Cyclists must use more caution on popular paths

Posted by on June 8th, 2006 at 8:59 am

crowded Riverfront path

[Do you share the path?]

The warm sun has brought throngs of people out to our popular multi-use paths. Riverfront paths like the Eastbank Esplanade and bridges are especially crowded.

Thanks to great weather and publicity – like this article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer extolling the virtues of our waterfront – increased numbers of tourists and newbie, fair-weather cyclists are using these paths. Like a new racer in a peloton, many of these folks may not be used to riding or walking in crowded conditions.

Making matters worse, I’ve heard from many people that some cycists have complete disregard for others while riding. Fellow blogger David Rowe describes an all too common scenario:

“Many cyclists are hammering too hard out there, passing slower riders, weaving in and out of pedestrians, and flying down the wrong side of the path a 20mph or more. Lately, I have become very concerned that someone is going to get hurt very badly. Last night, I had to shout out a warning to a roadie who entered the section near OMSI from the street, doing at least 20 mph; what he couldn’t see as he entered the path was the high school prom that had overtaken the entire pathway between OMSI and the TV station.”

A few quick tips (maybe you’ve got others):

  • Use a bell, but don’t ring it obnoxiously, just because you’re on a bike doesn’t mean you have special rights to the path.
  • Say, “passing on your right (or left)”
  • Slow down and make sure people know you’re coming before you pass.
  • Just be courteous…smile and wave as you go by!

I know it can be frustrating when you’re trying to ride through these areas, but if you’re in a hurry please consider taking an alternate route during peak times or better yet, just slow down and enjoy the view (remembering to watch where you’re going of course).

Just imagine the PR fallout against cyclists if one of us collided with a lady pushing a stroller.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

29 Comments
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    Evan Manvel June 8, 2006 at 9:04 am

    It’s also a call to the City to ensure we build larger facilities. With a growing city, and growing number of bicyclists and pedestrians, we need to build wide, well-designed paths.

    It’s amazing to think back when the Hawthorne was being redone in the mid-1990s the BTA had to work so hard to get the City to widen the sidewalk to the size it is now, and how we’re running into problems with it still being too small.

    Here’s a toast to bike congestion!

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    brock June 8, 2006 at 9:07 am

    Good post! I often include the esplanade on my commute home, specifically to slow myself down.

    I’m worried more about the dogs – twice this week I had to slow to a stop to navigate unleashed pups. I’m all for dogs running free, but the esplanade is not the place.

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    cb June 8, 2006 at 9:07 am

    I bike this path nearly every day, and I’m sort of stunned at some of the bike behavior I see. Yes, the pedestrians step stupidly like cattle into your path, obnoxiously unaware of their presence in the world, but you can’t change that — you can only change your own behavior. I see bikers passing peds and other bikers at high speeds, weaving between stray children, and ignoring conditions. That’s something I especially don’t get, weaving between kids — anyone who has ever seen a kid before knows they turn on a dime, and whether it’s their fault or not, do you really want to suck one of them up your tread and into your fork?

    We’re lucky to have those paths. I wish I could treat them like a velodrome, but we can’t. Let’s share them and give ourselves a good reputation.

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    Roger J June 8, 2006 at 9:13 am

    I am often amazed at the number of cyclist who feel that their racing careers begin and end on the Hawthorne Bridge.

    I race and I ride a ton, and a congested spot like the Hawthorne, Esplanade or similar places is a great place to just accept the prevailing speed and enjoy the wonderful scenery.

    My concern too is that someone will get injured and the anti-cycling community will have a field day with it.

    -r

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    Paolo June 8, 2006 at 9:57 am

    Very good point, I was walking the path from Oaks Bottom to Omsi few weekends ago with a “Great Strides” walk, a fundraiser for cystic fibrosis and I could not believe how rude the cyclists were to the walkers, being a cyclist myself I found it very disturbing.
    The path was full of walkers, mostly kids, in both directions, they probably should have closed the path for the event, but most of the cyclists were riding very dangerously and trying to go as fast as possible dodging people. I even saw a guy leave a 10 feet skidmark with his tire when he had to break for a kid.
    I felt cyclists did not understand that they need to yeld to walker and not the other way around, also they expect to be able to go the speed they want no matter what, and that made it very dangerous. I only saw one older gentleman that decided to walk his bike, that would have been the right thing to do or if you are out for you training or fast bike ride just go on some road….
    Ciao
    Paolo

