Can Multi-Use Paths Be Shared Safely?

I was essentially asked this question recently in reference to a tragic case of a jogger killed by a cyclist in Dallas.

Based on some nastiness I’ve experienced on the Brooklyn Bridge, along the Hudson River — and even hearing stories about how people’s enthusiasm for the NYC DOT’s “Summer Streets” program was dampened by inappropriate speed choice of cyclists through the event — I myself have had doubts over this, and I’m wondering what experiences people have had around the country, what remedies they’ve seen, etc. How’s the sharing going on the new Walkway over the Hudson going, for example?

I know people will answer courtesy, common sense, etc. (as well as not listening to loud music w/ear buds while cycling/running), but are there engineering/design strategies that have been used, particularly at crossings and the like? Should fast-moving cyclists (I don’t know the velocity involved in Dallas) simply stick to the road, even when it’s a less than desirable situation?

This is not to say that the real source of pedestrian or cyclist danger is on multi-use paths, and some of the failings of multi-use paths is that they’re simply too small — the majority of room having been given over to the car. But just wondering about ideas.

This entry was posted on Friday, October 22nd, 2010 at 11:22 am and is filed under Bicycles, Pedestrians, Risk, Roads, Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

37 Responses to “Can Multi-Use Paths Be Shared Safely?”

  1. Greg Says:

    I have this discussion with friends that are just getting into cycling frequently. They usually want to start out on the bike paths, which is maybe ok if your going 8mph, but once you get to little higher level of fitness you are MUCH safer on the road. I am much more afraid of pedestrians (and their always present pets on long leashes) than I am of the cars. The cars behave much more reasonably. My personal pet peeve is the runner with ear buds doing an out and back, as soon as he or she get to the halfway point, they just do a u-turn, no looking around, no ability to hear and no thoughts that anyone else might be on the path.

    I have some anecdotal evidence that my risk evaluation is reasonable but I would be interested in data or studies that provide evidence one way or the other.

  2. Brent Says:

    Here are a couple of ideas I’ve seen in other countries, the common idea being to tell users how to share the space:

    Germany —
    Denmark —
    Korea —

  3. Dave Says:

    I think in general, bicycles more naturally behave like cars than like people walking, but on the other hand, I think bicycles and pedestrians can share space safely. It does maybe require more awareness and willingness to relinquish the right to continuously move in a straight line no matter what, but it can happen.

    One good example I can think of, is that in Amsterdam (and other places in the NL), many of the bike paths are not grade-separated from the sidewalks, they are just colored differently or paved with a different material. But because people know what the design means, they know that certain space is delineated for bikes and certain space for pedestrians. Granted, this may only work so well because there are enough bikes to keep pedestrians out of the bike paths.

    In Vilnius, Lithuania, they have many painted bike lanes on the sidewalks, but there aren’t enough people riding bikes to keep pedestrians out of them. However, it still doesn’t create a safety problem, because the people on bikes are typically not concerned with riding 15mph or greater. For that matter, in Vilnius, pedestrians share the streets with automobiles in many areas in the center of the city without safety problems, because the people driving are willing to slow down and let the people walking in the street move to the side, then drive by slowly, after which the people walking just move back into the street again.

    I think part of the issue is that our development in the U.S. is much more sprawling and segregated (housing separated from jobs, shopping, entertainment) than that of many European cities (so people feel the need to ride faster to go longer distances), and also our culture in general is much more frantic. I generally would rather give myself plenty of time to get somewhere and take it easy, rather than riding frantically, but that’s the exception I feel, rather than the norm.

  4. Noah Says:

    I problem I’ve noticed on some paths is that they require cyclists to call out a warning or ring a bell every time they pass someone. For a cyclist traveling any significant distance, this means calling out a couple hundred times, which gets old quick. A bigger problem is that this policy gives pedestrians a false sense of security that someone will always call out, and therefore pedestrians aren’t as aware of their surroundings.

