritten – about bikes and pedestrians sharing paths?

Great Question!  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.  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.  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 significantly 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).
  • The legal status of trail crossings as crosswalks in MN is not well known – even by engineering experts.  Most literature states that trail crossings are NOT crosswalks in MN unless a standard crosswalk has been painted across the roadway.  If there is no crosswalk on the ground, it is NOT an unmarked crosswalk.  However, I have put considerable effort into trying to find a legally defensible source for this interpretation of MN law and have come up empty-handed (if you know a source for this, please educate me…)  Several suburban communities have erected signs near trail crossings that specifically state “This is not a crosswalk.”  Trail users must always yield to roadway users in these locations.

Readers, what did I miss?  What advice do you have for cyclists and pedestrians sharing paths?

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