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    joe June 8, 2006 at 10:07 am

    anti-cycling community?! do they have a website?
    http://www.no-bikeportland.org……:-)

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    dayaram June 8, 2006 at 10:20 am

    please let’s not encourage this pro and anti stuff. We all need to be more responsible riding in mixed use situations. The folks that are not using good sense probably don’t read this or other websites either

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    Evan Manvel June 8, 2006 at 11:07 am

    This ped-bike conflict may become part of the hook for a story appearing in the July issue of Portland Monthly.

    I talked about while there’s a lot of concern about it, the overall safety concerns pale in comparison to the ped-car, bike-car, and car-car conflicts.

    We need to work hard to model good behavior, and create more facilities for fast cyclists. For example, when the Naito Parkway construction is done, we’ll have a bike lane on Naito for the speedsters and Tom McCall Park shared use path for the slowsters.

    And I think we’ve all talked about (maybe on the Shift list) how there are weird consequences to always letting people know you’re passing (peds jump and swerve or get annoyed because it might imply they should move, bicyclists get hoarse, etc.) even thought that’s the law.

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    Jeremy June 8, 2006 at 11:27 am

    Great comments, everyone! It’s ironic that many cyclists complain about peds like motorists complain about cyclists. You’d think we’d be more ‘in tune’ with minority road/path issues. Regardless, we all need to ensure safe transport for peds and wheels alike.

    Regardless of your preferred mode of transportation (feet, cycle, TriMet, auto), there will always be a percentage of those using the same mode as you who are ignorant, rude or dangerous. It makes it all the more important that we who are not ignorant, rude or dangerous, actually demonstrate the care and caution we seek from others every time we travel, using EVERY mode of transportation.

    And one quick note regarding path size: We should not assume that wider paths would result in greater overall benefits to us all. Architectural streetscape design studies show that perceived ‘livability’ and ‘viability’ (as judged by residents of a community) comes from the perceived ‘busyness’ and decrease in personal space dictated by tighter/narrower paths and sidewalks.

    If we look at popular busy sidewalks like Hawthorn, NW 23rd or Castro and Haight streets in San Francisco, these community paths are popular because of the dense nature of their design. This is a European design tradition that we should embrace. True, it makes cycling on narrow paths a real pain, but the loss of this would negatively impact us all.

    What’s more, every time a city moves to widen walkways in an attempt to provide greater pedestrian egress and greater personal space, the paths fail to generate the same perceived attraction as their narrower cousins. The downtown bus mall is a good example, as are several recent projects in downtown Boise, Idaho and Seattle, Washington.

    Wide shared paths may make weaving in and out of shared traffic easier, but they will reduce the look and feel of what many of us in this city have come to love.

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

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    todd June 8, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    When Portland’s east side was developed mostly around 1910, there were forty times as many bicycles on the road as cars; bikes were about the fastest mode, and their place was the same roads we have today. Feet, bikes, light rail, horsecarts and the occasional motor vehicle were the transport modes Portland was designed around, and we still have 90% of that road infrastructure, in plan if not surface (bicyclists led efforts to pave the roads). Transpose this to now, where bikes (and pedestrians) are supposed to squeeze along lanes and paths narrower than those roads, and, well, suddenly crowding is an issue. Narrow multi-use paths are much less safe than the roads, so it’s ironic how fearful cyclists prefer them.

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    Jeremy June 8, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    Todd, that is indeed a great point! I assume that I am less likely to perish from an accident with another cyclist/pedestrian on a path than I am in a car/cycle collision. Yet the likelihood of a collision with another cyclist/pedestrian on a path ‘seems’ to be much greater than the likelihood of a car/cycle collision on a street.

    Quite frankly, I believe people simply need to use multiple forms of transportation (preferably those with the least environmental impact, e.g. autos) in their everyday lives and take the responsibility of knowing the rules and common courtesy for each. If we all respected one another and understood each other’s rights/responsibilities on the roads/paths, we would likely coexist much better.

