Tanya Basu, a former editorial fellow with The Atlantic, is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn who writes about how we interact with each other.
Rules for sharing space in the park.
Dear CityLab: In my local park, paths are contested zones, with bike riders and runners fighting for space. How can we work it out?
Spring’s warmer days, leafy trees, and leg-bearing weather beckon people to crawl out of hibernation into the first bright rays of sunshine and onto public park paths.
But that’s where a problem might start: bikers and runners spill onto pathways, negotiating narrow routes in split seconds, along with pet owners, casual walkers, and the occasional skateboarder. What begins as a day enjoying lovely weather might quickly and suddenly turn into a stressful one.
“Everyone has a role to play,” says Yvonne Bambrick, an urban cycling consultant and author of the book, The Urban Cycling Survival Guide. When it comes to maneuvering around crowded public paths, no one can be a passive user. Below, she offers some do’s and don’ts for keeping things moving.
DO stay on the right and pass on the left. Bambrick calls this the most basic rule of using public park pathways. It’s also the procedure for cruising along a standard American two-lane highway: if you’re on a steady pace, stick to the right, unless you’re passing. “It’s so basic, but sometimes people need a reminder,” Bambrick says.
DON’T race during peak times. If you’re looking for a clear road to race on—whether on foot or on wheels—Bambrick advises going at off-times: early mornings, the middle of a weekday, maybe even the later end of dusk (provided you stay safe with reflective clothing and lights). This will prevent bottlenecking and, in worst-case scenarios, accidents.
DO corral children and pets. Kids and pets have a tendency to wander or run. “If you’re a dog walker using an extended leash, it stretches across the path, interfering with someone’s ability to pass,” Bambrick says. She suggests keeping toddlers in strollers, holding kids’ hands, and making sure tykes on tricycles keep to the walker’s lane as much as possible.
DON’T change direction suddenly. You’re getting in the groove of your workout and feeling an uptick in tempo warrants a pass. Be careful, though: swerving without warning confuses those behind you, and suddenly going faster or slower might cause bikers or runners behind you to careen. Hand signals can help—left hand in a right angle with palm aiming up for a right turn; arm straight across for a left turn; a right angle with palm facing down to convey that you’re slowing. Though some folks might recognize these signals, others might just be confused. “Always be verbal,” Bambrick adds. “Say ‘on your left!’ or use your horn or make some kind of noise so that people know something is happening.” Also, avoid passing around children or pets.
And when you do change direction, shoulder-check, then shoulder-check again. On park pathways, things can change quickly: a child can squirm out of their parents’ grasp, a runner might trip, a biker might seemingly come out of nowhere.
DON’T silence the world by blasting your music. If you must rock out, Bambrick suggests leaving one earbud in and keeping the other hanging. This is true any time, but especially at night, when you might be alone in a low-lit, desolate area or need to watch out for people without eye-catching reflective clothing.
It’s also probably safe to assume that other folks on the path are also listening to music, and can’t hear you coming. Holler or use your bell, but, when logistically possible, also make eye contact with the person you’re passing.
DO use reflective clothing and lights after sundown. Minimize the chance of an after-dark collision by cautious riding and smart add-ons. Cyclists should slow down near bends. Reflective clothes are a good bet, but Bambrick points out that they’re most effective on a path with a good light source. So, be sure to outfit your bike with front and tail lights, too.
DON’T lose your manners when you collide with someone. What if, despite your best intentions, you collide with someone and things get heated? It happens. Between the headphones, the adrenaline of a good workout, and mind wandering, “we get caught in our own headspace,” Bambrick says. “Apologize and move on.” That simple acknowledgement can go far in tamping down angry feelings and keeping paths civil. And if you’re dealing with a particularly sour individual? Bambrick says to stick to the higher ground and be courteous, as hard as it might be.
“It’s like a car collision,” she said. “Exchange information, take responsibility if you have a role to play, and accept someone else’s apology in a heartfelt way.” Do your best to not lose your cool, and then move on with your day.
In the end, public park pathways should be areas where people of all ages can have fun outdoors in a safe environment, Bambrick says. “It all comes down to common courtesy and awareness of space.”