Letter: Why we need police patrols on the rail trail

Cyclists traveling at excessive speed, passing pedestrians without sufficient warning is a problem, argues this letter.

This is in answer to the letter by cyclist Henry Pratt objecting to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association’s asking the Lloyd Town Board to have the police patrol the rail trail in response to dangerous behavior by cyclists. Let me put the situation into some context.

The rail trail in Highland is a town of Lloyd linear park. Like in any other park, a cyclist can expect to find families with small kids, dog-walkers, senior citizens, joggers, etc. Cyclists and pedestrians alike value the rail trail for its miles of pavement free from cars they would encounter on local roads.

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Given this mixed use, the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association, which runs the rail trail for the town, has issued safety rules for both cyclists and pedestrians. The rules are on signs along the trail, in the tri-fold rail trail brochure and on business cards we hand out.

Cyclists:

  • Must yield to pedestrians
  • Bells required on bike
  • Go slow near pedestrians, pass in single file
  • Give warning even if there is room to pass
  • No more than two abreast
  • Keep to right on trail

 

Pedestrians:

  • Allow room for faster users to pass
  • Nor more than two abreast
  • Look behind when passing others or changing direction
  • Keep to right on trail
  • Be watchful of your children
  • Leash/control dogs, maximum 6 ft. length

 

Pratt maintains that trail dangers are not a police matter. Not so. The rail trail rules regarding cyclists are actually embodied in the town law of codes, Chapter 74 Section 3L. This section is derived from NY State Vehicle and Traffic Law, which deems bikes as vehicles. The town code calls for fines for each violation of not less than $50 nor more than $200. So Pratt should be aware that the behavioral requirement of cyclists is a legal matter equal to the illegal use of ATVs on the trail, which he points out.

Pratt also writes that it is only a small percentage of bad apples who might cause problems, but those problems can also be pretty rotten ones. A few years ago, a woman was knocked down and left unconscious by a cyclist, who stopped for a moment to say that he was “in training” and sped off as if that was an excuse for his behavior. Several weeks ago a couple in their 70s was on the trail, one of them relying on a walking stick. A cyclist sped by closely and gave no warning. The male of the pair called out to the cyclist to slow down. The rider, appearing to be in his 30s, wheeled back to the couple, dismounted, screamed at them in a menacing tone and shoved the elderly male with both hands on his shoulders, i.e. an act of assault.

Only the “bad apples” will be affected by the police patrol. Cyclists behaving responsibly should welcome them.

Rafael Diaz

Safety/Courtesy Coordinator

Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association

There are 16 comments

  1. Jan Stivers

    So many problems are avoided when cyclists alert pedestrians well in advance, especially with a clear bell. At one time, the Rial Trail Association sold bicycle bells at cost, right on the trail. Can we give that another try?

  2. Donna Deeprose

    Of the many cyclists who sped past my fellow slow runners and me yesterday morning, three either rang a bell or called out a warning. Many thanks to those three!

  3. Paul

    Patrols are unfortunate but necessary. Cyclists endanger not only themselves, but others with their careless behavior. Riding a bicycle doesn’t shield someone from injury, common sense, or common courtesy.

  4. Sam Train

    First, the picture included in this article is extremely misleading. The cyclist who is riding there with an aero helmet and aero bike is racing an Ironman triathlon, not riding on the rail trail. This picture was obviously doctored to have the maximum effect in scaring people.

    My question for Mr Diaz: will the police also be enforcing the pedestrian laws? Do you know how many times I’ve encountered a gaggle of people walking 4-5-6 abreast? Paying no attention? Dogs on a 20 foot leash that’s stretched across the entire rail trail? Look before they change direction? Control their children?

    What Mr Diaz does is state the encounters as fact when only hearing one side of the story. How does he know that these encounters were far less benign and the people who reported it are not exaggerating
    the story?

    What Mr Diaz also fails to think about: “What is drives these cyclists to the rail trail?” Could it be NYS horribly inadequate laws that are supposed to protect cyclists? The answer is a resounding yes. Every time I climb on my bike and ride it in the road I wonder if I’ll make it home to my wife and 2 young children because someone was angry at cyclists for making them wait an extra 8 seconds or was texting and driving and never saw the cyclist.

    I agree that cyclists need to slow down around pedestrians and take things easy. Zooming by people at 20 MPH is not safe. Mid-afternoon on a gorgeous day is not the time for a training bicycle ride on the rail trail and better common sense needs to be exercised. I do agree with Mr Pratt that before we go and ticket people, we need to raise awareness and try other, more permanent solutions. Remember, occasional enforcement will not stop incidents.

    1. Rafael Diaz

      Since you have some questions of me, Mr. Train, I will reply:

      I sympathize with any cyclist riding on a multi-use trail. By law, you need to yield to every other user. Pedestrians can be unpredictable. They certainly should stay to the right and be no more than 2 abreast to allow faster users to pass. Kids are kids. All the more reason for cyclists to announce their presence and moderate speed as they overtake those on foot for the safety of everyone.

