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On the beaten path

10 December, 2011

Riding on shared paths is a great way to enjoy a day of riding without battling traffic, but they can still be busier than a main road. Emma Clark explains the rules.

Safe, scenic and motor-traffic-free: shared paths are perfect for anyone wanting to avoid riding on the road or access areas where cars can’t go. However, shared really does mean shared: you will have to share the space with people of all ages and paces, including those walking or jogging in all directions, other bike riders of varying speeds, kids, people pushing prams, animals, rollerbladers, skateboarders and groups of people doing any of these activities. Being hyper-aware of your surroundings will go a long way to ensure you enjoy your ride and don’t end up crashing.

In the Australian road rules, shared paths, bike paths and off-road paths are considered road-related areas, which is the name given to an area that is not a road, but is open to the public and designated for use by cyclists or animals. Road users are classified as riders, passengers, drivers and pedestrians. Bikes are considered vehicles, unless specifically stated otherwise, and so a person riding a bike on a shared path must follow the same rules as a person driving a car on a road.

The majority of all paths in Australia are shared paths, which means they can be used by both pedestrians and bike riders. All the regular road rules apply to these paths, such as keeping left unless overtaking, not riding more than two abreast and remaining no more than 1.5m from the other rider, and following all road signs and signals. It is important to note that if you do have a collision on a shared path, you might not be covered by your state’s motor accident insurance. Generally, only crashes involving another motor vehicle are covered, so it can be a good idea to contact your state bike organisation about riding insurance.

Whilst normal road rules apply to users of shared paths, there are some specific exemptions and clarifications. Wheeled traffic, including bike riders, rollerbladers, skateboarders and people on scooters, must give way to all pedestrians on shared paths. On bike-only paths, pedestrians are not allowed to walk along the path unless crossing it, and must always give way to bikes.

Courtesy and common sense goes a long way on shared paths. Don’t try to break any speed records, instead, try to keep your speed at a reasonable pace. Move off the path if you are stopping, especially on paths with blind corners. Use your bell or voice liberally to alert other path users that you are passing them, and beware the plugged-in pedestrian. If you see the tell-tale earplug cords, ding your bell or call out loudly to warn them of your presence.

Paths are often not as well lit as the road, so take extra care when riding in the dark. Many pedestrians don’t think to wear lights and early-morning dog-walkers can be a serious hazard, so make sure you have good lights, not only for being seen but also for seeing the path in front of you.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Kevin Balaam permalink
    13 December, 2011 5:30 pm

    To clarify matters about “plugged in pedestrians”, the issue is not their lack of hearing but their possible lack of spatial awareness and distraction.

  2. 14 December, 2011 6:12 pm

    I think it is very poor to describe this as describing the rules, when the State rules actually take precedence. Most of what is said in this article doesn’t apply on WA shared Paths, see the WA Traffic Act 2007.

    It is also a pity that reference wasn’t made to the AusRoads research report of 2006 into the Conflict between cyclists and pedestrians on Shared Paths. Australia is basically unique in considering these suitable for cyclists.

    Stirling Council WA, in their Bike Strategy discuss in some detail an alternative approach to not just Shared paths, but also outline a classification system for cycling infrastructure, that makes a lot more sense that much of what exists today both federally and in WA.

    Where paths are concerned, it says basically all paths are places for pedestrians, and the use of bikes on these which should be open to everyone, but with a speed limit of 10kph, ie, same as required of Aust Post m/bikes on paths.
    ‘Bike paths’ with a higher speed limit should be bikes only, bike lanes need clearer definition of their use by cyclists and motorists.
    This approach essentially supports the WA strategy catch phrase, that “all streets are bicycle streets”, and also the USA quote, “That Cyclists fare better when they act and are treated as the driver of a vehicle.”

  3. Shaun permalink
    14 December, 2011 8:49 pm

    Are there any rules about what type of motorised bikes are allowed on bike paths? I have seen monkey bikes and trail bikes being used. Is this legal?

