Trail etiquette. Stay to the right, use voice or bell, slow down when passing, don’t use headphones, and on and on. There are certain guidelines that make shared use trails work better, and Cascade Bicycle Club is launching a campaign to highlight some of them.
In a lot of ways, our shared use spaces (like trails or bridge sidewalks) are essentially failures in design. Sure, they work well enough most the time, but the fact that we need all these rules just to make them function is a sign that there are critical design problems.
I mean, shouldn’t someone walking on the the Burke be allowed to listen to music if they want to? On one hand, I understand that it’s important to be able to hear people on bikes, and I understand that it’s frustrating to keep repeating “On your left” louder and louder until an oblivious person with headphones hears you. But it’s their space, too, and if they want to listen to music, then that’s their call.
Remember, “On your left” or ringing a bell is a courtesy and safety call, not a “Get the hell out of my way” call. If you are using it to move people from your path without slowing down, then you’re doing it wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, our trails are wonderful happy places, and I love them. But thinking long-term, it’s clear that we are outgrowing them quickly (in other words, they don’t “scale”). In 2016, thousands of people headed to and from the new UW Station will be added to the busiest section of the Burke-Gilman Trail. And if the number of people biking continues to grow in the neighborhood of 20 percent every year, well, you see the problem.
Here’s an email I received recently (I’ve received several talking about similar issues):
I’m going to admit to reading your blog because I was googling “bicycle aggression seattle.” Today I was hit by a cyclist on the Fremont bridge. To be fair, I lifted my hand up and told him to slow down, and he slammed into my hand. I practice yoga, so my wrist is fine. I told the cyclist to slow down because I had nearly been hit by a different cyclist coming from behind me. Even other bicyclists told both aggressive cyclists to slow down. This happened in the span of one minute, which is unusual on the bridge, but not entirely unlikely.
I’m horribly frustrated by the situation on the Fremont bridge. I might use the bridge four times a day on foot, and it’s rare not to experience an inconsiderate cyclist going too fast, not using either a bell or a call-out. And aggressive cyclists are hardly unusual.
I suspect that you are among the many responsible bicyclists that I experience every day, whether I’m on foot or in my car, or on my bike. Here’s what I would like from you, and other bicycle bloggers. I’d like you to acknowledge that this exists, that aggression from cyclists occurs and that people are endangered by it. If the cyclist who hit me had hit more than my hand, I would have had serious head trauma, and I think he intended to do me bodily harm when he hit me.
My son is changing schools this fall. It was my hope that he and I would bike to his school. The aggressive cyclists that we meet on the Fremont bridge are a real concern because we would have to cross that bridge.
Obviously, our bridges need help. The Fremont Bridge is an issue, and the Ballard Bridge is a disaster. The shared spaces are simply too skinny for the volumes of people using them. It’s a recipe for conflict (especially if you throw a few jerks into the mix). The Ballard Bridge is a top priority for bike advocates, and the city is studying their options. The Fremont Bridge is unlikely to see changes in the near future, so maybe an education campaign there would be useful (signs that read “Pass Slowly” or something? Do you have any thoughts?)
For trails, the long-term solution is more all-ages and abilities bike facilities in more places. Right now, the Burke is doing some incredible heavy lifting as a key recreational and commuter route for people on foot and bike. But a lot of those trips would be shorter and easier using other routes if those routes were designed to appeal to trail users. That means neighborhood greenways and protected bike lanes.
Part of being a “liveable city” is creating spaces where people can be themselves comfortably. That means the ability to bike wherever you need to go, but it also means the ability to listen to music when you walk down the trail or to stop in the middle of the historic Fremont Bridge to take a photo of a friend.