Though many of us ride our bicycles 12 months a year in Colorado, there are without question many others who wait for warmer weather before participating in cycling. Many of those “fair weather cyclists” frequent the many miles of excellent bike paths that we have throughout the state. While these paths are an excellent way to enjoy cycling in Colorado, they also present a variety of hazards and risks that we don’t face on the roadways.
Above, I refer to these paths as “bike paths” as I am sure that many of you do as well. In reality, these are multiuse paths that are used by a number of different types of users. Those of us who use these paths know very well that in addition to cyclist, the paths are utilized by walkers, runners, dogs (leashed or not), in-line skaters, baby strollers, skateboarders, and even horseback riders. Before using these trails, it is important to keep in mind the variety of users, and the risk of mishap that can result when such a diverse set of users share a recreational path. When I speak to clubs, communities and organizations, I always encourage people to use these paths in a safe and courteous manner. Utilizing common sense is the fundamental principle. While multiuse paths can make for some very enjoyable riding, they are really ill-suited for fast and serious training. The risks associated with that type of riding on multiuse paths go up significantly when being done by groups of cyclists riding in a pack.
Because of the variety of users, you will unquestionably be faced with many situations where you are passing others. When doing so, it is the safest practice to pass on the left, when the trail is clear of traffic. While it is important to give an audible warning before overtaking other trail users, you should also keep in mind that the person you are passing may very well not know how to react to your warning. On multiple occasions, I have shouted “on your left”, only to have a walker begin moving to their left. Many non-cyclists who are using the paths are simply not accustomed to the types of commands that are so routine among cyclists. Slowing down, such that you have additional time and space, can help mitigate the problem. Additionally, the more information you can impart, the better. “I’m on your left side” is probably more informative to a casual walker utilizing a multiuse path than would be the much more common “on your left”.
It is very important to expect the unexpected on these paths. As you approach a dog, it is important to quickly gain an understanding as to whether or not the dog is on a leash. If it is on a leash, it is important to know the length of the leash. Extremely long or retractable leashes can cause more of a risk to cyclists than unleashed dogs. This is just another example as to the importance of slowing down when the path is crowded, and traveling at speeds that are safe and appropriate for the conditions. Of course, it is also important to stay on the right side of the path unless overtaking other users when safe to do so.
Regretfully, in my bike law practice, I have represented many cyclists who were injured on these paths through no fault of their own. The injuries have come from many causes, most of which are outlined above. If you are unfortunate enough to be injured in an accident on a multiuse path, it is important to secure information and evidence just as it is in a roadway accident. If possible, make every effort to have the accident investigated by the authorities. Law enforcement should respond to an accident with injuries. Even if an accident report is not required by your jurisdiction, law enforcement can assist in gathering and exchanging information. Getting witness information before they leave the scene can make the difference between ultimately receiving fair compensation or not. It is also imperative to get full and complete identifying information of the other party. Typically in accidents such as this, the Homeowner’s or Renter’s insurance policy applicable to the other party’s home will provide liability coverage for personal injury claims arising out of an accident such as this. In situations of serious injury, it is wise to contact an experienced bicycle attorney right away so that important evidence and information can be secured as quickly and effectively as possible.
Despite these risks, we are fortunate to have hundreds of miles of multiuse paths to enjoy in Colorado. These paths can provide some of the most relaxing, scenic and enjoyable cycling our state has to offer.