Letter: On the rail trail, cyclists are not the problem

A segment of the Hudson Valley Rail Trail in the town of Lloyd

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.

Henry Pratt


There are 24 comments

  1. Nearly hit

    You have to be kidding! Don’t blame the walker!!! We’ve almost been run down by cyclists on the rail trail who DO NOT ring a bell, call out loud or in any way warn us when they are riding up from behind.
    Cyclists should: SLOW DOWN when someone is walking ahead, and announce their presence at a distance, giving enough time for the walker to do more than leap out of the way.

  2. Cecilia

    So, basically, it’s everyone else’s fault on the rail trail except the cyclist? Everyone should part seas for those on bicycles? Remember, the rail trail is for EVERYONE and you are so arrogant that you blame senior citizens and children??

  3. walker

    Whispering “on your left” when you’re 10 ft behind people walking is not going to get us out of the way. I’ll just knock you off your bike and you can eat dirt. Raise your voices and use a bell.

  4. G

    On a recent trip to Germany, I noticed that there were very clearly marked lanes. Separate lanes for cyclists and lanes for walkers. This is a specially important there where there is such a high percentage of people who use bicycles for every day commuting

  5. ARV

    @Nearly hit: food for thought – does the walker have more right to the use of the rail trail than the cyclist.

    1. The Smarter

      Yup. 100% The trails all across the nation were originally conceived and built as a way for people to WALK AND JOG to safely get exercise where they don’t have to walk along our narrow, twisitng rural roads.

      Research it! You’ll be surprised.

      BIKES are bound to the exact laws and ‘rules’ as CARS!!! The responsibility of the biker, just like a driver, is to control your ‘vehicle’ – in this case, a bike – slow down, and operate as a respectful defensive driver.

      Hope that answers your question.

  6. The Smarter

    Henry – You have a chip on your helmet.
    Seriously, dude, rail trails exist primarily for those who W A L K and R U N…not bikes.
    And yes, many who walk for health are elderly, families, and kids, and people with dogs.
    Why? Well, let me tell you…as with in-town sidewalks…bikes are NOT the primary targeted user
    and as with sidewalks…you are actually legally required to use the roads AND the exact same
    rules as someone driving a car.

    Further, as such a superior creature, you must know that someone on a bike, particularly in spadex,
    is most likely going between 17-3o MPH which is far faster than someon out on a walk.

    Oh – and your attitude is so obnoxious, so arrogant, let’s hope you can get out of your OWN way and
    not get hit by a car…YOU, as the ‘faster’ entity are the one who is 110% responsible to be aware of your
    surroundings, and just like a car, you are the one who is 110% responsible to slow down and defensively
    control YOURSELF if you see an elderly person, child, or dog drifting into “YOUR” way.

    Now zip it.

  7. Bmw

    As someone who has ridden the Wallkill Rail Trail for 25-years, I’ve come across every scenario imaginable from people walking ferrets to crashes with other cyclists and atvs.

    The problem generally isnt the casual cyclist, its the electronic devise on their handlebars. If cyclists are using the trails as a training grounds (uploading to the almighty Strava) the chance of an accident increase exponentially.

    Cyclists, assess the situation and act accordingly. Look for earbuds on walkers and runners. I actually assume every walker/runner is going to be nosedeaf to my presence. Assume every animal is going to react unpredictably (whether leashed or not). And finally, say “hi” and “thank you.”

  8. Kevin Godbey

    Egads, this is why we can’t have nice things in this country! Everyone needs to chill out because at any point in time and place cyclists OR walkers can be at fault.

    So, cyclists, slow down when walkers are on the trail and be prepared to stop or maneuver if someone decides to pick some flowers or their dog sniffs a bush. It IS their right to do so. Walkers, be aware that you are the slow moving traffic on a railtrail and that sudden, unpredictable changes in direction just MAY result in tire tracks up your arse regardless of how slow a cyclist may be going.

    I’d forego a study to determine who is at fault most frequently.

  9. Steve

    I’m not sure it’s necessary to decide who is “at fault” – no upside to casting blame.

    Instead, all those who use the rail trail simply need to be aware that, on all trails, there exists a hierarchy, with walkers having the right-of-way and bikers obligated to pay attention and yield to them, just as cars are required to do in town.

    Likewise, there should be no pets without a leash or ATV’s — also common trail courtesy.

    Unfortunately, what this means to the letter-writer is that he may not be able to cycle, or commute, without stopping for pedestrians. All cyclists (and I am one) should recognize this and adjust their riding expectations accordingly — thanks.

  10. Ancient runner

    The article writer’s beef starts with the request of the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association, which runs the Town of Lloyd owned rail trail, to have the town board ask the police to patrol the trail for cyclists behaving illegally. His statement that this is not a legal matter rises from his apparently not knowing that town law specifically does have a section governing cyclist behavior on the Rail Trail. Fines can run from $50 to $200 for each infraction and even some jail time. The likelihood is that the police would just issue warnings.