  4. Jane permalink
    14 December, 2011 10:00 pm

    I use shared paths both as a bike rider and as a pedestrian. When walking as a pedestrian I find that a loud warning at a distance of about 15 to 20 metres is much better than one in my right ear as the rider passes. Try to imagine (or better still walk the shared paths yourself once in while rather than riding your bike) a sudden noise to your right from a fast moving large object you have not heard approaching. You will find that as a walker it will set you off balance. Older people can also be quite deaf so the sudden bell ring right up close will make them jump.
    Riding two abreast usually occupies more than half of the path and is therefore dangerous to pedestrians as chatting paris of cyclists often forget or cannot move sufficiently to the left to accommodate the mix of cyclists and pedestrians coming from the opposite direction. At junctions with footpaths eg the lights crossing at Lygon St Brunswick and across Princes St near Melbourne Uni please remember to stay on the left rather than swing out to get ahead of pedestrians. If necessary wheel your bike across pedestrian footpaths – it is not a right to stay on your bike at all times anymore than it is a right for pedestrians and car drivers to never have to stop for other traffic.

    • Andrew permalink
      25 August, 2012 1:49 pm

      Yes the bell is better 15-20m out. And, some discretion is reasonable – many pedestrians who are walking predictably and safely, acclimatised to the passing of many bikes, don’t need the clanging.

  5. Catherine permalink
    15 December, 2011 8:22 am

    I am terrified on the Yarra Trail. People ride aggressively and at high speed like they are in the hills of France. I now ride small side streets and wend my way to work through the clutter of suburbia – taking my chances with the reversing soccer mom driving her kids to the school 2 blocks away. Could they maybe put styles or some sort of obstacle on these paths that make these cyclists slow down? It would make things a lot safer and easier for nervous cyclists like myself.

  6. Wayne Gatley permalink
    15 December, 2011 8:37 am

    Late night walkers on shared paths need to have some visible lighting

  7. Beck permalink
    15 December, 2011 9:40 am

    Walkers aren’t going to carry lighting, lets be realistic. However, we should encourage them to wear something reflective so that bike lights see them.
    There’s no need for a bright yellow vest, just a little bit of reflective tape on the front & back of clothing and shoes would help!

    • Andrew permalink
      25 August, 2012 1:52 pm

      Yes some relfective tape helps amazingly. Interesting though that this winter more than ever joggers in the dark have indeed been wearing lights. Very welcome!

  8. 15 December, 2011 10:12 am

    I think it isn’t just unrealistic, but unreasonable to expect pedestrians on paths, ie, their domain, to behave in any other way than pedestrians do.
    At pedestrian speeds, a walker can, and always have, behaved randomly. They walk side by side, neither left nor right, having a pleasent chat, they can stop, change direction, etc, in a microsecond without causing any difficuty for other pedestrians.
    However, the fly in the ointment is cyclists. Not only is it impossible for them to stop or change direction in an instant, they are trained as drivers of vehicles to give hand signals, give warning, keep left, have lights at night, wear reflective clothing, and so on.
    The two very different behaviours don’t work on roads with different types of vehicles, they don’t work on paths. It is commonsense. The AusRoads research didn’t find anything different, eg, no amount of education, rules, signage, public meetings between cyclist and pedestrians, had any impact. And why should it? Why should walkers behave like drivers of vehicles when using their paths?
    That is the knub of it! It isn’t resolvable!
    So lets stop spending money on Shared Paths. There are better ways of resolving the issues of the fear of cyclists in Australia on roads. Essentially it is motorist behaviour that must change. RAC in each State ought to be campaigning for their members to be exemplars of proper driver behaviour, but RAC don’t care that much.

    • Andrew permalink
      25 August, 2012 1:30 pm

      Maybe so, but if it is “unreasonable to expect pedestrians on paths, ie, their domain, to behave in any other way than pedestrians do”, doesn’t the same idea apply to expecting behavioural change from motorists on roads?

  9. Larry Burch permalink
    19 December, 2011 8:37 am

    How is it that shared paths are the domain of the pedestrian? Surely they are the domain of all the users and all the users need to share the responsibiity to keep left and keep alert. I commute by cycle and use shared paths every day, and its a rare day when I don’t encounter a straggle of pedestrians, often with unleashed dogs, kids, scooters, bikes, pushchairs all over both lanes, completely engrossed in their conversations, smart phones, their kids, their dogs, each other, and totally oblivious of everything else around them, including my frantically ringing bell. I fail to see how that behaviour is acceptable or to be condoned.