  5. Brian Ogilvie Says:

    As someone who drives, cycles, and walks, I avoid multi-use paths as much as possible. When I do walk or cycle on them, I try to stay as alert as possible to my surroundings. When walking, I stick to the right of the path, and when cycling, I slow down whenever there’s a pedestrian ahead who has not already acknowledged my presence. But I prefer to cycle on the road, where there is an acknowledged set of rules for vehicle operators to follow. MUPs usually have rules, but few if any users bother to read them.

    But if you read the comments section of any news story about a cyclist who was killed by a driver, you’ll invariably see a number of angry drivers claiming that the cyclist got was was coming to him and that their taxes go to pay for “bike paths” so they don’t have to share the road with cyclists. They’re wrong–although towns like Black Hawk, Colorado, which recently banned cycling on most of its streets seem to think that they should be right.

    My impression is that the only engineering solution that would really help on MUPs is separate space for cyclists and pedestrians. I’ve been on some paths, like the path along Lake Michigan on the south side of Chicago, that had lane markings. Neither pedestrians nor cyclists obeyed them consistently, though. And where do you draw the line–should there be a third lane for rollerbladers? Should the paths be divided? As BikeSnobNYC has pointed out in his blog, pedestrians in New York often wander blithely into bike lanes even if they are separated from the sidewalk, and some then get angry at cyclists who ask them to move out of the way.

    Many people have no idea how fast bicycles go, particularly if they’ve never cycled or if their only experience with a bike was as a kid. And I don’t just mean road racers who hit 25-30 mph, but ordinary, reasonably fit cyclists who cruise along at 12-18 mph. Pedestrians see a cycle coming and don’t realize that it will be there before they finish crossing the path. For the same reason, drivers will do a right hook–turning right across the path of a cyclist they have just passed–or a left hook–turning left across the path of an approaching cyclist. Even if they see the cyclist, they seem to act as if he or she is an immobile object, not a vehicle moving at a pretty good clip.

    I suspect that the problem won’t be resolved until adult transportation cycling is common enough that most people grow up learning how to operate a bike properly and how to behave around bikes.

  6. Nathan H. Says:

    Summer Streets is presented as a fitness event and it attracts athletic cyclists from the region. (Personally I would rather it be a little more laid back.) On one ride home from it this summer I was forced out of the Christie Street bike lane at Delancey by a stopped van that a group of uniformed people were loading their sport bicycles into. The irony was too much; I got their attention, and they made some excuse about there being “no parking” in New York. (No available free parking, they must have meant.) So, they had stopped in the worst possible spot for local cyclists who ride their bicycles places instead of carting them in vans.

    Some people are just thoughtless and rude, whether they are riding bicycles too fast or parking their team van where it will endanger others. But I’ve never come close to a dangerous situation myself on a multi-use path when none of those uses is driving a motor vehicle. It’s easy to ride at a safe speed, and I guess I behave predictably enough when riding or walking that the too-fast people can pass me without drama. We could always use better designed infrastructure that slows down inconsiderate people, but in terms of actual injury rates I do not believe there’s enough of a problem between cyclists and pedestrians to merit police action. Especially not when compared to certain elephants in the room.

  7. dcl Says:

    The problem with MUPs is that it seems as if most people using them forget the Multi part of it. I don’t know that there really is an engineering solution to that. There are, of course, a number of dangerous behaviors that exacerbate the problem, but at the end of the day the problem is that more often than not the people on the path are thinking “doesn’t everyone use the path the way I’m using it right now?”

    Of course the answer is no. But if you think the answer is yes, then a behavior that is very dangerous seems less dangerous.

  8. Michael Says:

    The typical American shared trail is just barely wide enough for two-way traffic to co-exist at all. Dog-walkers with headphones on don’t really make it work any more smoothly. As long as there are few enough people and you’re only using it as a little shortcut where the real roads don’t go through it’s usable.