    In the interim, we need to be vigilant in setting good examples.

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

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    jami June 8, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    “Here’s a toast to bike congestion!”

    Hear hear.

    I’m as annoyed as anyone at the bike guys who think slowing down is a sign of weakness, but even slowpokes like me can run into pedestrian trouble. A while back on the Hawthorne bridge, I approached a cute older couple meandering down the sidewalk. I was just about to pass at a normal pace when they made a sharp turn right in front of me, like they planned to cross the bridge or something. I probably spoiled their romantic time with my inarticulate grunts of terror. They jumped back into their “lane,” I said “sorrysorry!” and we went our separate ways.

    It’s awesome that we have a “too many bikes” situation, but I do hope people engineerier than me come up with some fixes besides just painting separate lanes.

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    guilty cyclist June 8, 2006 at 1:39 pm

    I just hit a pedestrian a couple of days ago and I feel absolutely awful about it. She was in the crosswalk and I had a green light. As I started to turn, I aimed to go behind her, but she saw me coming and stopped, then backed up right into my path. I knocked her to the ground. I think she’s OK and I just skinned my knee. Just be careful out there and watch for peds. I’m pretty sure it was her fault, but she could have been a child or an older person and I could have really hurt her. Be aware….

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    dayaram June 8, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    Oh Dear! you know the law on giving pedestrians more space has changed so that all vehicles are supposed to stop until the ped has cleared a certain distance _ I think its one lane width or more in some circumstances. This would mean that simply going around someone in an intersection, something I have done regularly , can now make me subject to a ticket. Things get messy!!!

    On the other hand, my closest call occurred when I was passed on the Right by a cyclist just as I was making a right turn at waterfront park. We didn’t collide but both wobbled off down the road with me cursing and him silent

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    Roger Geller June 8, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    Glad you posted this Jonathan. Not only do cyclists complain about pedestrians as motorists complain about cyclists, as noted by Jeremy, but pedestrians complain about cyclists the same way that cyclists complain about motorists. Many of the complaints are identical: going too fast for the conditions; behaving in a threatening manner by passing too closely; and generally operating in a manner as if the road (path) was built for them alone. Sound familiar?

    To every cyclist who rides on pathways, I encourage you to walk along one during rush hour. You’ll be amazed at how intimidating it feels from the pedestrian perspective to be passed in close proximity by cyclists going fast. I know it amazed me when I walked across the Hawthorne Bridge with my then 10-year old son. It was scary and unpleasant.

    I think a lot of cyclists, skilled at fitting through tight spaces in auto traffic, assume “no contact, no foul” when it comes to riding in a pedestrian environment. That’s just not the case.

    I hear a lot of complaints from pedestrians about how unpleasant it can be on shared paths because of apparently inconsiderate cyclists. However, I don’t think it’s lack of consideration. Rather, I think it’s lack of knowledge about what it feels like to be a pedestrian in those areas.

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    randy June 8, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    Not only do some cyclists go too fast on the shared paths, but they also fail to signal their passes. An audible warning is legally required when passing pedestrians, and it’s just common courtesy to do the same for your fellow cyclists. One Lance wannabe scared the shit out of me while passing me in the ‘tight’ section of the Springwater trail adjacent to Ross Island Sand and Gravel. I had just checked my mirror, without seeing anyone behind me, and the all of a sudden I was being passed at high speed and in close quarters by this jerk. He never slowed down, rang a bell or called ‘on your left’. ZooBombers are soooo much more polite than the roadies on the MUP.

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    Tree June 8, 2006 at 5:17 pm

    I ride the Katz esplanade almost every day after work. I want the peds on it to enjoy themselves. They’re out getting some fresh air and exercise. I want their experience to be positive. How can they have a good time if they have to constantly worry a cyclist is going to clip them? If people are milling about I definitely slow down and give a wide berth. Like someone said previously, we’re not the only ones on the “road” – we just think we are. ha ha

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    Alan June 8, 2006 at 9:40 pm

    Good post. Many good comments.

    I want to say something about OMSI. They put out “slow down” signs every day and they have been doing this for years. Despite this warning, I rarely find more than one or two peds on the path, and hardly ever find an unattended child.

