Thursday, August 16, 2012

Taboo Trail Talk

The Chicago lakefront path...

20+ miles of mostly uninterrupted trail that hugs along the lakefront for the sole use of pedestrians, runners, and bikers. In the city this is one of the only trails for people to enjoy and what I once thought was the safest place to run because it avoids contact with cars, buses, and manic taxi drivers. But this summer I have felt more so than ever in the 10 years I've been using the path that safe has become a relative term.

This summer I've seen:

  • A runner that was knocked down by a cyclist where he was spread out on the pavement with blood gushing from his head.
  • A biker that was cruising like madman without a helmet fly over his handle bars after loosing control of his bike. By the time paramedics came to his rescue he wasn't moving.
  • Small children frantically darting across the path lacking any parental supervision or looking before they cross millimeters away from nailing a cyclist.
  • Runners and plenty of walkers on the incorrect side of the path on heavy traffic days.
  • Bikers off in lala land riding along merrily in the middle of the path weaving all over the place.
  • Runners and walkers in large crowds taking over the entire path not leaving space for oncoming traffic to safely pass.
  • A biker and a runner throwing punches at one another about who's fault it was when the biker clipped the runner with his handle bars.
  • Walkers swinging their arms all over the place smacking people in the face as they pass. Actually I enjoy seeing this, keep this coming.
  • People getting dive bombed by a very angry swooping bird.

Last week I was hit by a child that couldn't have been more than 7-8 years old as I was running with a plastic bat. He was walking on the incorrect side of the path swinging a blue bat, so I scooted over to avoid bumping into him. But as I passed he decided it would be funny to whack me with his bat to which I more than likely over reacted by calling him a "little s***" where his mother had no reaction whatsoever to the situation. I'm sure she would have had a reaction if I hit her son with that blue bat.

Then yesterday...oh gosh yesterday...

I thought it would be fun to bike all the way south to where the path ends, which is a 32 mile round trip from my home. Within the first 10 minutes as I was slowly crusing along on my fancy-schmancy Target Schwinn bicycle, I was slowly coming up on an older lady who was weaving from one side of the path to another. She almost looked like she was biking under the influence. I alerted her that I was approaching "on her left" to let her know that it would most likely be a good idea to bike in a straight line so we don't collide, where she than completely lost her mind. The woman somehow lost control of her wheels while spewing out every curse word from A-Z at me as she crashed to the ground. Thinking this woman was crazy, I continued on even though she spilled all over the pavement. Yes, I'm a model citizen.

At the south end of the lakefront path, 71st street 

Bend near the Shedd Aquarium

As I was on my way home, I seemed to have gotten into a little tiff with another older woman on a rental bike as I spoke up notifying her that I was approaching "on her left". She seemed to have gotten offended that people kept passing her letting her know that she cannot be riding in the middle of the path, especially in the congested area she was in. Apparently she was under the impression that the lakefront trail was a free for all where safety rules don't exist.

My point is this...

As a user of the lakefront trail (or any trail for that matter) it was always my understanding that there was an unspoken code of conduct that all trail users need to comply with: 

  • Always stay to your right, just like the road.
  • Notify persons when approaching from behind if you'd like to pass, and always pass on the left.
  • Don't stand in the middle of trail. Especially if you have a baby stroller.
  • Wear a damn helmet, even if it makes your hair look like a ratty mess.
  • If you are operating wheels, don't have headphones in.
  • Don't run in large clusters taking up the entire path.
  • When someone says "on your left" it's not meant to demand you slow your pace and move over, instead it just means take a bit of caution because there are others on the path.
  • Use common sense, you won't be the only one using the trail.
  • Pedestrians will always have the right of way. Always.

I know we all do it, I'm guilty of running in the middle of the path during the winter months when I'm the only one out there or spacing out at times not realizing how much of the path I'm taking up. But I never get angry when someone says on your left, and realize that it's just a cautionary warning to stop being an idiot and think about the safety of others that are using this same shared space with me and shove over. However, my feelings are that if you can't comply to these rules and feel like you need to run on the wrong side of traffic or that it is impossible for you to scoot over for passing traffic, than you should lose your rights to the public space. 