    Remember that the fast cyclists the dog-walkers think should slow down are going slower than anyone ever drives a car. 25km/hr (15 miles/hr) is mellow cruising speed on a bicycle, people drive through underground parking garages faster than that. 40km/hr (25) is very good speed if you’re not a serious competitor, and that’s the slowest we ever ask people to drive cars, and we don’t seriously expect them to really obey that. 20km/hr is the sort of speed where you mostly coast and just crank the pedals now and then and you get really board and want to get to your darn destination already, but it’s a lot faster than anyone walks and you still have to be hitting the brakes to pass safely.

    And as mentioned above, in a walkable urban wonderland like parts of a few cities in the US and lots of parts of lots of cities in lots of places in Europe, where you have what to me seems like an amazing variety of destinations within a very short distance of a few km, very low speed very low effort running-speed-without-exertion sort of cycling might be perfectly useful. When you live where the 14km to work is a ‘short’ commute, and there is endless ‘free’ parking and a giant ‘free’ highway, it’s hard to imagine making the trip by bicycle if you’re going to be forced to average jogging speed.

  9. surprises aplenty Says:

    The problem is we cyclists are such a diverse lot. Most multi-use paths feel like they are made for parents to walk next to their children on training-wheel-equipped bikes. The paths are designed to allow great views of the area, not specifically to get from A to B and cyclists may be there with either motivation.
    I don’t know if this is especially relevant but while at university, I studied the various ways people used the multi-use trails of Short Hills Provincial Park. What I found was that the noisier, faster moving groups liked everyone slower or quieter than them but disliked everyone faster or noisier. Hikers were loved by all but disliked all others. Cyclists scored just a bit better than equestrians.

  10. Roberta Says:

    I mostly ride on the road here in Edmonton, but there are a few MUPs that are good shortcuts to places I need to go. But when I’m riding them, I find myself on even higher alert than on the road – because most other users seem to be less alert on a path than they are elsewhere. Something about the setup lets them zone out and walk/cycle/whatever as erratically as they want. I find the roads much more relaxing – and faster, too.

    Calgary has a nominal speed limit of 20 km/hr on its MUPs. More high-speed roads there, too, making it really unfun for commuters.

    MUPs are a recreational facility, not a transportation facility.

  11. mulad Says:

    I guess I’m a bit confused. Multi-use paths mostly exist as off-road facilities, right? My understanding is that it’s more dangerous to ride in a dedicated path than it is to go on the road, often due to narrowness, obstacles, sharp turns, large numbers of roadway crossings, etc.

    Minneapolis has some segments on its Cedar Lake Trail and Kenilworth Trail which are triple-divided on former rail rights-of-way, with two one-way bike paths plus a pedestrian path. In narrower sections, they combine them so that they share a single paved surface but have good lane markings. The city’s Midtown Greenway is mostly a single paved surface, but sometimes has the bike lanes (still distinctly marked) separated from the pedestrian path. These seem to work pretty well, but you can still have problems. There is one business, a bike shop, located right on the Greenway, and I was present one time when a pedestrian (drunk) walked out of the shop without paying attention and was hit by a woman riding in a small peloton.

    The bikeways in Minneapolis get a huge variety of riders to use them, from kids barely out of training wheels to elite riders nearing 30 mph — the latter make me worry that some level of bike traffic calming will need to be applied. There may be an official speed limit on the paths, but I have no idea what it is. I think some places have signs saying 10 or 15 mph (there’s only one hill on another that I can think of, really…). Anything less than 10 is usually not worthwhile for cyclists, and 15 becomes an annoyance.

    Multi-use paths can be fairly annoying for me. I know the trouble of getting stuck behind walking groups or other slow cyclists. There’s not enough room to pass a lot of the time, and there’s often the problem of two (or more) riders going side-by-side. Even on the fairly wide Midtown Greenway, I’ve had close calls when I’m passing people riding side-by-side while someone else heading toward me is also passing a group. We should all be slowing down, probably, but it’s tough to calculate the distances because you never know how fast someone else is going. Compare that to when you’re in a car — if you’re in a 30 mph zone, you can be pretty sure that most people will be going 25-40 mph in free-flowing traffic. Bikes on a path can be anywhere from near zero up to about 30 — combine that with the typical person’s limited ability to accelerate and brake on a bike, and it becomes a mess.

