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

Alston Adams, 1974-2010

Alston Adams, known as @AlstonAdams on Twitter and formerly as Jonas Parker and later himself on his blog, died of cancer yesterday. He was 35.

I don’t remember exactly when I met Alston for the first time, but it was probably 2003 or 2004, most likely at La Cabane, where we early-adopter bloggers used to hold our monthly YULBlog gatherings. By then, the YULBlog evenings were drawing a larger crowd (20 to 30 people), so I didn’t get to know Alston very well right away. But over time, through seeing him at YULBlog and other events, and by reading his blogs, I eventually fell into his orbit.

In 2007, just after landing his dream job in the video game industry, he was diagnosed with cancer. In September of that year he underwent a radical surgery that removed a large piece of his stomach and esophagus. A few days after the surgery he was able to receive a group of friends went to visit him in the hospital. We were shocked at the extent of the scarring. It was as if the surgeon had deconstructed him, or had unwrapped him like a tube of Pillsbury turnovers and then wrapped him back up again.

Espophogeal cancer is one of the worst ones to get. Hardly anyone gets over it. Alston’s continuing treatments would show some success and then there would be a setback. Up and down he went in his very open battle. By the end of last year he was resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to beat it, that it was a matter of pushing back as long as life seemed livable, and that this likely wouldn’t be very long. Last November he said, in a blog post, that he’d be surprised to see the end of 2011.

He lived as well as he could over the past three years. Perhaps the highlight was participating in a film, Wrong Way to Hope,  about young adults with cancer. The project saw him fly out west to hang out with other like-bodied people and to do fun outdoorsy things like whitewater kayaking. The film will be released in November of this year.

This clip contains a few scenes cut from the film. That’s Alston at the beginning, the shirtless guy.

Alston also contributed to a book published earlier this year by the McGill University Health Center and The Cedars Cancer Institute, called Cancer Under the Radar; Young Adults Tell Their Stories. On a more personal and immediate level, he contributed to his friends’ knowledge and understanding of cancer, treatments, setbacks, oncology, and even race issues, through his insightful and sometimes humorous blog posts at AlstonAdams.net/blog.

During Alston’s three year battle with cancer, he bounced between sickness and not-quite-wellness. He went out as much as he could, saw friends, and continued to attend YULBlog when he could. By early 2010, however, it was becoming apparent that he might not live out the year. He was thin and frail and wasn’t eating much. He continued to write on his blog, but he didn’t go out as much as he did before, as the cancer, the treatments, and his low food intake were all making him very tired and weak. But occasionally he’d rally and would show up looking thin but good. In April, Martine and I sat with him at the Mainline Theatre where we saw “The Midlife Crisis of Dionysus.” He was as thin as a stick but in high spirits despite the fact that a tumor was pressing on his vocal cords, reducing his voice to a whisper.

He showed up at my birthday party in June, held at a bar above a tapas restaurant on rue St-Denis. His voice had partially come back, and he looked dapper in a short brimmed Panama-style hat.

50 years of Blork

The last time I saw Alston was at a pot-luck Sunday dinner held at Michel and Suzanne’s place in August. Alston brought smoked meat sandwiches from Schwartz’s, and to everyone’s surprise he managed to eat one himself. In the early evening, Martine and I drove him home; he was staying with a friend, a doctor who lives on the edge of Old Montreal. There was a flight of stairs to climb, but he refused any help. He thanked us for the ride and said goodbye to us there on the sidewalk. We all knew that we might never see him again, which sounds very dramatic but in reality it was more surreal and a bit awkward. That’s how it is with the terminally ill; you never know when their time will be up and every time you see them you think it might be the last. In that case it was.

Rest in peace, Alston. You will be missed.

Some other tributes to Alston:

Gifts That Matter

Gifts That MatterThis time of year when we’re all a bit stressed over the holiday shopping it might be worthwhile to consider some alternatives to the standard “shop ’til you drop” thing. For example, Gifts That Matter, run by CHF (which calls itself “formerly the Canadian Hunger Foundation” and is one of Canada’s longest standing non-governmental organizations) uses your donations to buy life sustaining “gifts” for people in developing countries around the world.

For example, for $50 you can buy a pair of goats for an impoverished family in Bangladesh. Feeling a bit more generous? $100 buys the gear required to provide a rural Vietnamese family with a source of clean water. For $500 (less than the price of that crappy ACER laptop you’re considering) you can buy a whole camel for a family in Ethiopia.

The idea is that you buy one of these gifts for someone in a developing country, and Gifts That Matter sends a greeting card (in a style you choose on their Web site) to someone on your Christmas list. That way, a family who really needs it gets something, and your Aunt Mabel doesn’t have to clear space for another box of doilies.

