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Cyclists and pedestrians need to find a path to co-operation

The Globe and Mail: Cyclists and pedestrians need to find a path to co-operation

MICHAEL VAUGHAN

Special to The Globe and Mail

Published Saturday, May. 25 2013

They have been called “silent killers” by a local politician in Australia, where a woman was struck by a cyclist on a shared bike path (SBP), resulting in a severe traumatic head and brain injury. Near Washington, D.C., a woman was hit and killed by a man on a bicycle while she was walking on a paved multi-use trail. Last December, a woman who was running on a Thames Valley trail near London, England, was struck from behind by a speeding cyclist and then run over, causing serious injuries. In Seattle, a cyclist accused of running into a child and then fleeing the scene has been charged with vehicular assault and hit-and-run.

Incidents like these are not caused by careful, courteous cyclists who are in the great majority, but by helmeted, gloved, armoured, spandex-clad racers who barrel along shared paths at speeds I have estimated up to 50 km/h. If you don’t believe me, go down to the Martin Goodman Trail in Toronto today to see for yourself.

This trail, by the way, is not a bike trail. It’s a recreation trail that is used by cyclists along with people on foot, including runners, hikers, dog walkers, parents pushing strollers, kids walking home from school along with rollerbladers and skateboarders and kids on tricycles or those learning to ride a two-wheeler. This is a shared-use trail that is often busy, and not a velodrome. It is a matter of time until something tragic happens down there.

Officially, there is a 20 km/h speed limit on cyclists on the trail, but it is rarely posted, never enforced and totally ignored by the speed fanatics. Stop signs are disregarded and blind corners are taken at full speed. I have seen numerous near-misses, often followed by the Tour de France wannabe screaming obscene insults at the pedestrian on the path. Bike rage has reached the Beach. As long as the speed limit isn’t enforced, it’s going to remain a free-for-all down there.

I am not anti-cyclist. Increased bicycle use is a necessity if urban areas to become more green. But it is the responsibility of bicyclists to yield to pedestrians, especially on shared-use trails.

First, cyclists must travel at a reasonable speed. A shared trail is not the place for race training; nor is it an exclusive lane for high-speed commuting.

And cyclists must be, as most are, considerate of other trail users. If you’re passing, at a reasonable speed, then give them a little warning. “I’m coming by on your left,” usually does the job.

And obey the law. It might not be enforced, but the legal maximum speed is 20 km/h and, if there are a lot of other people of the trail, you should be well below that. The shared path in Newport Beach, Calif., has a speed limit of 3 mph (5 km/h).

People on foot have responsibilities, too. Walk on the right-hand side of the trail and, if you’re walking in a group, don’t block the whole trail. Take a look around ahead and behind you to see if there’s a bike coming.

In the meantime, there needs to be more warnings and speed limit signs posted along shared trails. It would also be a good idea if they occasionally moved some traffic cops with radar guns out of the usual revenue traps and over to the side of trail.

Without these changes, there are going to be some awful, yet avoidable, accidents this summer along the trails.