  12. jvb Says:

    The issue that I see is that MPUs are often used as cycle commuting infrastructure. And cycle commuting in North America always always means high speeds, too high to be safe on an MPU. As cause I would cite people not being comfortable cycling on the road (can’t blame them when dealing with Dallas drivers), lack of alternative infrastructure and that cities often market MPUs as cycle commuting infrastructure.

    To answer your question, yes I believe that they can be shared safely and I have seen it done in Europe where I grew up, but those MPUs were not part of the cycle commuting infrastructure, and where they were there was always a segregated option. But in an environment where commuters feel that there is no viable alternative to using MPUs for a major part of their commute there is bound to be problems. Add to that people that take their roadbikes out on training rides on the MPUs and you have a real mess on your hands.

  13. John Says:

    An experienced road cyclist can always tell a wanker, on a 2000 dollar road bike, going 20+ miles per hour on a path, not a road. The solution is to make better side lanes for cyclists, on roads.

  14. fred_dot_u Says:

    John, please describe the better side lanes for cyclists on roads that will not further endanger those cyclists in the same manner that today’s bike lanes on roads are doing now.

    Right hooks, left crosses (USA, reverse for UK and other locations) and “bike lanes” that encourage unskilled riders to ride up to the stop bar, creating right-turn crashes from un-aware motorists. Those same “bike lanes” often direct unskilled cyclists to the right of a right-turn only lane, increasing the danger of a crash.

    Skilled cyclists know when to get out of the bike lane, or to never enter it, although some regulations require the use of these dangerous directives, but it’s the unskilled riders who are most likely to be lulled into using them.

    I’ve got my better side lanes already. They are the roads.

  15. Paul Johnson Says:

    Multi-use paths simply don’t make sense when they’re constructed like bicycle highways without sidewalks. Shared space concepts just don’t work on distance corridors, having a pedestrian space clear of vehicles is a good thing.

  16. Ryan Cousineau Says:

    Bizarrely enough, I’ve had a friend die while cycling on a MUP: he collided with an in-line skater. His helmet didn’t save his life.

    For people on foot, MUPs look like sidewalks or a path through the woods, and are used as such. They stroll, they wander, they don’t look for fast-moving traffic (I can’t really blame people for any of that). Even where the path is divided, either by direction of travel or method of conveyance, I perceive a significant level of non-compliance, especially among pedestrians.

    For people on bikes, MUPs look like car-free roads with no crossings. This is a moderate problem for especially slow-moving riders, but any cyclist fast enough to ride on typical streets is going to seem like a very fast-moving piece of traffic to any passing perambulators.

    So MUPs are a world of terrifying surprises for both classes of user. The cyclists want to pass the pedestrians with the assumption the pedestrians will behave like traffic. The pedestrians want to walk on the path with the assumption it’s a sidewalk, and there’s nothing moving faster than 10 km/h.

    (The reason bikes and cars can share roads, at least to the extent they can, is because they have a shared set of behavior expectations, even though the speed differences are high).

    Off-road trails seem a little better, perhaps because the cycling speeds are generally lower, and there’s no sense of comparing a recreational dirt trail to the nearest roadway.

  17. Bruce Says:

    In our area (Northern Virginia) we have some very good multi-use paths. One is about 12′ wide in most sections, and yet it’s the most dangerous place I ride. I’ve seen more crashes on the trail than the road by far. The worst, most dangerous riders are fast road riders, especially triathletes. They often pass too close, assuming if they feel comfortable doing so, everyone else is OK with it. They often don’t give warning when passing. Triathletes are often in their aero bars and if they needed to stop quickly they likely can’t. I’ve seen the aftermath of several crashes where a tri bike is lying on the side and the rider beside it on the ground.

    I’ve got a theory that power meters are a cause of some of this behavior. Cyclists training with these devices want good numbers, and slowing to pass or for any other reason would not be acceptable.

