Photo CC Dylan Passmore via Flickr

Working with police is an important part of ensuring that a trail is safe to use. Regular police involvement—especially patrols by bike—can deter crime and improve traffic safety both on and near a trail. Engaging the police and demonstrating why trail safety is important can be a difficult task. Fortunately, there are many materials available to help you learn how to engage your police department around issues that, if left unaddressed, can deter trail use.

Trail Crossings

Crossings are often dangerous locations along trails, and police can target traffic enforcement operations at these high-profile locations subject to heavy use. A common and effective enforcement action is the crosswalk sting, in which a plainclothes officer attempts to cross the street while a uniformed officer issues warnings and tickets to drivers who fail to stop.

At many locations, speeding drivers can make for a dangerous crossing. In addition to old-fashioned enforcement by radar gun, electronic signs that display a driver’s actual speed can be deployed at trail crossings. Pelham, N.H., has installed radar-equipped signs that record when drivers are most likely to speed so the department can effectively time and target its enforcement. Another option in some jurisdictions is speed or red-light cameras. At a troublesome crossing of the Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail in College Park, Md., a city council member supported installing a speed camera to slow traffic.

Getting Police on Bikes

Many police departments are adept at enforcing laws against drivers who speed or fail to stop for pedestrians. There is also a significant amount of material to educate officers on how the laws pertain to cyclists riding in the street, such as the Florida Bicycle Law Enforcement Toolkit and videos from police departments in Chicago and Portland.

However, it can be a challenge to convince some departments to get officers out of the cruiser and onto the trail. Driving a cruiser along a trail is disruptive to trail users, less effective at engaging the community and can damage the trail surface. Bike patrols offer many tactical advantages to police when compared with a cruiser, including lower cost, more maneuverability and a higher rate of officer activity.

The International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA) is dedicated to training public safety officers (police, EMS and security) on the benefits of and skills necessary for bike patrols. In addition to the comprehensive book, The Complete Guide to Public Safety Cycling, IPMBA provides a wide range of resources for law enforcement by bicycle, including training tools, information packets, studies and videos. A more general source for bicycle safety information is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Establishing an Emergency Locator System

Trails, like neighborhood streets, are linear public spaces used for travel or to congregate. As such, they must be policed just like any other part of the neighborhood. These safety measures include having an emergency locator system that allows trail users to identify their location on the trail to 911 dispatchers and police officers.

In Dallas, Texas, the city expanded an emergency locator system initially used on the Katy Trail to pathways throughout the city. Markers were placed so that at least one is visible at any point along the trail—approximately every one-eighth of a mile. The locator signs are joined to nearby addresses with caution notes so emergency personnel know where and how to access the trail. Since being installed, emergency services have been able to respond to incidents on the trails without delay.

Volunteer Patrols

In some cases, residents may begin their own volunteer patrols, augmenting the police presence with extra sets of eyes on the trail. After a series of incidents on the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, Minn., concerned citizens partnered with the Midtown Greenway Coalition to start Trail Watch. Trail Watch volunteers ride together, maintaining a presence on the trail after dark and reporting suspicious activity to police. Trail Watch volunteers have also begun the Women on Wednesdays (WOW) program, a Trail Watch shift designed to encourage women of all cycling skill levels to get on the trail.

The Midtown Greenway Coalition also runs “Heads Up, Buddy Up!,” a program in which regular trail users register with the Coalition and display a spoke card on their bike indicating to other trail users that they are available to pair up for a safer ride at night.

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