    The writer may want to look it up on the town’s web site under Town Codes’ Article 74. He may also want to refer to NY State Vehicle and Traffic law, upon which the town adopted specific legal requirements applicable to a rail trail. That state law considers bikes vehicles, which permits them to be operated on roads. But, with that privilege, the law exacts certain responsibilities and required equipment such as bells.

    My educated guess, based on his ignorance, arrogance and condescending attitude, is that he is probably in frequent violation on both roads and the rail trail.

  11. Rodney

    The fundamental flaw in the “nearly hit” arguments are the perceived notion that the cyclist will magically be unharmed or somehow not vulnerable to injury in a collision event. I would imagine the cyclist would fair as bad if not worse than a walker/ runner/ dog/ in a collision. For that reason, human nature and self preservation would argue that the fear or perceived threat a walker feels when a cyclist causes them to “DIVE OUT OF THE WAY” is a result of the same lack of situational and spacial awareness that makes them a danger to themselves as well as others.

  12. AlV

    I am a regular user of rail trails, running or walking.

    I do not think you can speak for cyclists’ general awareness of speed and risks. Many are reckless. The vast majority of cyclists to not warn pedestrians of their approach. I do not wear earphones. One cannot always hear approaching cyclists. I have been brushed on my arms, left and right, by passing cyclists with no warning, thankfully not a collision. My hearing is fine.
    The criticism of cyclists is not unfair. You overlook one aspect of cycling. Bicycles are regulated on roads as vehicles under New York State vehicle and traffic law, same as cars and such. These laws have not kept up with the advent of mixed use trails. But, none the less, cyclists need to be aware of their classification.
    I don’t accept your delineation of the true source of danger being anything but the cyclists. You diminish the aspect of being in control of a vehicle. As such, cyclists bear liability, similar to driving a car. You adeptly point out the hazards of being a vehicle on a trail. What does that mean? It means you need to be in control of your vehicle because people wander, kids swerve, dogs cross the trail, and people wear earbuds. You know that. Those pedestrian behaviors are not police matters. But, vehicle usage is a police matter. It is irresponsible to equate a vehicle’s operation with pedestrians, children, and animals.
    If one doesn’t want the responsibility of safely driving a vehicle with mixed use traffic, it is that person who needs to drive elsewhere. Otherwise, safely control your vehicle.

    1. Joe

      I have never had an incident while on my bike. I go very fast when the coast is clear but when I see people I slow down out of respect. However, it annoys me to see a jogger with ear buds. 1) you are missing out on the beauty of nature. 2) I feel there is an element of disrespect. I have a bell but loud music drowns out my warnings. We are part of a society and I feel we should all act that way. I do my part. All I ask is you do yours. (as in people who think the world revolves around them and expect the other person to bear all the responsibility for safety).

    2. Keep walking

      You realize a bike and rider weigh maybe 200 lbs and travel at let’s say 20mph, while a car weights 3000 to 5000 lbs and, well can go much faster than 20. Comparison between the 2 is dillusional at best. The results of a collision from each will be dramatically different. I don’t hear of two many car drivers harmed when they strike a pedestrian or cyclist… Physics is a real thing.

      1. AlV

        I did not compare a cyclist with a car. I said cyclists are classified as vehicles in NYS vehicle and traffic law, like cars. Off-road laws have not kept up.
        Interestingly, you have not heard of pedestrians being killed or maimed from a collision with a cyclist. You seem to have a penchant for physics, perhaps calculate the energy of a collision between a 200lb cyclist traveling at 20mph and a pedestrian. You may discover delusion elsewhere, though not likely.
        Accept the responsibility of operating vehicle.

  13. AlV

    I did not compare bicycles with cars. Bicycles and cars are classified as vehicles under NYS law.
    Calculate the energy in a collision between a 200 lb. cyclist and a pedestrian. In fact, E826.0 is the International Classification of Disease code for “pedestrian-cyclist accident.” Then, search “pedestrian hit by bicycle.” You may find delusion elsewhere, but not likely. Laws generally hold that the driver of a vehicle has greater responsibility to drive safely.

  14. RS

    Do you also need cars to honk when passing you if you’re walking on a road?

    I bike to work a few times a week and have only ever had a near crash when a pedestrian did something clueless. You’ll probably say it’s their right to do that as they have the right of way, but a little attention to your surroundings and what your doing would go a long way to making things safer too.

  15. birdilby

    That is the way senior citizens walk…they stagger randomly. I give them credit for getting out there walking…show respect for your seniors.

  16. Rafal

    I am a cyclist myself and I do enjoy recreational bicycling – always slow down around pedestrians – all that suffice is advance warnings with the bell.
    But I must say that one thing I cannot stand about my fellow cyclists is their idiotic GPS coordinates warning “on your left” shouted just a few feet behind unsuspected pedestrian. Given your bicycle speed and average human reaction time what do you think is likely going to happen:
    A – they jump out of your way
    B – they jump in front of you
    C – they freeze
    D – they freeze
    E – they think you’re an f……..g idiot
    The truth is — all of the above

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