    I’ve thought about starting a campaign: Road Bikes Belong on the Road, and having a sign made with a circle with a slash through it over a symbol of aero bars, and posting it on the trail. Recently when I asked a tri rider why he didn’t train on the road he said it was too dangerous. I would guess most tri riders have never learned how to ride a road bike in traffic. In fact, almost no one currently riding has done so; is it any wonder we have such bad behavior among some cyclists, and is it a surprise that many cyclists are afraid of riding in the road. A competent cyclist can safely ride in almost any traffic situation. The more who do, the better it would be for all of us.

  18. fred_dot_u Says:

    Bruce, you bring up a great point. Pedestrians are often drivers and recognize that being passed too closely by a bicyclist is uncomfortable, and most of us recognize that there’s a good bit of danger involved as well.

    Go a step in the other direction and it’s easy to see why cyclists should learn to control the lane. Those tri-bar riders don’t give quarter to the walkers, and they don’t ride in a manner conducive to getting the space they need on the road. Their conclusion would be that the roads are dangerous.

    It’s not the roads that are dangerous. Other than combining gravity with roadways, I’ve never been injured by a roadway. Luckily, I’ve not been injured by a driver on these roads either. The tri-bar riders are “afraid” because they are unskilled. Suggest that to a rider, and the wrath of carbon opens up, however.

    I would love to see more riders in my area learn to ride safely by managing lane position. I’ve yet to see any, in the last two or three years since I’ve learned the proper skills.

  19. Richard Says:

    MUPs only work where cyclist and pedestrian volumes are relatively low. Not sure what the exact volumes that work are but probably less than 100 people per hour maybe even less than 50. Otherwise separate bike and ped paths are required. One strategy when building a multi-use path is to ensure it is build in a way that makes it easy to build a new bike or ped path next to it.

    Also, it is pretty obvious that having bikes share roads with motor vehicles is in general a really bad idea. If traffic speeds (under 20mph) and volumes are really low (under 50 vehicles per hour), bikes sharing roads can work. Otherwise, cycle tracks (separated bike lanes) or bike paths along the road are likely the best solution.

    Just as bikes and peds are not compatible do to the difference in speed neither are bicycles and motor vehicles. It is much safer, less stressful and more comfortable when all modes have their own space.

  20. BruceMcF Says:

    I’ll concur with Richard, as the MUP “Hike and Bike” trail that I use sometimes to get to Kent is much better than many described above, not because its built better, but because its not congested. There are enough bikes that dog walkers expect them, and a wide enough grassy area on both sides that when the dog walkers are stopped, they are entirely off the way … but not so many that making sure of being able to pass to the left like a car passing in a two lane road is ever more than a matter of sometimes easing up a bit so a cyclist coming the other way has cleared the trail.

    All I can see for making it a MUP useful as a shortcut is a paved center two cycle lanes wide, a grassy edge on each side a sidewalk wide, and if there’s too many people using the MUP, make more. If there’s a country road with a 35mph or 45mph speed limit, I’d normally rather use that, but because of the local rail network, its only the state route that really goes as directly as the MUP.

  21. Adam Says:

    Simple answer: Shared paths are absolutely fine.

    But RACING bicycles should not be allowed on them. Like a car driver speeding around slow, narrow city streets in a racing car: totally inappropriate.

    Look at Japan where most of the numerous bike riders ride on the sidewalks. People on foot know to keep to the edges of the sidewalk, and you ring your bell often to let people know you’re coming up behind them and ask them to step aside, it’s absolutely fine. Any crashes are too slow to cause any harm.

  22. Brendan Says:

    Tom Vanderbilt really should visit Ocean City, New Jersey to see a multi-user system that works.

    I’m a DC bike commuter (roads only, no MUPs) and vacation in Ocean City, NJ. OCNJ’s Boardwalk is a type of MUP that in my observation is very successful. It’s an interesting microcosm to compare to traditional MUPs. The Boardwalk is divided into 4 classes of conveyance in two directions. It’s 8 clearly marked, 6 foot wide lanes for (starting from the edge) pedestrians, surreys (a type of 4-6 person bike that looks like a care and has a canvas roof), bicycles, and then runners in the most center lanes.

