Tell Us ...
In November, we asked you to tell us which rules of trail etiquette, posted and unposted, are the most important.
In a nutshell, it all comes down to RESPECT. On any given trail, you're likely to pass by other people you may not know, just like you would in a motor vehicle on a road. The difference on the trail is that we're moving at human speeds and not enclosed in a box of steel and vinyl. We see the faces and hear the voices. We can choose to empathize with humanity and spread pleasantry. We can behave respectfully.
Tony DelNunzio — Largo, Fla.
The majority of trail users are very well behaved, polite and friendly. But since joining the volunteer ranger group for the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail in Florida, which I enjoy very much, I have become aware of some bad behavior for a very small group of bicycle riders: never announcing a warning when passing a cyclist; having conversations on the trail while stopped and blocking the entire trail; wearing headphones on trails; and walkers with pets ignoring a six-foot long leash limit or not using a leash for their dog.
Tom and Barbara Swenson — Largo, Fla.
My wife Barbara and I are Auxiliary Rangers on the Pinellas Trail in Pinellas County, Fla. We are out on the trail several times a week and have noticed an increase of near misses involving walkers/joggers and bicycle riders. These usually occur when the riders are approaching from the back of the walkers/joggers and call out "on your left."
Many walkers and joggers are wearing earphones and do not hear the riders call out. If the walkers are in a group, they are talking among themselves and sometimes do not hear the riders call out. These encounters are very noticeable in areas where the trail intersects with a tourist destination.
Our suggestion is that riders equip their bikes with an electric horn. They are easy to install and emit a sound that can be heard even through earphones. Our experience is that everyone reacts to the sound of an electric horn. We wish we could make them mandatory on the trail.
Tom Lauritzen— McMurray, Pa.
Based on the experiences of my wife and I on the Arrowhead Trail in my neighborhood, and the Montour Trail in southwestern Pennsylvania, the most important rule for bicyclists is to warn walkers when approaching from behind! We personally have had a number of close calls of side-stepping into a near catastrophic collision, because no "passing on the left," "passing on the right" or bell/horn warning is sounded. A work associate of mine was nearly killed on a trail in Allegheny County North Park (in the north Pittsburgh area) when struck by a biker from behind who had given no oncoming warning. She was in a coma for several days but thankfully came out of it and recovered after months of healing and physical therapy. I'm so proud of my teenage grandsons, who adhere to sounding the warning when biking.
Peter Hungerford and Heidi deFrenes — Tillamook, Ore.
Peter and I have a semi-recumbent tandem that we have taken on many rail-trails, pulling our cart complete with tent and chihuahua for thousands of miles. We've been from the C&O Canal towpath to the Katy Trail State Park to the Banks-Vernonia State Trail in Oregon, and we would like to share this idea. We believe the most polite way of letting someone know that we are coming up behind them is with the jingle of a bell, and the statement, "passing on your left." We think a bicycle bell should be considered an essential piece of safety equipment for all bikes, just as autos have to have a horn and lights. In order to help popularize bells, maybe it could be an offer on your website: Receive a bell when you donate money to RTC.
Ingrid Barry — Danvers, Mass.
I feel the most important rule is to clearly announce "on your left" by voice or bell when coming up behind someone you wish to pass on a trail.
Most definitely announcing yourself to walkers and joggers before you pass on their left. But be careful, sometimes when you say "on your left," that's exactly where they move—to their left!
I believe giving people up ahead warning that you are approaching. We should also be patient with those such as young people who may not be aware of trail etiquette. On one rail-trail, I was with a foreign exchange student who did not understand trail etiquette. I was trying to teach her how to ride the trail. This big guy sped by and made a nasty, rude comment about how far over she was (she was in the middle). I quickly let my friend know to stay to the side. Before we disrespect other riders, we need to understand the situation. This cyclist rode away mad before I could explain; a case of trail rage?
Ray Schmidt — Delmont, Pa.
