I feel compelled to respond to the request by Peter Bellizzi and endorsed by Kevin Brennie to occasionally station police officers on the Hudson Valley Rail Trail for the purposes of “catching” cyclists in dangerous behavior. This is not a good idea and is based on unwarranted prejudices. While any segment of rail trail users is going to have a small percentage of bad apples, that percentage is lower among competent cyclists than any other group. As a cyclist, one is acutely aware of one’s speed and the risks and consequences of a crash.
Cyclists are unfairly and constantly demonized, especially any who wear spandex. Yet, in my considerable experience — I might use that rail trail more than anybody else — the true sources of danger are as follows: (a) Walkers who lack situational awareness and/or directional control and stagger randomly from one side of the trail to the other in unpredictable ways. I hate to point it out, but many of these appear to be senior citizens. (b) Unsupervised children, again swerving any which way without warning. (c) Dogs, either unleashed or whose leashes are stretched completely across the trail because of their owner’s inattention. (d) People wearing headphones or earbuds precluding them from hearing anybody near them. (e) Kids riding ATVs in the vicinity of Vineyard Avenue.
None of these dangers is a police matter, aside from the illegal and persistent use of ATVs. The only reasonable way to address them is by fostering an atmosphere of courtesy toward all rail trail users. Out of basic human decency and respect, all users should maintain an awareness of their surroundings and those who might be in their vicinity, in the same way that one would when driving a car or pushing a cart in a supermarket.
Instead of Mr. Bellizzi’s misguided suggestion, steps should be taken to make the rail trail more friendly to cyclists, rather than less (and safer for all). Isn’t one of the functions of the rail trail supposed to be to welcome people (and their tourist dollars!) to our region? Perhaps instead of policing, a feasible approach would be to paint a simple yellow line down the center of the trail. This would at least indicate that the trail has traffic, and that one should exercise appropriate caution before moving in any direction but forward.