    Putting the runners in the center lane might seem counter-intuitive to the rule to put the fastest uses towards the center, but it means that runners doing abrupt turn-arounds never cross a bike lane. It eliminates the design aspect that led to the death in Dallas.

    Here are some other factors that make this arrangement viable.

    DENSITY OF USE: Constant use by all classes creates a type of permanent Boardwalk users community that constantly communicates the rules and norms to each other. There’s a constant dialogue to non-rule followers that they need to follow the rules. This is the opposite of most urban/suburban MUP where encounters between different classes are frequent enough to annoy all parties, but not dense enough to create a constant self-enforcing community. In other words, when a bike and pedestrian interact badly on an MUP it’s more likely there are no other users to witness the event or arbitrate the proper way to use the trail. In OCNJ you can’t use the Boardwalk without a crowd of people berating the non-compliers into compliance. (Insert snarky comment about people from New Jersey here)

    EXCLUDED USES DURING CERTAIN HOURS: The OCNJ Boardwalk has a PA system its entire length. At noon each day they announce that bikes and surreys can no longer use the Boardwalk. This acknowledges that use of the Boardwalk dramatically shifts to dominance by pedestrians. Cruising bicycles don’t mix with the randomly changing vectors of pedestrians (i.e. crowds). The Boardwalk also narrows at one end and it’s the bike lanes that get eliminated.

    UNIFORMED POLICE PRESENCE: OCNJ bike cops patrol the Boardwalk constantly. You will see one every 15 minutes, if not more frequently.

    ROAD SURFACE: The Boardwalk is built from wood and plastic 2x6s laid perpendicular in the pedestrian to travel in all lanes, but parallel in the surrey lanes. The difference in “surface” help segregate users. More than that the surface for bike lanes is rough enough that it deters aero-bar cyclists from doing time trials on the Boardwalk. You see casual cyclists with fat tires, but you never see speeds above 12 mph.

    DENSITY OF LANE MARKINGS: Lane assignments are clearly painted in yellow in each lane at least every 200 feet. There is no excuse for not knowing which lane to be in.

  23. Brendan Says:

    Meta-realization. OCNJ Boardwalk was able to implement this design probably because the Boardwalk is not subject to US or NJ DOT design standards and guidelines. They were able to put the runners in the center lanes because they weren’t restricted from doing it. Freedom to innovate.

  24. Andrew Says:

    Is Rhode Island the only place with the rule “Walk/jog on left, facing traffic?” It works pretty well when people mind it. It does not seem like a lot to expect. Where pedestrians are so numerous that this rule is not adequate to allow bicyclists to travel at a steady pace, the path needs to be wider.

  25. John Says:

    Fred, what I meant by better side lanes is the same as what you mentioned– the white line on regular roads that separates cyclists from cars. If these are bright white and well-paved, they could get me around the world. Perhaps in the future the bike lanes could be a bit wider, and the ones for cars a bit narrower to slow them down. At intersections, well, that is a different matter. You just have to know what you’re doing. After 40 years of road cycling, racing, commuting, city riding, leading tours, my credo still is “the car is always right.” At intersections a cyclist should expect anything, be watchful, and always yield.

    The essence of most of the above comments is– some cyclists go too fast on MUPs. Bikes should be grouped with cars, not pedestrians, and solutions should come from this perspective. Besides, bikes are going to get faster in the near future.

  26. fred_dot_u Says:

    John, it’s interesting how you describe the better side lanes. On four lane roads or wider, such things are already in place. The right lane for traffic is my wider bike lane and the left lane for traffic is for other higher speed road users. Anything less is too dangerous.

    Those lines that purport to separate cyclists from other road traffic are not a benefit, they are a danger, in that the motorist cares only to maintain position within the lines, even if that means riding over the right edge on occasion. I have too many hours of video of motorists doing just that.