The thing that bothers me most is when people are riding two or three abreast on the trails. This would not bother me as much if the people doing it stayed aware of traffic coming and going, such as checking your mirror and moving to single file. Unfortunately, RTC keeps publishing photos that lead people to believe that it's the thing to do, such as the one pictured at the top of the November Rail-Trail eNews. I believe most trails post "Ride single file" on their trail rules. So, is it Madison Avenue 'feel good,' or safety?
Robin Hall — Reistertown, Md.
Since improper trail etiquette can cause accidents, trail users should know how vitally important it is to obey trail rules. Here are my pet peeves: dog walkers who don't pay attention when their dogs trot into the bike lane. The walkers may be on the correct side, but the dog is not. One of my pleasures of trail riding is to enjoy seeing the cute doggies, but not when their leashes suddenly cross my path before I can safely brake. Adults who don't teach their children to stay in the bike lane instead of wandering all over the place. Also, since it's natural for young children to look behind them and all around while they are still pedaling forward, parents should keep reminding their kids to look straight ahead.
Samantha Drab — North Wales, Pa.
I would say one of the most important trail rules is to leash your dog! And if your dog is too big/heavy/muscular/strong for you to control, don't take it on a trail! I'm fit, active and nimble, but I've been several times knocked off balance (and twice knocked flat) by unleashed and leashed dogs. I'm 5' 4" and weigh 106 pounds, which, in many instances, is much less than the dog that's running at or leaping up at me. If I sprang at someone and knocked them off their feet, wouldn't I be sued?
Thomas R. Ross, Jr. — Jacksonville, Fla.
Dogs should be on a two-foot leash while on trails.
Jim Meeder — White Plains, N.Y.
No motorized vehicles except battery-powered wheelchairs and handicap scooters, maintenance and park and emergency vehicles, farm vehicles as necessary, and snowmobiles in winter. Only pets on a short leash. I have had to stop for leashes across the trail and for loose dogs. No playground activities. One family decided to hang out in the middle of the trail and play. A young boy in the group jumped from a rock just in front of my bike, which I was able to stop in time. Other playground activity I have seen is not commensurate with moving trail traffic. Move off trail or to the side when not moving. Bikers sometimes stop and park their bikes, taking up a large part of the trail. Leave room to pass. Do not make cyclists have to call or ring you over by walking and riding side by side.
Steve Tgettis — Boston, Mass.
A sign I would like to see on a bike trail (as well as other places) is "REALLY show respect." Rules written on steel posts are too often ignored. To be effective, the principle "REALLY show respect" needs to be posted in peoples' hearts, which is more of challenge than putting one more sign up. Incidentally, as a former safety professional, I've probably been responsible for putting up more signs than most readers and am well aware of the advantages and weaknesses of signs. Safety signs are usually only effective if they can actually motivate someone to take a certain necessary precaution.
Lack of respect surrounds us today. But the good news is that rail-trail riders are probably among the more respectful segment of the population. For the most part, rail-trail users care about the environment, take care of their own health and want others to share their outside experiences. The bad news is that it only takes a few bad actors to ruin an otherwise perfect day on the trail. Real respect would make riders and walkers think of the people behind and in front of them and not take up the entire width of the trail and block others. Make parents with kids and dogs keep them under control so that passing riders don't have to exercise emergency maneuvers to avoid a collision. Make everyone more appreciative of the hard work that was done to maintain the trails and litter less and pick up trash more. Make bikers respect the rights of cars who have the right-of-way at intersections and obey those seemingly pesky "Stop" signs. Make riders of all abilities more respectful of those who choose, or who are physically unable, to ride at slower speeds than themselves, as well as those who choose to walk or run instead of ride. Make users of the trails show respect to neighbors who willingly or reluctantly had trails installed past their once silent backyards by not yelling, and instead give abutters a friendly smile or a quiet hello. To put as simply as possible, real respect is losing the "it's all about me" attitude. I think that's something we can all live with.