Opening the forum for path etiquette discussion here. Am I just being an uptight snooty city snob, or do other trails have this same problem?

Do you think that rules should exist for trail use?

In case you're wondering, the city of Chicago does actually have rules in place for the trail. If you're curious as to what they are, you can check them out here.


  1. I'm totally with you on this one. I am always amazed when people get offended when you yell out "passing on left." Very simple system and you'd think people would get it. And when I use trails with my kids, I am really on top of them also--I don't want them causing accidents and I want them to learn the simple etiquette to have for a lifetime. It's not that tough, people!

  2. No, definitely not an uptight snob. I get frustrated when people can't seem to abide by these rules. It seems like we should follow the same general rules as in driving - stay to the right, don't swerve like an idiot, remember there are other people out there.

    The trail that I run after work is also heavily used by commuters (bike and whatnot), people out for a stroll, or for people hanging out in the park. Since I know that I run at such a busy time, I just have to accept that there are going to be people that are clueless and I'll have to dodge them. However, there is never an excuse for being unsafe.

  3. As a runner who shares trails with cyclists ALL THE TIME, I don't understand someone who's offended by "on your left," I so so APPRECIATE it when a cyclist lets me know they are approaching, and I am happy to move over.

    It's all common sense, really. But there are many many people lacking that.

    (and your stories about the boy with the bat and the crazy lady made me giggle)

  4. Completely agree. As a runner, I appreciate an 'on your left' warning from bikers, in case I do have a space out moment or am about to swerve around a large crowd that's spread across the lane. I've also had several encounters with unsupervised children darting out in front of bikers and groups (both small and large) coming to a dead stop in the center of the trail with no warning, causing everyone to react in an instant with no time to check behind them. Aside from the annoyance, it's just plain dangerous. Time for people to be more aware of their surroundings and follow the most basic trail etiquette.

  5. YES YES YES! So happy you posted this. I know CARA just had some kind of survey for Chicago Friends of the Lakefront about how to improve signage and increase awareness of how dangerous it can be! Just like you, I frequent the path numerous times a week. Last month, one of my friends was running and a biker slammed into her because he was going too fast too far over. She suffered a concussion, had 8 staples in her head, and has to go to physical therapy for months due to a spine injury. Not even the worst part. After she crashed to the ground, and was obviously knocked out with blood everywhere, when she woke up two people were helping her and she hears in the background, "What happened to the biker?" Well, he just took off!!!!! She could have died. Was on bed rest for 4 days and won't be able to run for a while. People need to wake up and start being more aware of where they are going!

  6. Totally agree with this post Britt! I don't get out to the trails much especially the Lakefront Path but when I do it seems like people are clueless about etiquette. It doesn't seem that difficult but some people apparently just don't get it.

  7. Amen, well said, etx everything above. You handled te situation with the kid and bat better than I would have. I have turned into an aggressive bitch since moving here 1.5 years ago. (one reason I love my bf treadie)

    I've seen so many near collisions with clueless tourists and cyclists along with my own near misses with idiotic pedestrians and children while running, I'm just hoping the end for idiot season is coming soon. How hard is it to pay attention to your surroundings?!? And don't get me started about the marathon training groups who take up the entire effing path on Saturday mornings. (not all of them do this) i didn't notice this on my path in San Jose, California but then again I'm sure it wasn't drawing tourists to meander and take photos like the lakefront does. That path also had a speed limit complete with cops and radar guns to give tickets to the cyclists who were going too fast. I wish something like that was implemented here.

    I don't feel safe out there most of the time mainly due to thinking I'm going to get hit by a tourist on a bike and then be injured.

    Now I need some calming tea because I'm so worked up thinking about this :)

    October 7 is approaching fast. Then the path will be free of tourists and groups and will be quiet again except for us diehard winter runners.