    The shared paths concept will never work if any of the parties believes they have an inherent right of way over any of the others.

  10. 19 December, 2011 10:44 am

    Why as a driver of vehicle aren’t you commuting on roads?
    To a pedestrian a ‘path’ means just that it is the domain for pedestrians, and so it should be. I think cyclists who support the notion of sharing paths with pedestrians, as if they are going to adopt the behaviours and codes of conduct of drivers of bicycles are niave at best! Why on earth should they?
    That being the case, cyclist who dare to enter the domain of pedestrians do so at their pleasure, on their terms. I can only imagine the most adept trick cyclist being able to turn on a sixpence, stop in an instant, being able to ride safely, and not be liable for injury, at anything other than a cycling crawl, on a path where all the ‘rights’ are for pedestrains!
    We cyclists have a few options. Ride at crawling pace; get advocates like Ride On to make much more noise about cyclist being safe on roads, which is where in reality most cycling will always be done; or get cycling specific infrastructure, which is largely a whim except in the busiest of CBD streets.

  11. Larry Burch permalink
    19 December, 2011 2:53 pm

    I don’t commute on the road if I can help it because roads are the domain of the motor vehicle, and they bring death to cyclists. And I do not take your point that a shared path is a ‘path’ and therefore pedestrians can wander as they please. Because they are not. They are multi-use facilities and as much the cyclist’s domain as the pedestrian’s, at least in my mind. There are 100s of kilometres of paths dedicated solely for pedestrians – they are called footpaths – and they run beside nearly every road in the city and by and large cyclists are proscribed from using them. And yes many pedestrians are under the illusion that shared paths are their domain – I do my best to disillusion them whereever possible, but I’m not naive and I don’t expect them to begin to behave differently – just as I don’t believe car drivers will ever significantly alter their behaviour towards cyclists either – its just that I would rather have a collision with a pedestrian than a car.

  12. Michael Flynn permalink
    19 December, 2011 9:34 pm

    Motor vehicles and motorcycles are required to have rear view mirrors.
    Would it not be better that all cycles using roads also have a rear view mirror so that cyclists can be aware of possible dangers coming up from behind them?

  13. 20 December, 2011 10:19 am

    Rear view mirros can be helpful, but we need to think about their purpose.

    As a motorist, m/bike and cyclist my experience highlights differences in these activities. With the two motor vehicles I am not in the gutter and my concern isn’t basic safety. As I am travelling at the same speed as other rmotorists, I need only look behind to ensure no changes behind me, subsequently taking more notice when either things are likely to happen behind or I am about to change my behaviour, eg, to slow or turn, ie, my mindset is not about being mown down by other motorists. So as a cyclist with mirrors am I to try and take note of every single motorist behind, who might cause me grief? Looking randomly is pointless?
    My experience is that mirrors are helpfull in situations when I can anticipate change and when I am about the change, but useless for finding the needle in the haystack who is going to crash into me.
    As a cyclist my focus needs to much more concentrated on what is happening in front of me, eg, surface conditions are constantly changing and requiring attention and action, car doors, pedestrians stepping off curbing, exiting traffic, traffic turning right across my path, etc.
    If I knew a Mack truck was about to run into me, what could I do?
    The elephant in the room is motorist behaviour, ie, you and I transform into another creature when behind the wheel, we become intolerant of every other road user, even cyclists. I think that will only change with legislation and pro bike action by RAC. Legislation like all motorist/bike accidents will presumed to be caused by the motorist until proved otherwise, mandatory ‘give bikes a metre’, bike lanes that don’t end 20 metres from intersections but actually go right across them, etc.
    It is nonesense to think pedestrians and cyclists have equal rights on paths, and that you and I when walking the dog will behave like a driver of a vehicle! When walking on a path, my mindset is totally different to when I am a driver. I don’t wear mirrors when walking, I don’t look behind when passing another walker, if anything I am more likely to get into conversation with them.
    When on paths rather than walkers being expected to behave like drivers, the boot is on the other foot, riders must behave like walkers, ie, be able to stop in an instant, hence, max speed 10kph on paths. Call them footpaths or shared paths, they aren’t bike thoroughfares, they are paths where walkers tolerate riders.
    Shared paths are fine when ambling along on a Sunday with casual riders. They aren’t suitable for commuters, riders whose recreation is cycling, or pacelines.

