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Etiquette on Multi-Use Paths

Now that summer is out and outdoor recreating is in (not that it was ever "out"), we find multi-use paths packed with walkers, runners, bikers, starting-to-bikers, toddlers, roller-bladers, skateboarders, dogs, squirrels, birds, and many other users.  There are clusters of middle- and high-schoolers, there are amblers with headphones on, there are darting animals, children.  Bodies travel at different paces - fast, slow, medium, stopped.  On a warm weekend day, the multi-use path can be an obstacle course.

Even the widest of paths aren't as wide as a car lane (11-12 feet across).  More typically, the path might be 7 or 8 feet across, just enough for two way cross traffic in single file.  Collisions and brushes with others can be frequent if you are walking/riding/skuuting 2+ abreast.  Weaving in and out of bodies takes skill, whether on foot or wheels.

How do we encourage the kids to "share the path" responsibly, reasonable?  My tips include:

  • walk/ride to the right, always.
  • 2+ abreast is ok, so long as there is no oncoming traffic
  • "single file!" is what I utter loudly when we spot oncoming traffic, and my kids immediately pull ahead of me and I drop to the rear position, and we will go in single file to allow enough width for passing
  • use the bell!  whether on a scooter, bike, jogger: we ring, ring from a distance behind and call "on your left" as we pass
  • ride straight, as much as possible, unless you are on a super-wide path.  
  • for the learning pedalers, learning scooters: walk/ride behind, to be able to call out and ask the little ones ahead to stop, pull to the side, or ride as straight as possible.
  • be defensive.  as with driving, we have to anticipate the unexpected: a dog on a long leash speeding ahead crosswise along the path, leash obstructing; a toddler darting out from one side of the path to the other, maybe chasing a leaf, squirrel, bird; an early bike-rider swerving considerably as you try to overtake/pass.

With a few close calls in just the past couple of days, I thought I'd collect your thoughts on how we can manage the multi-use paths safely, responsibly, and teach our kids to do the same?


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All of what you mentioned makes sense. When I am on the bike and passing runners and walkers, I tried to leave a lot of space between them and me. I am sensitive to this ever since my friend pointed out that I was cutting it close when passing a walker. I had no idea I was doing that, but I can imagine it doesn't feel safe for the one being passed.

All good tips, with one small quibble. I would disagree with the riding 2+ abreast as long as there isn't on-coming traffic. What about people riding up behind you and trying to pass? 2 abreast is okay with me as long as there is still sufficient passing room, but I wouldn't go beyond that.

As a part-time still somewhat newbie bike commuter (started in December) I have been trying to avoid multi use paths (basically Waterfront Park) as much as possible. Pedestrians walk 2, 3, 4 abreast and don't look for anyone else (in fairness, I also don't look behind me when I walk). Between that and small animals on long leashes and people just stopped to gather and talk (just a hint of sarcasm thrown in...) it makes it too much of an obstacle course for my taste.

I just have to say that one of my huge pet peeves is the hard core getting-my-workout speed bikers who don't recognize that a family-geared multi-use path on a sunny summer Sunday is not their venue. Maybe this is only an issue where I live (the Gorge) vs. Portland. But it's been enough of a turnoff to me on the occasions where I've gathered my kids and mom friends with kids for a lovely walk/bike that I have stopped doing it entirely, which is a real shame. I had enough of the glares. Yes, kids need to learn rules. But my kid is two, give her a break. Makes me long for a life in a place where hardcore recreation is not the obsession and kids can be kids.

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I feel like MUPs in Portland are a great demonstration of the way our transportation resources are allocated - cars get 95% of the space and money, and bicyclists and pedestrians jockey for the remainder. I think everybody on MUPs could be more considerate of our fellow trail-users, and all of us should be working together to demand that policymakers help us get a little more space.

I wish there were a fun, carefree place for kids to ride their bikes around, but MUPs aren't the place, particularly not the Esplanade or Springwater Corridor in Portland. I spend most of our rides alternating between telling my 12 year-old to ride in a straight line and pay attention to other people ("But I didn't see him/her/it!"), and wishing that it weren't such an intense environment.

I am avoiding the multi use paths with my kids till they are way older. It just seems like a headache to try to navigate young riders in that environment while also maintain a level of safety.

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