  8. I totally, totally, totally agree!!!!! Mind you I live in a small town but we have a trail like that that goes around the city. It drives me insane when people run, walk, bike on the wrong side of the trail. I mean sometimes I'm so mad I want to just run right into them. If I yell, " on your left" they jump, turn around and look at me like I'm freakin crazy, I must be crazy but I thought everyone in the entire western world knew you stay to the right! Hello!!!!!!

  9. I live in the South (Raleigh, NC) where people pride themselves on their politeness. However, we have more than our fair share idiots, crazies, and the self-absorbed. Sadly, I encounter them most often on the streets and public greenways. Most often, I get to deal with drunks during my morning runs, Young college guys yelling from cars or the back of trucks at the the start of the fall semester at NC State, people walking with I-pods that can't hear you saying "on your left", Cyclist attempting speed trails on greenways frequented by children and families, and my favorite groups of three or more women power walking side by side across a greenway, chatting, and acting put out every time they have to make way for someone to pass. Granted, I have not seen a physical altercations, and only witnessed one crash along time ago, but I try my best to avoid the most dangerous places, and I'll often run technical trails that bicycles are forbidden to use and are too difficult fro most pleasure walker or people with small children.

  10. Brit...this made me smile....I totally agree....even suburban trail dwellers need a lesson in civil path use:)

  11. I don't think you're being uptight at all for this--people get hurt when they don't follow these rules. I feel like a lot of the same rules should apply to sidewalks, too, but nobody follows them. I also can't believe that mother who let her kid hit you with a bat--people should be required to have etiquette training before trying to raise children.

  12. Yes yes yes yes! This is outstanding! As I don't run on the path all that much any more (aside from races), I don't really miss how busy it is. I much prefer my much quieter trial in my suburb. :)

    BUUUTTTT I feel the need to add some gripes to your list! If you don't mind...

    1) If you are a cyclist and like to go at high speeds, a beautiful Saturday morning on the Chicago lakefront path is NOT the best place to do this. There will be tourists. There will be runners and walkers. There will be cyclists biking slower than you. SLOW DOWN AND DON'T RIDE LIKE AN ANIMAL! This isn't the Tour de France. This is a busy city path that is meant to be enjoyed by all. There are plenty of other places to ride and practice going fast.

    2) When there is a race on the lakefront path and lots of signs warning you of when the path will be occupied, if you are a cyclist annoyed by the foot traffic, do not lecture the runners about their path etiquette. We have the right away as this is a race. You see the signs. Slow down or use a different path. This isn't rocket science folks! (I had a lot of trouble with this during the Get Lucky Half Marathon. I don't think the race directors had enough support on the course to help the runners. It was very, very dangerous with the cyclists zooming past us at extremely high speeds constantly.)

    3) Keep your dog on a leash! You'd think this would go without saying?

    End rant... I feel much better now!

  13. Trails definitely need rules; the one I run on the most used to have a few signs up that listed rules for the paths, but for some reason they are gone now. You would think most of those rules would be common sense for most people, but from what I have seen, common sense is often lacking, especially when people are in their own little worlds and don't care about the fact that they are sharing space with many others.

    I very much appreciate cyclists who let me know they are approaching me from behind, because the last thing I want to do is get hit by one. I saw one collision where a guy was flying and a runner moved right in front of him to pass someone else. She was OK thankfully, but had no warning that he was coming from behind. Of course, you should always look behind you before passing to make sure it's clear. I do remember reading about a runner in Texas who died after a collision with a cyclist because of head injuries. That is very scary. Runners and cyclists sharing a path should not take that lightly.

  14. Well put. I run early in the mornings, so I don't have too much trouble with the path being overly crowded. I think the morning is probably the safest time to run the path from a "I probably won't get run over by a bike" standpoint. The exception is Saturday mornings, when the anathema of the running world -- marathon training groups -- insist on overtaking the path by running three across and standing on the path while they take their seemingly innumerable 10 minute water breaks (in fairness, not all training groups act this way, but many do).

