How to Walk on a Bicycle Path

First of all, don’t. You shouldn’t walk or run on a bicycle path. Hardly ever. I want to be clear about that. But I say “hardly ever” because there are a few circumstances when it may be grudgingly permissible. For example:

  • If there is sidewalk construction or the sidewalk is otherwise blocked and you have little choice but to use the bicycle path.
  • In some less urban areas where there are bicycle paths that exist on their own, with no pedestrian path nearby. I can’t begrudge runners and pedestrians using those. (More on this at the bottom of this post.)
  • If the path is clearly marked as a shared pedestrian/bicycle path.

I spend a lot of time cycling on the various bicycle paths in and around Montreal, and I see pedestrians on them frequently. It’s really annoying when people choose to walk or run in the bicycle path when there is a pedestrian path right next to it. This is not a rare thing; I see it all the time. In many cases it’s when a parallel set of paths run through a park and the bicycle path is paved and the pedestrian path is gravel. It seems that people who don’t think much about what they’re doing will gravitate towards the paved one, just because it’s paved.

But this isn’t about whether or not you should be walking or running on a bicycle path. That’s a separate discussion. This is about those times when, for whatever reason, you choose to do so. This is about the preferred, and safest, way to do it.

It’s simple. Walk against the bicycle traffic.

No, this isn’t a joke. It comes from the same wisdom that says if you’re walking on the shoulder of a road you should walk facing the traffic. The reason is simple:

The most important thing is that the pedestrian and the cyclist see each other.

It’s like this; when you walk with the cycling traffic (i.e., in the same lane as bicycles going in your direction), you can’t see the bicycles in your lane coming. You probably can’t hear them either, based on my observation that at least 50% of pedestrians on a bicycle path are wearing earphones. The result is you get the crap scared out of you every time a bicycle whizzes past, because you didn’t know it was coming.

Now let’s consider it from the cyclist’s point of view. You’re cycling along and you see a pedestrian up ahead. As you get closer you see the person is in your lane, walking in the same direction as you (with their back to you). You know they can’t see you. You ding your little bell, but you don’t know if they heard you. You slow down a bit, but you need to get past them. You’re worried that they will make a sudden random step to the left — into your passing lane — because they don’t realize you’re coming up behind them and wanting to pass. Or you’re worried they’ll realize at the last second that there’s a bicycle behind them and try to jump out of the way, to the left, right in front of you.

Don’t laugh. Every single time I come up behind a pedestrian in my lane on a bicycle path who is not facing me, I suffer those worries. That means dozens of times a week.

Now think about what happens when you do it the way I suggest. A pedestrian is on the path, facing oncoming bicycle traffic. Both parties can tell from a hundred feet away that they are aware of each other. The pedestrian has ample opportunity to step off of the path for a moment while the bicycle passes, or if for some reason they can’t, the cyclist simply changes lanes and passes by without any worry that the pedestrian will suddenly jump or move.

It’s as simple as that. Walk facing the oncoming bicycle traffic because it is safer and better for everyone.

Afterword

I know a lot of people will completely ignore everything I just said because they can’t get past the initial argument of whether or not people should walk or run on a bicycle path. I don’t plan on engaging in that discussion because it’s one of those issues, like religion, where the more vocal people are, the more blinkered they tend to be, so there’s no point in even talking to them.

However, I suspect some people might be curious about cases (or more precisely, places) where I don’t really object to people walking or running on a bicycle path. Here are two of them:

Case # 1: South Shore, along the river

On the south shore of Montreal (which is actually east, but Montreal has a strange relationship with geography) there’s a long and reasonably well kept bicycle path that runs along the Saint Lawrence river from Boucherville to Brossard. The stretch that runs for a couple of kilometres south of the Jacques Cartier bridge is quite isolated, and there is no pedestrian path. To the east is a bit of grass, then a fence, then a major highway. To the west is a bit of grass, then a rough slope down to the water.

It’s a great place to go for a run, walk, or bicycle ride, and I do not begrudge anyone from using that path for any of those purposes. You can see the path somewhat in Google Streetview, if you look on the left.

Case # 2: Lachine Canal

There are a few stretches of the Lachine Canal bicycle path that do not have a corresponding pedestrian path, such as the area around the McAusalan brewery. There’s lots of grass, and it’s quite spacious, but I can’t blame people who are travelling on foot for stepping onto the path. I did that myself one day last summer when I was walking along there. At first I thought I’d be all “correct” and walk in the grass, but when you’re hoofing it for more than a few feet, walking in the grass can get annoying. (I’m not talking about idyllic strolls with your sweetie, I mean when you want to get from point A to point B). So I walked on the path, facing traffic, and I stepped off the path whenever a bicycle approached.

