Basic Trail Etiquette

Some basic etiquette for those of us who use busy, urban/suburban, multi-use recreational trails, including Forbidden Drive Trail, Lincoln Drive Trail and the Schuylikill River Trail

For everyone:

A busy trail is very similar to a roadway.  If you wouldn’t do it on the street, don’t do it on the path either.  This includes U-turns without looking over your shoulder, passing on the right, stopping in the middle of the path, walking in the middle or left side of the path, and yelling obscenities.  (OK, so maybe we each occasionally do that last one on the roadways, but it isn’t acceptable on the trail.)   Also, if you walk, run or bike with headphones, keep one ear free, or turn your music down low enough to hear passing traffic.  Keep in mind the nature of a multi-use trail.  While you may be trying to get to work on your bicycle, others are trying to enjoy a morning stroll with their child.  Conversely, if you are strolling along hand-n-hand with your lovey, keep in mind that someone behind you may be trying to get home to their family on their way home from work.

The Basics:

Walk, run, skate and cycle to the right of the trail.

Pass on the left.

Share the trail.

Try to anticipate the actions of those ahead to avoid collisions.

Always listen and be on the look-out for others.

If you plan to stop, look behind you first, and stop to the side of the trail.

Do not litter, and practice low-impact trail use.

Be polite.  (We’re all out there for recreation, after all.  Trail rage is no fun.)

Be aware of your surroundings.

Glance over your shoulder periodically, and always before stopping, passing and turning.

Never cross the trail without looking.  (It is bad enough that the geese do this.)

Look out for the well-being of other trail users.

Special Considerations with Children:

Keep your children within arms’ reach and to the right of the path.

Consider using the trail at less busy times (or another area such as a parking lot or grassy field) for things like teaching your child how to ride a bike.

Teach your children how to use a multi-use trail safely and review the basics each time you get on the trail together.  (I knew I had succeeded with this one when my son yelled at me “Mom, stay to the right of the path!”  Do as I say, not as I do…)

Special Considerations with Dogs:

Be mindful of how well-behaved your canine friend really is, and before taking them on a busy trail, make sure you have good control.  (Ask a friend their opinion, as doggie mommies and daddies, myself included, often have wildly flawed perceptions of our dogs’ obedience.)   If there’s a possibility Spot will jump or bark at children, bikers or runners, consider training him elsewhere and at less busy times before taking him on a busy path a 5pm.  Full disclosure: my naughty little lovable pooch is old and cranky and therefore no longer allowed on busy paths.

Only walk your dog on a busy trail if you are using a very short leash.  Trying to pass someone who is walking a dog on a long leash is extremely dangerous for the person passing, as well as the doggie and the owner.

Consider keeping your dog to your right, on the outside of the path.

Special Considerations for In-Line Skaters:

When the trail is busy, limit the wide turns and side-swinging of your arms.

Skate in control and ready to stop quickly and safely.

Special Considerations for Walkers and Runners:

Stay on the right side of the path.

If passing a slower pedestrian, look quickly behind you before going to the left side of the trail to pass.

Don’t walk or run with more than one other person sise-by-side during busy times on the path.  Your group should never take up more than half of the path.  Ideally, groups should run single-file when the trail is busy.

Special Considerations for Bikers:

Unless passing others, stay to the right of the path and pass on the left.

Cycle in control.  Be ready to stop quickly and safely.

Don’t cycle with more than one other person sise-by-side during busy times on the path.  Your group should never take up more than half of the path.  Ideally, groups should cycle single-file when the trail is busy.

When passing others, slow down and look quickly behind you before going to the left side of the trail to pass.

When necessary, alert others that you’re intending to pass with an audible (but not jolting) “Passing on your left!”  “Out of the way!!” is not acceptable, even if it is what we want to scream sometimes.  If you’re biking in a pair or group, informing others of the number passing is helpful (e.g., “Five bikers passing on your left!”).

Special Considerations for Spitters:

Do your spitting and snot-blowing when others aren’t nearby, and try to avoid landing your luggies on the trail.


4 comments on “Basic Trail Etiquette

  1. Guss says:

    Sounds like a lot of rules. I did not know I was breaking so many. Maybe you should start the Philly Trail Police and issue citations to people and dogs who do not follow the Etiquette.

    • You would get far too many citations to keep track of! If I were the Philly Trail Police, my own husband would already be imprisoned for his multiple infractions. But truth be told, I would never appoint myself as such, since I am also prone to break a few of these from time to time. Still, they are important to keep in mind.

  2. […] The trouble with nice weather is that it brings out the crowds, and with the crowds come the crazies. Here’s one example: On Tuesday I was biking home from work, enjoying the beautiful weather when I found myself behind two cyclists and a blind corner up ahead. I fell in slowly behind them, waiting for a safe place to pass. When we got around the corner, I saw ahead of them a small child on his bicycle, weaving back and forth haphazardly, and his mother, several steps behind…on her cell phone. On an open trail with few people around? Maybe. But this was not the place for negligent parenting (and yes,  there are good–or at least better–places for negligent parenting). The three of us on the bikes slowed down almost to a standstill to allow the child and mother to pass. At that point, apparently, there were some words exchanged by the mother and the cyclist in front of me, and the next thing I know I see the mother, still on her cell phone, start yelling obscenities at the cyclist and sticking her foot out repeatedly at her wheel (to kick it? get run over? not sure…). Now, I’m a mother, and I would love to stick up for the mom here. I take my kids on trails a lot, and I have run across some real jerks on bicycles who seem to think that children should be locked up away from all trails. But the cyclist in front of me was certainly not one of them. I can only feel for the child..If only I could force people like that to read my trail etiquette post! […]

  3. […] A cyclist (on a fold-up) with a bleeding head. She was hit near the Market St Bridge and appeared to be ok, but wow was there a lot of blood. Yikes. Wear helmets and be safe! […]

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