    Signs that warn about unlikely dangers get ignored. Just recently, I saw some rush hour cyclists ZOOM through the OMSI zone (and there were LOTS of bikes and peds).

    Please obey the signs. If we don’t, we might find “slow down” replaced by “trail closed to bicycles – follow DETOUR”.

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    Anonymous June 9, 2006 at 6:02 am

    Alan, I’m not sure what time you ride there but I often see hordes of schoolchildren, families and tourists on the trails outside OMSI, and sometimes the lines queueue up for the jetboats or the submarine onto the pathway. On the eastside, that’s the area where I most often encounter congestion. It’s also where I’ve seen more bike-ped collisions than anywhere else on the path. Maybe OMSI can put the signs up when they have tour groups go through, and take them down the rest of the time? I suspect that’s more effort than just asking bikers to be cautious coming through there, though.

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    Ian June 9, 2006 at 6:23 am

    Todd: those are some interesting historical facts! Do you know where I can go read more about how bicycling influenced Portland development in the early 1900’s?

    I must say, I also feel more comforable biking on eastside side streets, on equal footing with cars, than biking in a narrow lane between fast traffic and parked cars, or on crowded multiuse paths.

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    todd June 9, 2006 at 7:05 am

    Ian, I wish I had a Portland-specific source, or even a general close-up of the role of bicycles in US urban development for the brief period that they were the odds-on favorite to replace the horse — the period coinciding with the “streetcar suburb” boom. My figures come from auto registration records and bicycle sales figures for the preceding decade, with guesswork allowance for percentage of those bikes not used (>50%). These come from the appendices of the book “Bike Cult.”

    The rest of the picture is sort of common sense: look at when Portland neighborhoods were built and when cars came into dominance: Portland was designed to work without cars. Look at how garages and driveways have eliminated what was designed as garden space. Look at all the former corner groceries in the neighborhoods that have been converted to more private uses. And in an age before electric appliances, it wasn’t deemed extravagant to have electric rail lines running parallel on Burnside, Belmont, Hawthorne, etc. — these are only hundreds of yards apart! Now we have one line on the whole east side and it’s hailed as some sort of boldness. And we didn’t need no steenking bike paths/lanes, or stop signs for that matter. Of course it didn’t last — fuel was just way too cheap; cheap fuel needs to be burned like free money needs to be spent. Streets ceased to be public space. With any luck, though, we’ll find our way back when fuel isn’t cheap anymore. ok, end rambling.

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    Babygorilla June 9, 2006 at 8:44 am

    I’m always extra cautious on the Esplanade or in any high pedestrian area. Since my commute home normally runs down the waterfront and accross the steel bridge. Even though I know I can navigate and keep my bike under control at slow/no speed, I’ve happily gotten off and walked through congested areas around the fun center because of the high number of folks unfamiliar with bike traffic. Bikes do not mix well with high density and unpredictable pedestrian traffic.

    On semi related note, this morning was one of the few times I took the broadway bridge with the militarized zone the our wonderful waterfront park has become. With some good speed and a seemingly clear path down the hill and onto the bridge, I spied a group of folks ahead and appropriately slowed. To my woe, I discovered that the mass of people blocking the way accross the bridge were actually bicyclists at what I assume was breakfast on the bridges (correct me if I’m wrong). I’m all for spreading bike culture and try to do my part, but I don’t think there could be a more inconvenient spot for such an event when it actually forces people to stop and get off their bikes. Small inconvenience and I may be petty, but I felt like I was being pressured/forced to participate.

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    loli June 9, 2006 at 9:23 am

    While I completely agree that we, as cyclists, should be cautious while riding in areas that we share with pedestrians, and while I concede that the only actions we can change are our own, I disagree with all the criticism that is taking place of cyclists on here. Nobody, thus far, has mentioned pedestrian accountability. I ride the esplanade frequently, and have encountered situations where it is not the cyclists, but the pedestrians who are being downright rude. In my experience, cyclists are either politely waiting behind or trying to pass pedestrians who are lined up single file across the path and are making no effort to allow the bikes to pass. Quite frankly, it is easier for most pedestrians to move aside onto the shoulder than it is for a bike to try to pass on the shoulder. A couple weeks ago while riding near Oaks Park, I tried to pass a family who were taking up the entire path. I rang my bell, but they still didn’t move. Finally I said “Passing on your left” and moved onto the grassy part of the shoulder to try and go around them. As I did, the father threw his elbow out and hit my side, effectivly knocking me over and off my bike. Slightly stunned, I got up and said “Hope you feel good now that you hit a girl.” and rode away.

