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Coming To A Bike Path Near You: Police Patrols For Safer Pathways

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Did you ever think you’d spot your local law enforcement patrolling the local non-motorized pathway? In Rockford, Illinois, it’s already happening.

The fact that foot, pedal, and all traffic on multi-use pathways is up is a great thing. The more commuters, runners, cyclists, and families that utilize these rail-to-trail type thoroughfares, the better. That means less traffic, a healthier community, and a lot of those trail users turn into safer, more alert drivers when they do find themselves back behind the wheel.

But the increase in volume does come at a cost. Setting safety standards and best practices on bike paths is a crucial way to make sure all users have a positive experience, and in places like Rockford, the local police have taken on that responsibility. By informing and enforcing a number of common sense and considerate regulations, they’re hoping to reduce the number of incidents and citations each year.

The issues faced in Rockford are shared on bike paths around the country, and luckily, the solutions are just as universal. A few of the most important ways to stay safe are obvious, especially looking at the pathway as a roadway; stay to the right except to pass. We put together a few more that can help you be a positive influence on your local trail.

  1. Use that bell. Cyclists are almost always the fastest traffic, and that means you’ll be overtaking plenty of walkers, runners, families, and even other cyclists. Announce yourself early and often; a single ding might alert another trail user, but doesn’t help them judge how quickly you’re closing in from behind. Approach at a safe speed and continue to announce yourself until you’re safely by.

  2. No headphones. We all like listening to tunes, and on the shoulder of the road, being able to hear an approaching car over the sound of your earbuds is your call. However, the communication required on a pathway is too important to drown out. Remove your headphones or hit pause on any busy stretch of pathway. If you need a good example of why it matters, try overtaking a walker or runner who has their music up too loud; they’ll jump out of their skins no matter how polite, loud, and vocal you make yourself.

  3. Watch for joining traffic. Many bike paths have access points beyond sidewalks or intersections. Bike paths are not the place to do your intervals or see how long you can hold 25 miles per hour. Always adjust your speed to be able to react to other trail users hopping onto the pathway. Assume that they won’t look, and that they won’t hop on the trail out of your way. Keep your eyes up and announce yourself as you would overtaking any other trail users.

  4. Short leash. If you walk your dog on a pathway, remember that other people are not responsible for your pet. Even the best behaved dog needs to be on a short lease; if they wander away, even a two-feet leash and the length of your outstretched arm is more than enough to obstruct the entire pathway. Walk with your dog on the right, in the grass, whenever possible, to allow for other trail users to safely pass on your left.

  5. Stop’n’Go. Kids learning to ride love bike paths, and they should! It is important that they understand how to ride safely on a bike path and that they can interact with other users. Make sure they understand that they need to stay to one side of the trail, and many parents will ask for their kids to stop whenever they’re being over taken by cyclists. If you aren’t sure if your child is stable and steady enough to ride in a straight line, play a game of ‘Stop’n’Go’, yelling out, ‘Stop!’ with traffic present and ‘Go!’ when it’s clear. It’s a good way to reward the winner (and all the kids!) with ice cream at the end of the ride!

Bike paths and non-motorized pathways are safe alternatives to riding, running, and walking on busy roadways, but only if we all take the same effort to keep them safe for all users. If you have questions about the rules and guidelines about speeds, usage, or access, contact your local trails organization to learn more.