Road Respect: A cyclist’s dilemma – Ride the multiuse trail or the road?

A pedestrian and cyclist on the Virgin River Trail, St. George, Utah, April 13, 2016 | Photo by Kristine Crandall, St. George News

FEATURE – One recreational amenity that is steadily increasing in Washington County and is beloved by many is the county’s network of multiuse trails. Some people use the term “bike path” for these ribbons of 10-foot-wide asphalt typically located along stream and river courses and some major roads. They make cycling a joy, providing opportunities to cruise through the beautiful landscape without having to mingle with vehicle traffic.

Pedestrians on the Santa Clara River Trail at Tonaquint Park, St. George, Utah, April 13, 2016 | Photo by Kristine Crandall, St. George News
Pedestrians on the Santa Clara River Trail at Tonaquint Park, St. George, Utah, April 13, 2016 | Photo by Kristine Crandall, St. George News

The trails are like miniature scenic byways; they have their own center striping to separate the directional flow and can cover quite a distance, creating an exciting sense of touring and adventure. What cyclist wouldn’t love this?

Given all these benefits, many chagrined motorists wonder why on earth a cyclist would choose to ride on a road rather than the nearby multiuse trail. Well, it turns out there are compelling reasons that may be hard to understand unless one is a cyclist.   

The biggest factor is the reality that these trails are for all kinds of users, hence the official term  “multiuse” trail. The significant community investment in their development is made worthwhile through the recreational benefits created for a variety of non-motorized users. The broad purposes of the trails can be seen in the City of St. George’s mission statement for its trails: “To provide aesthetic, safe, and functional facilities that support the recreational and visual needs of the community” 

Pedestrians and a sign indicating yield guidelines for various users on the Snow Canyon Trail near Bluff Street, St. George, Utah, April 13, 2016 | Photo by Tim Tabor, St. George News
Pedestrians and a sign indicating yield guidelines for various users on the Snow Canyon Trail near Bluff Street, St. George, Utah, April 13, 2016 | Photo by Tim Tabor, St. George News

Anyone who goes out on our area’s multiuse trails observes the breadth of users. There are single walkers, walkers in groups, walkers with dogs, walkers with babies in strollers, runners, users wearing headphones, skateboarders and yes, those riding bikes — including kids. It’s a wonderful thing, all of these folks enjoying physical exercise in the great outdoors.  

But for cyclists, riding on a busy multiuse path may be more dangerous than riding on a road. These miniature scenic byways actually have their own “road respect” etiquette and rules.

However, with a disparity in speeds of pedestrians versus cyclists, plus the potential lack of awareness of other users — especially those approaching from behind — multiuse trails can be an obstacle course rather than a smooth cycling experience. One particular issue that unfortunately has already caused serious injury to some cyclists and is an accident waiting to happen for others revolves around dogs that are off leash or otherwise not under close control. 

Flow of movement and safety along multiuse trails can be accomplished through following trail rules and etiquette guidelines, which carry responsibilities for both pedestrians and cyclists. For the City of St. George’s multiuse trails, these include:

  • Leashing pets and removing their waste
  • Obeying all posted signs (like signs on roadways; they are there for a reason)
  • Pedestrians have the right of way over bicycles but also bear the responsibility to allow a bicyclist to pass safely. To avoid conflicts with other trail users, pedestrians should keep to the right.
  • Bicyclists must yield to all trail users. The speed limit is 20 mph on all trails unless otherwise posted. Caution is required whenever passing. Cyclists should not pass pedestrians unless they are aware of the cyclist’s presence. Cyclists should let pedestrians know they are ready to pass by giving an audible warning, such as using a bell and announcing “passing on your left”.

For more information on St. George’s multiuse trail system and rules, visit the city’s trails webpage.  

A sign with yield guidelines and a stop sign for trail users on the Snow Canyon Trail near Bluff Street, April 11, 2016. Multi-use trails along major roads often cross driveways or side streets, and thus have stop signs. Riding on the road allows cyclists to ride through and in a way that is more predictable for motorists. St. George, Utah, April 13, 2016 | Photo by Tim Tabor, St. George News
A sign with yield guidelines and a stop sign for trail users on the Snow Canyon Trail near Bluff Street, April 11, 2016. Multiuse trails along major roads often cross driveways or side streets and thus, have stop signs. Riding on the road allows cyclists to ride through and in a way that is more predictable for motorists. St. George, Utah, April 13, 2016 | Photo by Tim Tabor, St. George News

Another reason cyclists may choose to ride the road pertains to multiuse trails located alongside roads. A good example of this is the Snow Canyon Trail. Because it is next to a major roadway in an area with residential development, there are many driveways and side roads intersecting with the trail.

The chance for a motorist and cyclist to meet in one of these trail intersections is high and accidents happen. To avoid accidents, both motorists and cyclists should obey stop signs and anticipate the possible presence of the other. For a cyclist who is commuting or seeking a cardiovascular workout, the frequent stopping hinders the purpose of the ride.

A cyclist riding on the road is able to ride through in a manner that is much more predictable for motorists and thus, safer for cyclists. So when you see a cyclist riding the road adjacent to a multiuse trail, this likely is why.

As our multiuse trail network expands in the future, providing both recreational pleasure and alternative transportation opportunities, cyclists will have a greater number of decision points as they weigh whether to ride the road or trail. It’s a good dilemma to have, especially with the practice of road respect among all users.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

Resources

Road Respect Utah logo, used with permission; St. George News
Road Respect Utah logo, used with permission; St. George News

St. George News Road Respect column is developed with the Southern Utah Bicycle Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy organization devoted to making cycling safe and convenient for everyone who rides a bike. Opinions stated are those of the columnist and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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7 Comments

  • RealMcCoy April 15, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    Sorry, but I don’t feel sorry for cyclists being ‘inconvenienced’ on these multi-use trails. The pedestrians have the right of way, and if they interrupt your rhythm, you’ll have to deal with it just like drivers have to do when you and your buddies are riding side by side on a 55 mph road going…..15.
    So wha-wha-wha.
    Share the paths.

  • Who April 15, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Do cyclists pay any kind of road tax or perhaps a permit to use the road like the rest of us?

    • mesaman April 18, 2016 at 9:48 pm

      NO!!!! If I were king they would register, license, buy insurance, for their bikes, and pass a written test of cyclist rules. Then they would be on the same playing field as those who are paying for their entertainment. I realize it’s no fun to ride where you can’t be seen in your costumes.

    • .... May 6, 2016 at 10:40 am

      Well just as long as you keep paying your stupid comment tax

    • Maxwell May 6, 2016 at 6:20 pm

      Most cyclists also drive cars, so the answer is yes.

  • tcrider April 15, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    I’ll tell ya, the drivers are nuts around here and if you choose to share the road with them, you could be meeting your maker.
    I have had one driver in a car swerve across the bike lane and went over the curb and missed me by almost three meters,
    when I ride in different parts of town I will ride my bike on the sidewalk and do not care if I get a ticket, I actually got a warning from a cop,
    and I told him about previous experience with idiot driver that went over the curb and just missed me. It is like these people around here
    are from the movie, invasion of the body snatchers, I wonder if they are thinking about the book?

  • .... May 6, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Oh yeah the people complaining about the bicyclist are absolutely the stupidest people when it comes to driving and they are all fat disgusting overweight potato couch TV watching whiners

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