This morning I found myself with a few free moments to spare so I went for a walk to let my morning activities settle into place. The path I chose had recently been widened to accommodate an increasing number of recreational pedestrians, joggers, and bicyclists. Everyone had thought it would be safer if the paths were wider. Unfortunately, there seems to be an assumption among some bicyclists that they can now pedal faster on these multiuse paths. As a bicyclist and a walker, I think this is an erroneous and a dangerous conclusion. I am hearing an increasing number of complaints by other users of the paths. There is an increasing level of fear of bicyclists. If these aggressive bicyclists don’t change their ways, their actions could seriously set back many of our efforts for creating more and better paths for all of us.
As an advocate for getting more people outside, I have been a strong proponent for more and better paths. I have supported the County’s Bicycle Master Plan, the Columbia Associations wider paths initiatives, and the Complete Streets plans.
But I am afraid that there is a lot of education of bikers and pedestrians that will need to be done to ensure these plans can be put into place without increasing danger to people on the paths.
Many of the aggressive riders that I have seen have been men. But this morning a woman came speeding by without warning and she had to brake in front of me because the path was full of people. She harangued them as to their responsibility to stay on the right side of the path. I am not sure it did any good, because I am not sure the walkers spoke English. But her actions left all of us in a foul mood and fearful of bicyclists.
Furthermore, what the bicyclist missed because of her high rate of speed was that the three walkers were on the right side of the path, and the two women on the left side were joggers who had shifted to the left side because they were passing the walkers. This sounds like proper protocol. It was the bicyclist’s responsibility to slow down until she too could pass on the left. She obviously didn’t think so.
Yes, it will be nice someday when it is intuitive for everyone to keep right. But we are not there yet and bicyclists will always have the responsibility to drive “under control”. They will always have to be at a slow enough pace while passing to stop whenever a kid makes a quick left turn, a dog chases a squirrel, an old man meanders around the path, a tired jogger does a U-turn, or a birder steps to the left side while following a bird’s flight. Because these things happen, bicyclists will always have to pedal defensively.
As a bicyclist I have had no problem being courteous passing people who are walking. When I bike on a multiuse path, I realize that I need to be a good neighbor and take responsibility for my actions and always ring a bell and speak to whoever I pass. When I am afforded this same courtesy by bikers while I am walking, I welcome them on the path and step aside if given enough notice. Bicyclists who speed by on these paths will only jeopardize their opportunity to use these trails because their aggressive actions are accidents waiting to happen. We need to understand the bigger picture so we can work together to build safe paths and outdoor opportunities for all of us.
Take-a-way: If you want to go fast, bike on the roads or in designated bike lanes. If you want to bike on multiuse paths, bike defensively by going slow around pedestrians