    Your credo is “the car is always right” while mine might be “the driver is not to be trusted”. In that vein, I operate in as predictable a fashion as possible, while expecting the other driver to be unpredictable. I’m more prepared that way for whatever pops up. Having lane control often gives me more room to exercise options as well.

    On a related note, I don’t consider cars to be animate objects, but always take into consideration the driver. People will say roads are dangerous or cars are dangerous or things of that nature, but it’s the driver who holds the final responsibility. Some don’t take that responsibility seriously, some don’t recognize that it exists.

    For decades I rode without knowing what I was doing and I consider myself lucky that I only had to contend with close passing and right and left turning traffic from inconsiderate motorists.

    Most of the people I know who ride, which includes “club riders” are unaware of their lack of skill and training. They also do not believe that they need training, as they already know “what they’re doing” even though they don’t. From there, it goes downhill to the casual rider, believing too many misconceptions about cycling on the roadway.

    It’s really sad.

  27. Logarhythm Says:

    Before we all jump to conclusions I’d be interested in hearing some hard data about # of pedestrians or cyclists killed in bike vs. ped collisions. I’m willing to bet the number is absolutely dwarfed by the # of bicyclists or pedestrians killed by drivers.

    My point is all the spandex-clad speedsters who continue to ride on MUP’s because they say it’s safer than riding in traffic … well, they’re probably right. Which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try and minimize accidents on MUP’s, but I think forcing speedsters on the road is a bad idea.

    The long-term solution is more bike lanes and wider MUP’s, or separate bike vs. ped paths, but all of those are very expensive. In the short-term, I think that jurisdictions could just post a 15 mph speed limit for bicycles and other signs specifically warning walkers/joggers to remove ear buds and watch for each other. Those might be more effective than the generic “bikes yield to peds” signs which I think a lot of people ignore. And local bicycle clubs should do their part to request that the hard-core spandex crowd stick to roads OR simply learn to ride MUP’s at a leisurely pace, the way they are meant to be designed. A lot of the most popular MUP’s I’ve seen go through gorgeous scenery and fantastic people watching, and someone who whizzes by at 20 mph is frankly missing the whole point of the path, sort of like people who visit the Grand Canyon but barely look up from their iPhone.

    One other possibility, at least on loop trails, is to require all bicyclists to go clockwise. Vancouver, BC does this in their most popular park. The trail is generally 10-12′ wide, but where it narrows down to 8′ or less due to sheer cliffs, short obstacle courses are set up to make it essentially impossible to get through without dismounting and walking your bike that short distance.

  28. cycler Says:

    I’ve seen a lot of de facto shared spaces in antique european towns, where there are no issues of conflict, mainly because everyone is going considerably slower, and speed discrepancies are minimized. Also, everyone is assuming that any other mode share user might move in any direction at any time, and they really pay attention to each other. When one (or more modes) are given license to move much faster in a theoretically separated space (dedicated bike lane of a MUP, road dominated by cars) problems ensue..
    I commute quite a bit on a MUP in the summer when I’m not in a hurry and can enjoy a slow and relaxing ride along a scenic river. However, there is a real problem in trying to make them do too many things, and forcing dissimilar uses onto the same infrastructure(transport vs recreation) creates a fundamental conflict that is deeper than just difference of modes.

  29. Opus the Poet Says:

    The jogger killed on the Katy Trail was the first pedestrian killed by a cyclist in TX that I could find in the records since 2000, which was as far back as I could search. NYC and Philadelphia both average a pedestrian killed by a cyclist per year each. Nobody is keeping records of bike/ped collisions either with or without injury, NYC being scheduled to be the first beginning in April 2011. So while we don’t have hard numbers yet, one thing we can state for sure is that the ratio of pedestrians killed/injured is much lower for bikes than it is for motor vehicles. If my personal survey of new motor vehicles at the TX State Fair Auto Show is any indication that ratio is going to get much worse for motor vehicles in the coming years, as most of the models shown impacted me between my hips and armpits, and for my shorter wife the impact zone was waist to above her shoulders, pretty much guaranteeing a pedestrian fatality at any speed greater than 5 MPH. Bikes may knock a person down but unless they happen to hit their heads in the fall serious injury is unlikely and death (absent head injury) is almost unheard of. I suggest helmets for all MUP users, and all drivers and passengers of motor vehicles.