    I do appreciate when bikers tell me that they are passing on my left, particularly when I need to move left to pass another runner. But I can't stand it when bikers ring a damn bell to let me know they are there. First, I am not their waitstaff/servant that they can command through the use of a bell. Second, unless you are unable to speak, just say "on your left." Is it really that hard?

  15. I completely agree with you! I was running on a trail near my home (southwest subs) and a woman was walking her dog, talking on the phone. She happend to be on the left just standing I was going to stay on the right side but I yelled "On your right"...just so she knew I was coming. But bc she was talking on the phone, she wasn't paying attention, her dog jutted in front of me and she then took notice "Oh! Oh!" Yeah get off your phone and pay attention lady!

  16. Wow. The scenery there is amazing, although it sounds like you've seen some funky stuff during those miles.

    I get frustrated when there are a few people spread out across the trail so you have to slow down and wait for them to move before going around. Clearly "common sense" isn't quite as common as it should be.

  17. Gotta say, I completely agree with everything you said! Especially about staying to your right, as you would on any other road. I just don't understand why people can't abide by this, unspoken though it may be.

  18. Sweet holy hell, the path has gotten to be a nightmare lately. I don't want to get into the biker versus runner debate (those get NASTY!), but I'll say this: I've had runner friends hurt by bikers and bikers hurt by runners that aren't paying attention. I've almost hurt a kid who darted in front of me while I was on my bike, been hit by a FOOTBALL thrown by drunk partiers on North Ave., and once even managed to get clipped by a tourist mom pushing a triple-wide stroller. Don't even get me started on the double-wide bike rentals for tourists. It will just give me a migraine thinking about it.

    The Lake Shore path is such an incredible resource for this city. There's nothing that lifts my heart more than biking down from my home by Montrose Beach to Ohio Street for an OWS on Saturday mornings, and seeing so many people doing so many things -- yoga, cross training, tennis, marathon training, sailing classes, walking, running, playing softball -- along the way. But people seem to forget, or not even be aware, that it's also a major thoroughfare. If you're driving on Lake Shore during rush hour, you look before you change lines, you respect the rules of the road and you don't act like an aggressive asshole. If you have an accident, you don't just bolt. (Yeah, I know people do all those things when driving too... but you get my point.)

    I wish more people would follow the same rules on the path. And not have a huge hissy when confronted with an "on your left."

    It sucks that so many people are having such a bad experience, but I'm glad to see that even in the past few weeks, groups have added more signage to the path itself about passing on the left, moving right, etc.

    Someone else mentioned the CARA/Friends of the Lake Front Path survey. It's a bit long, but worth taking a look at for anyone who uses the path with any frequency.

  19. I love this :) A few years ago I played volleyball at North Avenue Beach and I struggled just to cross the path safely! I cannot imagine having that be my normal running route. I have seen some crazy stuff happen there and I am not even there that often!

    The kid with the bat though? Really. UGH. One time I was running in my hood and a kid swerved his bike in front of me on purpose. Ugh, kids.

    One of my biggest pet peeves is cyclists who do not announce they are passing. Or stop to walk across cross walks on busy roads. I could go on and on and on...

  20. A few weeks ago I saw a cab driving down the lakefront trail. See pictures:

    Runners and bikers were not happy. Wish I could say this is the first time I've seen a lost vehicle on the trail, but I have seen a few, and some of them were laughing as they narrowly avoided runners/bikers. We need a rule for them!

  21. I am completely with you on this one. If nothing else, rules and standard etiquette help ensure the safety of the users. The Lakefront path is horrible with violators, but so is any crowded multi-use trail - I've seen the same things on the Sammamish river trail in Seattle's eastern suburbs. Except here, we also have more kids and the occasional horse. I once saw a cyclist almost get taken out when he zipped right past a horse's left without warning the rider he was approaching.