      The burden is greater on you because your bike is considered a vehicle for purposes of the laws of NY State and the town-owned Highland Rail Trail, The behavior of pedestrians is not subject to law but rather is a matter of courtesy and common sense. FYI, dog walkers, however, do have legal obligations: limit leash length to 6 feet and keep their pets under control.

      Education has been and is being tried. It is in the form of signs on the trail saying things like “cyclists must warn, go slow near pedestrians” and “bells required.” These have largely been ignored by cyclists for these last five years. So, something needs to be done.

      As I said, I sympathize with your plight, including the dangers for cyclists on roads and your worry about getting home to your wife and children when commuting. However, I am disappointed with your saying that the two encounters I described is hearing only one side. What other side can there be from a hit-n-run cyclist who knocked a woman unconscious? And what valid side can any 30-year old offer who jumps off his bike and physically pushes around a senior citizen, of all people? You made some good points in your comments. This one was not one of them.

      1. Lindsey

        Hi Rafael,

        I am an avid user of the walkway and rail trail (as a walker, cyclist, and dog walker). I have yet to see a cyclist be completely in the wrong of any bicycle accident that I have witnessed. I’m sure there are some because there are always accidents however, instead of isolating and targeting one specific group why not educate everyone as a whole. Make people more aware. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen walkers with earphones on without a clue to their fellow walkers who want to pass them, or dog walkers with leashes that extend way past the trail into the grass from the other side, and even people walking side by side together taking up the entire walkway inconsideratly not moving. I’ve gotten dirtly looks asking those people to pull their dogs in, ask the train of people to consolidate and saying excuse me while walking. I think it’s slightly unfair to judge an entire group of people, cyclists, based off of two incidents. That’s like saying every walker on the rail trail is inconsiderate and irresponsible. I think you are discriminatating a particular group when in fact the reason there is a problem is the lack of understanding/education that the walkway and rail trail are shared areas by walkers, dogs, and cyclists. I think you should be out advocating general safety and self awareness rather than pointing the finger at a particular group. I rarely use the walkway to walk my dog or even go walking anymore NOT because of cyclists but because of the rude walkers, people unable to control their own dog, and kids being out of control or listening to their parents. As a cyclist I am always curteous and allow people to know well in advanced when I’m coming up behind them slowly? You know what happens? They don’t hear me because I can hear their music feet away, they ignore me, or just don’t care. I don’t think a simple bell on the handle bars is going to fix anything when my voice, which is louder than any bell you have, can grab these people’s attention. So do us all a favor, change your poorly photoshopped misleading picture of a triathlete RACING past a blurred police officer who looks like a creeper in the woods, and put a giant traffic cone on there, and change the title to walkway awareness for everyone to read. Thanks.

        1. Rafael Diaz

          Hi Lindsay,

          I had nothing to do with the photo you object to; and, therefore, no way for me to change it.

          From your lengthy description of your own behavior as a cyclist, you are clearly doing everything right. Mazel tov! We could use more of you on the trail.

      2. Sam Train

        Hello Mr Diaz,

        I appreciate you taking the time to answer my comments.

        I do not think any cyclist is looking for sympathy, but rather being treated fairly and be not in the cross hairs of criticism. I fully understand the law and the burden while in the Town of Highland (I have ridden and walked many times there). Perhaps it is time to bring forth laws that make pedestrians accountable for their actions. We have laws against jaywalking, why not laws for pedestrians on the rail trail?

        When it comes to education though, perhaps it’s time for a more proactive and positive approach instead of passive signage that I would be willing to bet gets ignored 9.9 times out of 10 because they do not draw any attention. I would be willing to bet if you reached out to any number of the cycling clubs or bike shops in the area, they would be more than happy to help out and volunteer time and effort to educate the cycling public. I do not know about Ulster County, but I do know Dutchess County (where I live) has a specific position to address cycling and cycling safety. They have performed numerous “bike rodeos” on the Dutchess side of the river. Surely Ulster County must have a similar position. Has anyone attempted to educate the pedestrians? Set up a table with signs and so on that draw people in to talk? Signs that explain common courtesy and it’s not only for their safety, but the safety of other uses on the rail trail? I think most users of the rail trail would like to see a proactive approach to education before we take law enforcement’s precious time away from investigating crimes and keeping the streets and neighborhoods safe.

