Bike Paths

Bike paths, as we use the term, are not adjacent to a roadway. They generally run along disused railway corridors, rivers, canals, lakes or shores or through parks. They can be useful for transportation cycling to the extent that they provide a shortcut, such as by crossing a barrier where there is no roadway alternative. However, they should always be viewed as supplements to the roadway system and never as replacements for bicycle use of the road. Bike paths can contribute to the public attitude that cyclists should use special bicycle facilities and not the roads.

The risk of injury to cyclists is higher on paths than on roads. There are several explanations for this result:

* Bicyclists and pedestrians do not mix well. Pedestrians can stop or turn almost instantly. The mix of bicyclists, children, skaters, dogs, and sometimes horses can make paths hazardous, unless bicyclists slow to walking speed frequently—and most do not.

* Poorly constructed paths can have surface hazards. They are often not maintained as well as roads. Path designers sometimes include hazardous features such as railings that are too close or gates or bollards designed to deter motor traffic but which can present a collision risk for cyclists.

* Intersections can be difficult to cross. Sometimes sightlines are insufficient. Cyclists never have the right of way, typically facing a stop or yield sign. Yet typically a crosswalk is used to mark the path crossing, which for pedestrians would paradoxically indicate that they do have the right of way (where there are no traffic signals).

Cyclists using this bike path bridge must steer between the railings, which could catch a handlebar, and the bollards in the middles.
Location: Minuteman Bikeway at Alewife Brook, Cambridge, MA, USA. Photo: John S. Allen.

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