  22. These rules could also apply to race day. For those of us who are trying to get to the front of the pack, it would be great to have runners: stay to the right unless passing, not to run in groups and block the road, take off the ear buds and if your cute 8 year old is running his first race, have him go to the back of the race so he doesn't get run over. I feel so much better now.

  23. You are not an uptight snooty city snob, you are absolutely right! I grew up in Chicago and moved to Hilton Head Island, SC 18 years ago. My parents still live in the city and whenever we visit I run a long the lake. I really love the run from their apartment, but it is definitely a practice in defensive running. I run on Hilton Head and the paths are loaded with runners and bikers, but mostly in the spring and summer when its crowded with tourists. The bike rental companies on the island stress to call out "on your left" when passing. Some bike companies even put bells on their bikes. I really appreciate the call out so they don't surprise me. Most people are fine. The problem I have are the groups that string across the entire path very slowly or stop completely blocking the path....but its usually because they are lost or trying to figure out which way to go. I stop to help them or tell them which way to go for the best paths. So, come to HHI for a nice relaxing experience.

  24. This whole post is dead on. Some people are just clueless out there and can't seem to use some common sense or decency on the trail. It probably doesn't compare directly, but the Los Gatos Creek Trail near my house is the closest thing to the Lakefront trail in Chicago, and I will say that I've never seen an accident on it or any problems. But I haven't ran on it as much as you have with the Lakefront trail.

  25. Sadly we are all out there for the same reason, so it amazes me when people lack common courtesy!

  26. I COULDN'T AGREE MORE! I cannot tell you how many times I've asked people to move over / stay to the right / etc this summer. It's unfortunate that people cannot exercise common sense.

  27. There is serious angst between runners and cyclists in NYC (particularly Central Park). Someone this summer put thumb tacks on the biking trail and several people got flat tires. I have seen many cyclists crash into each other and pedestrians. Quite scary. Better safe than sorry!

  28. YES! Last summer I was HIT by a clipped-in cyclist going full speed on the Schuylkill River trail here in Philly while I was running. He obviously did not yell "on your left"! Thankfully I had no serious injuries rather than some serious road rash and bruising all over my right side and hands. I didn't run outside for about 2 weeks because I was so shaken up.
    I am also a cyclist myself, so feel like I can speak from both points of view. I absolutely agree with your point that if you want to cycle at a fast pace - you definitely shouldn't use pedestrian pathways,especially during busy periods.
    To add to your list From a cyclist's point of view - I can't stand it when runners run in the bike lanes on city streets. They're for cyclists. Run on the sidewalk.
    Great post & great discussion in the comments!

  29. Hey Britt! I tagged you in my blogpost today!

  30. YES I definitely think their should be rules for bike paths/trails in populated cities! I do not think that small children should be able to play or wander around on the trail-path. So dangerous when a little kid jumps out in front of you, then you have to swerve, a biker could be right behind you or in front of you...eeek it worries me to think about!
    I've been caught in a few run-in's on populated paths (one time a biker coming at me was on the left side of the lane, he came so quick I could barely react, and he ran over my foot!)
    I hope you've been having a great week Britt!!

  31. I'm hosting a health food giveaway - would love for you to enter!

  32. Oh gosh yes, there needs to be rules and people need to adhere to them. I only get a chance to run the LFP a handful of times a year but it's SO dangerous! I go as early as possible before most of the whackos are out. Cannot believe that little punk hit you with a bat. Sheesh.

  33. Funny, my friend broke her hand last night biking a local bike path when a pedestrian walked in front of her, suddenly cutting her off. There are posted rules for this trail, and painted markings on the ground, but there will always be stupid, inconsiderate people out there.

  34. So true! I've almost completely stopped running on the lakepath on weekends because its like running a gauntlet sometimes. When I bike I do it pretty slow because I'm so worried about hitting someone. I really despise it when people walk 4-5 across, forcing me to run into the incoming traffic. It's the lakepath, not the mall!

    I think my all time biggest pet peeve though it when people smoke on the path. Just what I need when running, to run through second hand smoke.

    Great post.