  30. Stigg Says:

    Of course MUP can be used safely, as long as the cyclists remembers that it’s he/she who must yield. You don’t go and do your hardest training on a MUP. Cyclist is usually the one who gets most hurt in a collision with any other road user so it’s good to take it easy.

  31. Opus the Poet Says:

    Also something I forgot to mention yesterday is many MUP are built as bicycle transportation facilities with transportation dollars, but get treated as general recreational facilities by the governments that have jurisdiction over them. This leads to a dichotomy for users as some are trying to get somewhere while others are playing in that same space. Perhaps transportation facilities that have been allowed to become recreational spaces need to be replaced by actual transportation facilities with signage indicating the intended use from the get-go. many of the trails that are supposed to be on the VeloWeb of local bicycle transportation facilities are treated like parks by their controlling government jurisdictions.

  32. David Hembrow Says:

    Shared use paths are simply a bad idea. It’s low quality cycling provision. Perhaps it’s OK where cycling is seen merely as a recreational pursuit, but if cycling is to be a practical means of transport then cyclists need to be able to make direct journeys at whatever speed they wish to ride. This is why the Netherlands does not build shared use paths, but does build inter-city cycle superhighways, cycle paths on which time-trials can be held (the winner averaged 59 km/h over a distance of 51 km) and junction design which removes conflict and makes cycling both efficient and safe.

    It’s the reason why long distance cycle commuting is more common in the Netherlands than any other country. It’s simply easier to do it when longer distances can be covered with priority at junctions and very few stops.

  33. Ashley Carruthers Says:

    Why assume that cyclists and walkers have something in common just because they are not cars? Shared paths don’t work. They are just a way for cities to cut costs on infrastructure. Walking AND cycling advocates should be arguing for separated paths.

  34. Michiel Says:

    Shared paths, or pedestrian areas where bikes are allowed, are in the NL only possible when there are destinations for cyclist, e.g. shops. See for an example in Delft:,+Delft&sll=52.036251,4.353579&sspn=0.00625,0.016512&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Bastiaansplein,+2611+Delft,+Zuid-Holland&ll=52.009374,4.363343&spn=0.003127,0.008256&t=h&z=18&layer=c&cbll=52.009394,4.363222&panoid=zwQljH6ooaMXb1TyJPMXsw&cbp=12,146.74,,0,5.

    When speed is high or the number of cyclists is too high, a shared path is not recommended at all. But even in the NL mistakes are made, e.g. in some newly paved roads in the city center of The Hague (Hofweg, Grote Markt)

  35. Dave in KY Says:

    The number of trail users killed is in the low single digits per year nationally. Maybe zero some years.

    This is dangerous how?

    How many people are dying of heart disease, diabetes, etc, all significantly mitigated by physical activity? Wildly guessing here, but MUPs save 100-10,000 lives a year from their health benefits, wouldn’t you say? So yeah, you might get struck by lightning while using one and die, but calling them “dangerous” because of bike/ped collisions is not looking at the situation holistically.

  36. Karen Says:

    On the campus of Northern Arizona University, many of the paths are marked as bike paths, with the pedestrian path usually next it. Usually, there is a learning curve at the beginning of earch academic year but it seems to help. Nonetheless, some people continue to ignore the marked paths and walk on them anyway, two or three abreast. I just pedal along at a slow speed, use my bike bells and call out when needed. My last ditch option is to just hop off my bike and walk around them.

  37. Jannest Says:

    he road level has been raised to path at the crossing to provide smooth transition for path users. Path users still gives way to those on the road, as is clearly marked, as is the give way point back from the road and footpath, which is reinforced with a holding rail

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
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September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
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September 11, 2009
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October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

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INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
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November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

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Texas Transportation Forum
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January 19
Yale University
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Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

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University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
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April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
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Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

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Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
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Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
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September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



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