Here’s an odd press release I got late Friday: King County will spend a stunning $140,000 to police the trail system this summer.
Now, of course people should be safe and follow the rules when using trails. And some police presence every once in a while is understandable as a way to remind people to obey the rules. But of all the traffic dangers in King County, the trail system is simply not a serious problem in need of a high-budget sting.
Just yesterday, not far from the Burke-Gilman Trail, neighbors in Kenmore marched through the rain to protest a rash of people walking and biking in their city who have been killed by people driving cars. At least three people have been killed in less than a year in Kenmore alone.
If the county wants to focus on the very real and serious problem of traffic injuries and deaths within its borders, they’re not going to find the core problems on the trail system.
That said, if the county really wants to enforce the rules, they need to focus on issues that actually affect comfort and safety on the trail: People biking and driving who don’t yield at trail crossings, people biking and driving who completely blow through red lights and people biking far too fast and passing too close in crowded sections. Unfortunately, trail stings often focus on less important issues.
For example, last summer we received several reports of police pulling over people in Kenmore who entered the trail crosswalks after the walk signal hand started blinking (but the traffic light was still green). Technically, it is illegal to enter a crosswalk once the hand starts blinking, and the law does not include an exception for people on bikes.
But on a bike, this is a ridiculous rule that nobody follows because there is no safety advantage to stopping and waiting an excess length at a light timed for walking speed, not biking speed (it might even be more dangerous, since nobody behind you will be expecting you to stop while the traffic light is still green). Nearly everyone who bikes treats the walk signal like a regular traffic signal: Solid hand means stop, and so long as you are more than halfway across when the light turns red, you’re good. This is perfectly safe.
So will King County’s big trail patrol budget make the trails safer? I hope so, but that depends on what kinds of violations they focus on. Is a big trail patrol the most effective way to decrease traffic injuries and deaths in King County? No way.
From King County Parks:
King County Parks and the King County Sheriff’s Office are joining forces to ensure the continued safety of all visitors to the County’s regional trail system and various parks sites during the busy summertime months.
Sheriff’s deputies are now patrolling stretches of regional trails including the Burke-Gilman, Sammamish River and Cedar River trails, and parks such as Big Finn Hill, Five Mile Lake, Lakewood, Skyway and others to provide parks patrons with information about proper conduct, including posted speed limits, leash laws and other rules that are intended to keep everyone safe.
“Trail use is at its highest during the sunny days of spring and summer, and now is the right time to remind everyone about the basic rules of conduct,” said King County Parks Director Kevin Brown.
Deputies are patrolling the sites to inform patrons on parks rules and regulations and also issue either a warning or fine for observed violations. Some of the most frequent observed violations include cyclists and other wheeled trail users greatly exceeding the trail system’s 15 mph speed limit, failure to follow pet leash laws that lead to accidents, and alcohol use.
Sheriff’s deputies will also be distributing copies of the trails code of conduct code of conduct, which is also posted at locations along trails.
The enhanced enforcement effort will continue along selected portions of the parks system through the Labor Day weekend. The cost of this safety program is estimated at about $140,000 and is funded through the King County Parks budget. This effort dedicates approximately 1,500 hours of patrolling and park patron interaction from April through October, with additional contingency hours to address concerns in the winter months. Deputies also work closely with park employees to help parks and trails patrons enjoy their visit.
The King County Regional Trail system is a network of approximately 175 miles of multi-use trails that is used by bicyclists, pedestrians, runners, skaters, equestrians and others. Regional trails are popular for recreational use and for commuting.