You can see it in this photo from Google Maps (give it a few seconds for the photo to load).

Afterword 2

Walking through Parc Lafontaine yesterday, I spotted this sad scene. Pedestrians on the bicycle path (not so unusual) and a bicycle on the pedestrian path.

pedestrians on bike path, bikes on pedestrian path

Lambs into Lions

You should take note as you unpack your summer clothes that it may not yet be time to put away the woolies. As reported on this blog on May 30, 2001:

Get this: May 1, 2001 was the warmest May 1 on record in Montreal (about 28 C). Today, May 30, 2001, is the coldest May 30 on record! Specifically, today had the “lowest high on record” (the high was about 10 C). Grrrrrrr!

It ain’t over ’til it’s over. I’m just sayin’.

Suburban Bird Drama

We get a lot of birds around our house in the ‘burbs. I’m not an ornithologist by any stretch, but the longer I live here and the more birds I see, the more I learn about them.

My interest was piqued last weekend as I was getting ready to make huevos rancheros for Sunday brunch. I was banging a few pots together when I heard a thunk and “eek!” from upstairs. I ran up to see what was going on and found Martine in the bedroom all bug-eyed, saying that a bird had crashed into the patio door and then another bird had come along and carried it off. We looked around, and sure enough, there was a bird perched on a TV antenna about 60 metres away with what appeared to be a dead bird dangling from its talons (the fact that our neighbourhood is full of TV antennas is a whole separate discussion).

I grabbed my binoculars and saw that it was a small bird of prey–later identified as a merlin–and he had what appeared to be a dead mourning dove. Speculation from a birding friend is that that the merlin deliberately chased the dove into the patio door.

I ran downstairs and got my camera. It doesn’t have a long lens but I figured maybe I could crop the picture and get something faintly interesting. I came back upstairs and as I was getting the camera ready Martine said “It’s gone!”

I looked over and sure enough, the the TV antenna was empty. A second later I see the merlin flying straight at us at top speed, still clutching the mourning dove. It was being chased by two other birds (unidentified). A second later, just before the merlin crashed into the patio door, it pulled up “top gun” style and whizzed over the house, passing over our heads by just a few feet. It still had the dead dove in its grip.

Not a chance of getting a photo. Everything happened too fast. So I went back to my huevos rancheros knowing Martine and I were not the only ones eating well in the neighbourhood that day.

Spat!

The mourning dove left quite an impression.

Earth Day Message: Beware of Greenwashing

“Greenwashing” occurs when a company puts a lot of marketing and public relations effort into delivering a message that they’re very “green” when in fact they are not. An example would be an oil company that takes out ads in influencial magazines touting their wind and solar power research when in fact that represents only 1% of their R&D budget (the rest goes into fossil fuels exploitation).

We frequently hear about those big cases of greenwashing, but it happens on all levels. On this Earth Day I urge you all to read the labels on products before you buy them, and to be wary of green claims. Don’t allow yourself to be wooed.

It can be subtle, especially when the green message is only by association. Some brands imply greenness simply because of the brand; they don’t even have to be explicit. Yet there is no guarantee that the item has any actual “green” value.

Here’s an example: Whole Foods Market claims it is the “world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods.” Their web site and stores are filled with messages of green ecology and of wastelessness. When you finish eating at their cafeteria, you have to sort your waste by paper, plastic, and compostables.

With billing like that, you’d probably assume that anything you buy at Whole Foods will have been vetted by the company for it’s environmental impact. However, I was in the Whole Foods store in Soho, New York, a few days ago, and I happened upon a stack of packages of cedar planks near the fish department. “Planking” is a method of cooking fish in which you place the fish (usually salmon) on top of a cedar plank and then put it on the grill. The heated wood imparts a nice flavor on the food.

I’ve always thought that planking was very wasteful. After all, you’re only supposed to use the plank once; that’s a lot of wood to use for the sake of flavoring one piece of fish. At Whole Foods I decided to turn the package of three planks over and read the label. Here’s what I discovered:

  • The wood was from Canada.
  • The wood was processed in China,
  • The processed wood was packaged in the United States.

That’s a lot of international travel for a few pieces of wood, and it’s hardly ecological. It’s bad enough that you’re using a whole chunk of cedar for one piece of fish, but the fact that it was shipped to China and back just to be sawed into rough planks is too much (particularly since Canadian sawmills are desperate for work). All that so you can pay a dollar less for your three planks.

I was very disappointed, particularly since I really like Whole Foods; they have marvelous stores with really nice and interesting products. However, the lesson, as always, is to read the label, and to be aware that branding is 80% bullshit.