Off-street pathways shared by pedestrians and cyclists were originally designed to be the ‘slow lane’, a relief from the ever-present high risk of sharing the roads with cars and trucks. They are found throughout the various lower mainland regions and municipalities, often in the most scenic places.
Many communities have their local favorites, unto themselves a daily destination for all ages. Some pathways are also destination routes—links in the motor vehicle road network. All of these uses, especially in our good weather months, have often transformed shared pathways into busy ‘fast lanes’.
At some level of traffic intensity, letting common sense and self-protective watchfulness ‘be your guide’ becomes increasingly problematic. Most of the modern early-motorized countries concluded that elaborate sets of rules for the road were the answer.
Famous amongst traffic engineers, the Dutch engineer, Hans Monderman was a radical in this regard, believing that even in modern cities, each and every road user negotiating directly with others was the best way to improve traffic efficiency and safety. As our shared pathways for pedestrians and cyclists have become busier, what seems to be developing is a mix of the rules-based approach and the Monderman approach.
‘Watch for and abide by pathway signage’ is the most basic rule. Unless expressly stated otherwise, Road Rules suggests that the convention of right side ‘driving’ means that cyclists should ride as near as practicable to the right side of the pathway, not side-by-side, and always with due care and attention or reasonable consideration for others using the pathway.
The cycling safety tips and regulations on the City of Vancouver website say the speed limit on shared pathways such as the Seawall is 15 kmh. As for cars, so for bicycles: speed limits are always a function of traffic, the condition of the pathway—slower if slick with rain or covered in puddles— and time of day and level of visibility.
Right side driving means pedestrians are the safest keeping left. This puts them in the sightline of oncoming cyclists and as far away as possible from cyclists coming up from behind. This is also an often ignored rule. The modern bicycle is a marvel of engineering and almost silent in approach. Cyclists coming up from behind may not realize how unaware pedestrians can be of their approach. Warning bells used to be commonly used but seem less so today. Likewise, cyclists seem not to hand-signal which is especially risky in high traffic situations — an essential for ‘negotiating’ safe sharing.
Cyclists need to be extra-aware around the most vulnerable pedestrians: those with young children in tow, dog-walkers, slower-walking seniors and those using walkers or in wheelchairs. Even dogs on leashes and kids in hand can dart out in an instant. Passing close by, assuming they will carry on as currently headed is risky.
Pedestrians need to acknowledge their own vulnerability and guide themselves accordingly. When crossing or changing direction, they need to shoulder-check for cyclists and keep their own watchful eye. Total relaxation for pedestrians on our many shared pathways may become a thing of the past.