Although I couldn’t find anything about it on the Web site, as far as I know your gifts are tax deductible. So? What are you waiting for?

Butteroil and Bad Ice Cream

If you think ice cream is necessarily made from cream, or even milk, you’d be wrong. Indeed some ice cream is made from those ingredients, but most is not. Most commercial ice cream on the market today is composed primarily of “modified milk ingredients,” which can mean any of a number of different factory goops that are derived from milk.

If you’re lucky, the modified milk ingredients in your ice cream is simply powdered milk. More likely it’s casein (factory-extracted milk proteins), or whey proteins, or even a butteroil compound. The butteroil compound, according to a recent CBC Marketplace report, is 49% butteroil and 51% sugar.

You might ask, why bother using all this factory crap when we (especially here in Quebec) are surrounded by dairy farms? The answer is simple: money. Modified milk ingredients, which are usually made from by-products of other dairy product manufacturing, are cheaper.

The butteroil compound (which you will never see listed as such on an ingredients list) is particularly cheaper because it contains 51% sugar; since it is more non-dairy than dairy, it can be imported without having to pay any of the duties or levies that are applied to real dairy products. In other words, it is cheaper to use imported butteroil compound than to use fresh milk from the dairy farm just down the road.

Most of the butteroil compound used in Canadian-made ice cream comes from the U.K. or New Zealand.

This is a travesty. Not only does that locally manufactured ice cream carry a huge carbon footprint from all that international shipping, and not only is it a slap in the face to our local dairy farmers, but it makes for lousy ice cream because it requires the addition of further factory goop in order to make it resemble the texture and “mouth feel” of real ice cream. Worst of all, it pretty much always misses the mark.

Check the labels. Ice cream composed primarily of “modified milk ingredients” is also full of various gums (guar, cellulose, carrageenan, etc.) which is used to stabilize the product and to give it a creamy feel. However, it’s really more of a gummy feel, but we’ve become so accustomed to fake ice cream that most of us no longer know the difference.

I don’t know what the health implications of all those compounds and gums are, but from a purely aesthetic perspective think about it this way: on your left is a tub of frozen butteroil compound, glucose, and two or three gums. On your right is a tub of frozen milk, cream, and sugar. Now which one sounds more appealing? And which one do you think will actually taste better?

There’s a reason why ice cream from small producers like Le Bilboquet and Ripples tastes better (and is more expensive). It’s because they are made of real food, not factory by-products and lab goop.

Most supermarket brands fail the test. A few, such as Häagen-Daz, are made from real food, but most – especially the no-name brands – are total crap. Some will fool you, like Nestle’s “Real Dairy” product. Its first ingredient is real cream, but next comes “modified milk ingredients,” followed by corn syrup and three kinds of gum.

Below are the ingredients lists of a few popular brands to show you what I mean; they’re listed in order from “real” to “fake” (according to my own guidelines). Please read the labels before you buy, and vote with your hard-earned shopping money.

Häagen-Daz Vanilla

CREAM, SKIM MILK, SUGAR, EGG YOLKS, NATURAL VANILLA. (Source.)

Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla

CREAM, SKIM MILK, LIQUID SUGAR, WATER, EGG YOLKS, VANILLA EXTRACT WITH VANILLA BEAN SEEDS, GUAR GUM AND CARRAGEENAN. (Source.)

Nestlé Real Dairy Natural Vanilla

FRESH CREAM, MODIFIED MILK INGREDIENTS, SUGAR, CORN SYRUP, EVAPORATED SKIM MILK, STABILIZERS*, NATURAL VANILLA FLAVOUR, PURE GROUND VANILLA BEANS. *STABILIZERS: MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, GUAR GUM, CALCIUM SULPHATE, CELLULOSE GUM, CARRAGEENAN. (Source.)

Breyer’s Double-Churned Extra Creamy Natural Vanilla

MILK INGREDIENTS, SUGAR, MODIFIED MILK INGREDIENTS, GLUCOSE, NATURAL VANILLA FLAVOUR, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, CELLULOSE GUM, GUAR GUM, POLYSORBATE 80, CARRAGEENAN, PURE GROUND VANILLA BEANS. (Source.)

Breyer’s Double-Churned Extra Creamy Fat-Free Natural Vanilla

MILK INGREDIENTS, MODIFIED MILK INGREDIENTS, SUGAR, GLUCOSE, POLYDEXTROSE (3.4 G / 125 ML), MALTODEXTRIN, NATURAL FLAVOUR, PROPYLENE GLYCOL MONOESTERS, MONO- & DIGLYCERIDES, CELLULOSE GUM, CAROB BEAN GUM, GUAR GUM, COLOUR, CARRAGEENAN. (Source.)