    Somebody said it earlier and I couldn’t agree more, we shouldn’t be creating an argument ‘bikes vs. pedestrians’. There is already enough of that with ‘cars vs. bikes’. Everybody is accountable, everybody needs to share, and everybody needs to be responsible.

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    el timito June 9, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Love this chat! My dos pesos:
    It’s not the mode, it’s the operator. Whether we be in car, on bike, or on foot we are each primarily concerned with our own speed, comfort, and fun. The exciting challenge is to step outside of our own little worlds and interact with the rest of the universe – Jeremy & Roger, you are exactly right: the more we walk (or bike or drive) in another’s shoes (or cleats or car), the more considerate we become when traveling by our “normal” mode.
    One last peso – I encourage everyone to welcome the random in our travels, whether that be peds, breakfast, or a Navy ship. I think as Americans we tend to value efficiency above all other aspects of life. Thus we drive to the store to save 5 minutes, when walking would let us notice the beautiful gardens along the way.
    I will both ask forgiveness for the congestion Breakfast on the Bridges causes, and respectfully suggest that one use it as a chance to take a breath of fresh air over the Willamette and admire how beautiful our city is from that vantage.
    Plus, we have tardy slips if you’re running late.

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    k. June 12, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    This is a terrific post, thank you! I’m a pedestrian largely because with my MS I can no longer ride a bike. A couple years back I happened to be downtown on a friday night crossing the street with the light – not knowing that the coming group of bikers had a rule not to stop for traffic signals! (I think they were protesting something.)

    I got caught out in the intersection, bikes passing in front and back of me, and with the bikers probably thinking me an idiot for not getting out of their way fast.

    I’m not to fast on my feet these days, and I find in Portland there’s not much patience with pedestrians, not even from some bikers (but especially not from cars!)

    We peds need to have more consideration too, to be sure. But in a match between a pedestrian and a car or bike, it’s the pedestrian that’s going to come out the worst for it.

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    Jim O'Horo June 12, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    RE: Calling out “on your left”

    Though a bell or other device is the most desirable warning method, verbal warnings are also legal. If there’s lot’s of room to the left of the pedestrians, there’s little risk but when space is narrow, some warning is appropriate. Many pedestrians, especially children, don’t understand the “on your left” message, and are as likely to jump to their left when startled as any other action. I find the most effective verbal warning is to slow to the pedestrian’s speed and say: “Excuse me.” Once I have the pedestrian’s attention and EYE CONTACT then I proceed.

    Another problem is peds with headphones. Usually they don’t hear the warning and it’s necessary to shout to get their attention.

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    tonyt June 12, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    My motto is, “Bikes yield to pedestrians, cars yield to bikes and pedestrians.” In other words, the more mechanical advantage you have, the greater your obligation to yield.

    That being said;

    I’d love to do the bell thing, or the “passing on your left” thing, but in my experience, they only make matters worse. I say “passing on your left” and they jump left, I go right, they jump right. If I ring the bell, they spin around right into my path.

    Better to just slow down a bit and give them as much room as possible.

    I would also heartily suggest that each biker out there walk the entire Esplanade just once. I did one day and it totally changed how I pass peds. I never realized how fast a bike seems when it’s passing closely. It was pretty unnerving.

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    elljay June 12, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    I tend to favor voice over bell. “On your left” or “Passing on your left” is more descriptive than “ting. ting-ting.” Especially when spoken clearly. As a ped or cyclist, I hate the bell. Sure, it lets me know you’re there, but not your intention. Even “pass left” give some direction.

    There was a cyclist ting-ing his way through a fun run on the Esplanade yesterday that was crazy…no consistency to his passing side…just ting and go.

    I was on Marine Drive Path the other day and also noticed that voice doesn’t spook the canine crowd nearly as much as a bell.

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  • […] The Guardian (UK) covers conflicts on a multi-use path…sound familiar? […]

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