  14. Andrew permalink
    25 August, 2012 1:44 pm

    Shared paths are different every time – seasons, weather, time of day, mood, distraction the unique combination of participants and timing. Always new. It makes the sharing both interesting and potentially hazardous.

    Whether as pedestrian or cyclist surely all of us at some stage have done something we wish we hadn’t done, and felt annoyed by someone else.

    Shared paths are about:
    * behave respectfully according to the actual conditions of the moment, and
    * live and let live.

  15. Path Rider permalink
    27 August, 2012 9:07 am

    As a regular rider in the Yarra trail and a person who mostly uses bike paths other than to get from home to a bike path, I’ve had more than a my fair share of close calls and accidents on both bike paths and roads.

    I’ve found some bike riders on paths are aboslutely inapropriate in their behaviour, not using their bell, riding two or three abreast on narrow paths around blind corners, and lots of other examples. But on the whole they are reasonable. However, on paths that are clearly labeled shared I’ve come across pedestrians who are oblivious to everyone else around them, not just riders.

    On more than one occasion I’ve come across walkers three abreast on a straight path blocking the entire path and even with a 100 meters visibility not see me coming or hearing the bell because they are so involved in their conversation.

    Walkers dont understand shared path etiquette, more often than not they do not move to the left when being passed by on coming riders especially when they are walking in pairs, more often they split one going left and one right.

    As a mature (early 40’s) and experienced path cyclist I know to make allowances for this sort of behaviour. This does not mean I don’t get frustrated by walkers, I do, but like cars and cyclists, if there is a collision, the pedestrian will come off worse than the rider. In my mind this makes it the riders responsibility to ensure there are no collisions.

    I’m currently considering a return to road riding, but having had more than one bad experience on roads, and a complete lack of bike lanes in my area despite a high volume of cyclists I’m cautious about taking this step.

    To sum up, pedestrians and cyclists need to be aware of how to behave on shared paths, not just the cyclists.

    • 27 August, 2012 9:54 am

      There has been repeated formal research into the Conflict between pedestrians and cyclist on shared paths.. Australia is the only country that continues to think shared paths are the solution for cyclists. The rest of world doesn’t use them, and AusRoads research knows that. There are hundreds of examples of various actions taken to try to resolve this conflict and all have failed, be they education, conflict resolution, different path layout, widths, line and signage.

      Australia is being ignorant and stupid continuing to promulagate their construction.

      Pedestrians are like ants, at walking pace we can stop, start, change direction in an instant, ie, within a single step, without causing inconvenience to other pedestrians. This random behaviour while walking for pedestrians is for all intents and urposes, trouble free.

      On the other hand vehicles, bicycles in this instance, need momentum to change direction, it is never instaneous in the same sense that walking is. Hence, vehicle need road rules, indicators, keep left, mirror and looking behind before changing direction, and it all requires time. We all know from our learner driving days to allow 5 seconds with the indicators before making the turn.

      The thought that pedestrians would signal 5 secs before any change is preposterous, but common sense to the driver of a vehicle.

      Cyclists, their advocates and government need to put into practice, either a change in attitude of motorists towards cyclist to make riding on roads safe, ie, to remove the extraordinarily high rate of near misses caused by motorists, or build separate dedicated infrastucture for cycling. The latter is never going to happen, except on a few of the busiest routes, so the former is essential and needs National priority.

      The following adages ought to apply Australia wide:

      Cyclists fare better when they behave and are treated as the driver of a vehicle
      All Streets are Bicycle streets

  16. Path Rider permalink
    27 August, 2012 11:15 am

    My decision to mainly ride on bike paths is based on the learning that I am in the position to make the decision when riding and if a mistake is made by either the pedestrian or the cyclist someone gets an injury which most likely will be recoverable.

    If a mistake is made on the road more likely someone ends up with a permanent injury or is killed, and its not usually the car driver.

    Education, legislation, infrastructure will not address the lack of common sense and lack of personal accountability that seems prevelant in our society.

    Being in the right in the eyes of the law is poor compensation when you are picking yourself up off the road because a car driver didn’t give way. Far better to have expected the driver to do the wrong thing, prepared for it and been in a position to avoid it than to spend months recovering.

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