Shared-use paths are exactly what they sound like: trails that support different recreational activities like walking, running, wheelchair use, inline skating and biking.
Last Monday, the issue of how best to share those paths came before the Transportation Policy and Planning Board.
“We know that there’s a lot of… there are a lot more people who are out walking, biking, walking dogs, you know, from starting to do that during the pandemic and so there are always you know concerns over just etiquette on the path and behavior on the path so we wanted to do a presentation to our policy board, and just really have a through discussion, share some of what we’re hearing and just get their input on you know, where they’re at and what they’re thinking about this issue moving forward,” Renee Callaway, Pedestrian Bicycle Administrator for the City of Madison responsible for implementing a city-wide pedestrian and bike safety program, said.
“At one point, you know, someone posted on Nextdoor and encouraged comments to be sent in, and so we did get quite a few from that. You know, occasionally people will comment, it usually will take, you know, kind of a bad incident for someone to really take that step if they don’t see something encouraging them to do it.”
And safety came up frequently at the meeting, as Callaway and other city officials described comments the city has received about bikers and e-bike riders, both experienced and inexperienced, riding too fast or passing too close to pedestrians.
Callaway described pedestrians’ demands for increased speed limits and speed humps, noting that some had complained shared-use paths are too dangerous to walk on during commute times, and that bikes have passed into oncoming traffic when they shouldn’t have.
Pedestrians at the meeting were mixed on how they preferred to know that someone is passing. Some said being yelled at from behind, such as, “on your left”, by a bicyclist can be distressing and that bikers have been too assertive in using bells or being vocal with what side of the path they are on.
“You know, my experience overall has been good. I think there’s always like the brief moment in time where you happen to have a large group of people and there’s some conflict now as folks navigate around, but for what I’ve seen and what I’ve experienced people are smart and people for the most part give warning or accommodate other folks. I think some of the difficulty is, as you probably saw on the slide deck and some of the other comments, there’s no clear marker as to what people actually want. There are comments from folks that want you to call out when you’re behind them, folks that don’t want you to call out and scare them when you’re behind them, use the bell, don’t use the bell, half fast, half slow,” Ian Jamison, resident of the Marquette neighborhood and commuter exclusively by walking and the use of e-bikes, said.
“So, I think everybody has individual preferences but, again, we kind of have a good problem here there are a lot of people trying to move about the city in carless ways, and I think it’s fine if we informally say this is what the etiquette should be but in terms of restricting people and imposing speed limits, making lives harder for those people that are doing the right thing and kind of which could mean injuries or death, that seems like the wrong approach to me.”
Jamison is one of several frequent path users I spoke with for this story who had submitted public comment on this issue.
Others commented that a bell ordinance should be put in place and that bikers need to be calling out when they are passing by, and if they don’t, should receive a warning ticket. Still others said other sports with wheels, like roller skating, e-skateboards and mono wheels, take up too much space on the path.
More signage and wider paths could better accommodate those using the paths to allow for more space to bike and walk side-by-side. Clarifying what is a motor bike to an electric bike can simplify what is and isn’t allowed on the path.
“I am supportive of e-bikes in general and I don’t think that they cause undo problems on the bike path, and while e-bikes definitely give you the capacity to go fast, faster than a normal bike, I won’t say e-bikers are completely not to blame, but just from riding both my regular bike and my e-bike through that corridor on a regular basis I don’t see the fast riders as necessarily being limited to the e-bikers, I think the regular bike riders, people that are riding quickly and inconsiderate of others, there’s just as many or more on regular bikes as there are on e-bikes,” Jay Roberts, a long time East-side Madison resident and an enthusiastic biker, said.
“And I think for the most part people get along great, bikers and rollerblades and joggers and people with baby carriages. For the most part it’s not a problem, it’s probably just rush hour times. Again, my experience has been more of the real serious bikers, with bike jerseys and pretty expensive bikes that are on a mission to get a good work out in that are going fast. Those seem to me to be the ones that weave by people more often or blow by, maybe they’re just more comfortable being in close proximity to other bikes, but those are the ones I tend to point my finger at more than the e-bikes. But overall I’m fully supportive of the bike paths, love that they have them, glad they’re expanding them and it takes cars off the road, gets carbon monoxide out of the air and gets people exercising, I think they’re a great thing.”
Shared-use pathways were not designed for high speeds. If speed limits were put into place on share-use paths, 20 miles per hour would be the default speed limit as a bike path is considered a “highway” and a bicycle is a “vehicle”. This could mean people being ticketed and loss of points on a person’s driver’s license for bike related speeding violations.
Instead of an official path speed limit, a potential “safe speed” ordinance could be put into place with language around an upper limit for safety.
