Bike Path Safety: Five Rules Plus Common Courtesy

Following a few simple rules will ensure a safer and more enjoyable experience.

Now that spring is here and the weather is warming up, people are flocking to the East Bay Bike Path.  It's a wonderful resource, and it's available to everyone in town. Following a few simple rules and common-sense procautions will make the experience safer and more enjoyable for all.

The Rhode Island state website posts the following Rules For Bike Paths:

  • Ride smart
  • Ride right, walkers left
  • Be visible
  • In-line skaters keep right
  • Control your pet.  Leashes must be no more than 6 feet long.

"Riding smart" means taking into consideration riding conditions such as weather, traffic, the condition of the path, the limitations of the bike you're riding, and your own fitness level.  The path has sharp bends, bridges, hills, and busy times. 

Bikers also need to be aware of other path users.  While it might be frustrating to serious bikers in spandex and special shoes to have to occasionally slow down and share the path, yelling "It's a bike path, not a walking path!" is neither constructive nor accurate.

Walkers, however, take most of the blame for unsafe conditions.  When you consider how many signs along (and on) the path remind walkers to stay left, it's suprising how few people follow this simple safety rule.  Walkers should always stay on the left side of the path, facing oncoming traffic.  Wandering down the middle of the path, three or four abreast, creates a situation in which no one knows where to go.  This makes accidents far more likely.

Bikers should always pass on the left, whether they're passing slower vehicles or oncoming walkers.  When walkers see bikers approaching, it makes sense to take a quick look over your shoulder to see if there are any bikes coming up behind you.  If so, step off the path to make room for the two-way traffic.  It's a lot easier and safer for walkers to get off the pavement than it is for bikers.

This is even more true for skaters than bikers.  Forcing a skater off the path is likely to result in injury.   Bikers and walkers need to be alert, aware, and considerate. For their part, skaters should keep right and avoid crossing the central line. 

Dog walkers need to keep their pets on leashes and away from oncoming traffic.  Picking up after your pets is not only the town law, it's simple courtesy.  People walk and stop on the bike path's grassy shoulders. 

People who use the path for commuting need to make sure they're visible at night by wearing light clothing and using reflectors and lights on their bikes.

There are a few specific challenges, such as good fishing weather on the Barrington bridges.  Most of the fishermen are considerate, but the occasional person will set up lawn chairs and gear on the path.  Be alert for people about to cast their lines;  an intercepted fishhook can ruin your whole morning.

The East Bay Bike Path is a great place for families, and on sunny weekends you'll see a lot of small children learning to ride. It's a good idea to give them space and to watch for unexpected movements.  If families need to call a halt for any reason, pulling off onto the shoulder is a lot safer than stopping right on the bike path. 

Other than a few directional rules -- walk on the left, skate and bike on the right, pass on the left -- bike path safety comes down to being aware of your surroundings and considerate of other people on the path.

For more information:  http://www.dot.ri.gov/documents/bikeri/rules.pdf.

Amy April 20, 2011 at 10:07 PM
I walk and ride on the bike path, but I also drive my car in town. I find it very dangerous and confusing that drivers stop for the bike path when there is no stop sign. Cyclists can be injured by the driver from the opposite direction. When I am riding, I would prefer to cross when there is no oncoming traffic. Unfortunately well meaning drivers stop, thinking they are being courteous. I think this is a dangerous practice. Imagine if the driver at an intersection without the stop sign, stopped for the driver with one! Of course that makes no sense, but it is done every day where the bike path crosses the road. Could you post some guidlines for drivers?
Louise April 20, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Please clean up after your pet...I am amazed by all of the owners that do not... you would NEVER know it was a town law!
Kathryne Tirrell April 20, 2011 at 11:33 PM
I almost got into a collision with another biker one day because 3 or 4 walkers were walking side by side on the path coming towards me. I had to go around them. When I steered my bike back on the right, the biker behind me tried to ride in the same spot as me. We were inches away from colliding!
Elaine Cunningham April 21, 2011 at 02:06 PM
Amy, I agree that cars stopping at bike path crossings can be dangerous. A few years back, a friend's daughter had her bike totalled on the County Road crossing. A driver stopped and waved her across. She was hit by a car coming the other way. On the other hand, a lot of drivers who slow down or stop at bike path crossings have probably had near-misses with bikes zipping across the road. There are some crossings, such as the one on North Lake Road, where you can't see oncoming bikes. And for some reason, a lot of riders don't bother to slow down for this crossing. Casual walkers are often engrossed in conversation and oblivious to anything else. Drivers can't safely assume that all bikes/walkers will follow the signs. I'm not aware of guidelines for drivers that deal specifically with bike path crossing, but I suppose the usual driving rules apply: Read the signs, follow the traffic rules, but be alert for people who don't.
gvcutler July 22, 2014 at 09:43 AM
I recently was biking on the East Bay Rail-Trail in RI Heading out in the same direction - They keep bikes to the right - pedestrians to the left, so the walkers see the bikes coming from the other direction at them - no surprises from behind them


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