“I’m not against e-bikes but I’m concerned about the speed at which some of them are going on the south west path. Yeah, they’re going over 20 mph, some of them are at 20, since it’s a class 2 e-bike and it just seems too fast for the conditions,” Jeff Carroll, retired DNR employee and Madison resident since 1980, said. “But if we had speed limit signs the same size as what you find when you’re driving your car, to me that’s real noticeable and hopefully it would educate these folks that they need to pay attention to their speed.”
An example of a community that has implemented safety measures on shared-use paths is in Fort Collins, Colorado. Trails have a courtesy speed limit of 15 mph but are not enforced and e-bikes are allowed on paved trails while e-scooters are not.
“And I think for the most part, I think as they are the paths are pretty great. I think there’s always, you know, room for more of them as someone who try’s to treat biking as their primary mode of transportation. Like overall I think that, you know, I’ve had testy interactions shall we say on occasion on the path but nothing dangerous, nothing particularly like scary or mean spirited I think its just a lot of different people using them for a lot of different things and its more or less a good thing people are using them for different things,” Andy Rieschl, Madison resident for seven years and frequent path user for recreational use and commuting to work on the West side, said.
“You know, limiting use of the path could potentially have implications on members of the community who, you know, might have actual trouble getting over something like a speed bump on a regular bike or might be, you know, using the path on an electric bike on occasion and are more nervous about riding on the road, things like that.”
Projects and events from past years include pandemic-oriented “Share the Path” signs at most paths in 2020, pop up events in 2021 that included simple yard signs with basic etiquette messages, moving signs to different locations during the summer and staff handing out bells along paths. Those advocacy efforts continued this summer during Madison Bike Week. .
Callaway tells WORT that they’re beginning to tackle this issue. Those fixes include increased signage, education for bikers on how to share the paths and possible expansion of some paths in congested areas.
Photo Courtesy / MikeGoad/pixabay
On a couple of occasions over the past three years I’ve sent this suggestion to persons in the city. I believe I received one response. I believe this change in rules would solve many safety issues. My Hoofr rules:
With the planning of the new John Nolan Drive project perhaps a change in the rules for the commuter paths have already been considered. I’m not aware of the topic having being discussed. I thought I would just offer my view.
I’ve experienced a couple of near misses while walking the city paths the past few years. Considering all of todays battery assisted machines, along with the standard bicycles, the current rule of all traffic keeping right on commuter trails I believe is unsafe.
I’ve switched to keeping left when walking on commuter paths and feel much safer as I can observe and evade if necessary oncoming traffic. I typically will walk further left, off the path as much as possible.
Users of battery assisted bikes, skateboards, scooters, etc. are often moving at high speeds (not always appearing to be in great control) in areas that have become more congested. In my opinion in today’s world it’s just not a good idea to have everyone keeping right.
If all the “walkers and runners” kept to the left it would be a safer situation overall.
There is a level of communication (eye contact) between you and the oncoming machine traffic. Evasive action, usually moving further left off the path if possible, can be taken. Walkers/runners can fold into single file as necessary as they can easily observe the machine traffic approaching them on the same side.
Currently many walkers and runners are two or more abreast and not aware of what is coming up behind them. They may inadvertently move further into traffic.
Its startling when something passes you so close, often within inches.
With “new rules” the traffic coming up from behind off the right shoulder would be passing a few feet away, versus slipping by tight to the walker/runners left side. Again much safer. Everyone better knows what’s happening around them.
Where some of the paths have been widened for foot traffic (thank you very much), this area can just be re-designated to the left side of the trail. I also bike the commuter paths and do not see a problem approaching walkers/runners moving toward me on the same side. I appreciate that they know I’m coming up on them. No surprises.
If there’s heavy trail traffic everyone needs to slow down and go around. Pedestrians are most vulnerable.
Hoofr Safety Rules
Hoofr Safety Rules
Nathen Markus says
I have been hit by bikes while walking on Atwood, more than once. And yet people will curse me out for riding my electric scooter slower than the average bike rider…..
Jim Stangel says
Great review of shared paths. I love that Madison has these but note the common name ames of one specific route…
Southwest Commuter Trail which is indeed a mixed use trail but as a commuter on bike want to get to downtown or home as quickly and safe as I can.
Also I have discussed with my walking buddies as to why we are instructed to walk with our back to the faster bike traffic? On the roadway hikers and walkers are instructed to walk facing the faster traffic of cars and bikes. Why shouldn’t the walkers on the shared paths not face the faster bike traffic the same way? This change would allow the walkers to see incoming traffic and not wait for a bell or announcement of passing to surprise the walkers as it currently exists.
The other great solution would be similar to route in front of monona terrace where there is a separate path for walkers. Major work to do this but great solution in areas of high use by walkers and bikers together.