        I am truly sorry that there doesn’t seem any interest in hearing the other side of the story instead of jumping right to the conclusion that the cyclists were 100% at fault. As I do not know all the details of both of these encounters, I cannot say with any certainty what went on or pass 100% judgement. Was it wrong for the cyclist to leave the scene of knocking a woman down? Absolutely. Was it wrong for the cyclist to allegedly shove a senior citizen? Of course it’s wrong for anyone to put their hands on anyone. He should have ignored whatever comments were made (because I would be surprised if he only yelled slow down) and continued on with his ride. But completely disregarding

        Unfortunately, our society here in the United States has a very negative impression of cyclists in general. Numerous cyclists are killed every year by negligent drivers and only a slap on the wrist is given, hikers who think mountain bikers shouldn’t be on multi-use trails set booby traps to either hurt or kill mountain bikers, and pedestrians showing bad behavior to cause accidents. Narrowing down all the blame on to one particular group of trail users because they are the easiest to demonize is unfair.

  5. Neil Curri

    Notwithstanding the validity of Mr. Diaz’ arguments, this is an inaccurate and misleading photo for Hudson Valley One to have used to accompany his letter. First, the cyclist pictured is a triathlete during a race; it is not representative of the typical cyclist user or even the rare cyclist abuser. Second, the image of a police officer lying in wait in the bushes with a speed camera to catch the rare offending cyclist is just plain silly. Finally, even if Hudson Valley One had reason to believe that the officer-in-the-bushes enforcement scenario was at all representative of how Town of Lloyd officers might actually patrol the trail, the chances that even a daily patrol would capture or prevent the rare offending cyclist is minuscule at best. The photo is not at all an illustration of the perceived problem or the offered solution; it’s a caricature. I don’t take issue with any of the points Mr. Diaz raises about the responsibility of both cyclists and other users of the trail, or the law regarding bicycles as he’s explained it, only calling into question the idea that police patrols would be helpful. My issue with the photo is that it inaccurately depicts cyclists as reckless speed demons, and supports the foregone conclusion that a police presence would “catch” them. Poor or lazy (or both) editorial choice by Hudson Valley One, and not at all helpful to the discussion.

    At the very least, shouldn’t some research and/or discussion be undertaken to determine the best way to proceed? I’m sure this isn’t the first time other trail managers and local law enforcement agencies have been asked to patrol trails. Why did this come up in other communities? How did they approach it? What stakeholders were involved? How did the community respond? What worked and what didn’t? A quick google search came up with case studies on the US DOT website from several other rail trails. What can we learn from them?
    https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/docs/rt_safecomm.pdf

  6. Roger Bannister

    Make it a cement sidewalk and keep out horses, bikes and skateboards. Only pedestrians are allowed on sidewalks tell the bikes to take a hike. Tempest in a tea pot

  7. jimmy

    Tried googling for any incidents of assault involving a cyclist on the rail trail and came up empty. Mr Diaz, your ‘incidents’ have all the earmarks of now-familiar fake news. NO factual evidence at all. No dates. No names. No locations. No police reports. No newspaper articles. No details. No corroborating evidence of any kind. Nothing.
    However, I have googled you, and read about your bias against cyclists on the rail trail. Using your own words, there are RULES for ALL users of the rail trail. Try enforcing the ones for walkers/runners too. Of the 2 groups that I see using the rail trail, the walkers and runners are consistently more of a menace due to failure to follow (and let’s forget the Rail Trail Rules for now) common courtesy and a *basic* level of awareness of their surroundings on a SHARED TRAIL.

    1. Rafael Diaz

      Jimmy,

      Google is a terrific research tool but it has limitations. It picks up news accounts, minutes from public meetings, etc. But there are things that you can only get if you put more of an effort into your search than sitting at your computer or using your smart phone only.

      1) The incident of a hit-n-run cyclist striking a woman occurred in early 2014. I heard of it from Town Hall when the woman went in to get a copy of the police report. I subsequently submitted a FOIL (Freedom of Information) request with the Lloyd Town Clerk who passed it on to the Lloyd Police who sent it to me. There is usually a charge for this process but since I was acting in my capacity with the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, there was no charge.
      You are welcomed to follow the same process. The charge is something like $20 but you need to go into Town Hall and submit the request, which involves some paperwork, indicating your name and such. I don’t think you can do it anonymously or by phone or email, unless possibly if you have some disability preventing you from doing so.

      2) The incident of the cyclist coming back to the pair of senior citizens, dismounting and pushing the 70ish male occurred in late June or early July. The senior citizen called it into the Lloyd Police from the scene of the involvement. The dispatcher chose not to send a cop and asked that the senior citizen come to the station house to submit the report, which he declined. However, something is being made public about it right about now.

      I have no bias against cyclists. I wave ‘Hi” to them when we pass, thank the ones who ring their bells or call out their approaching from behind. When they are stopped I ask about where they are going or coming from, give them directions to toilets, water and places to go. For the last three years I have coordinated with the organizers of BikeNY’s Discover Hudson Valley Ride that puts some 2,000 cyclists on our Rail Trail on a Sunday in June. I don’t think that if you Google that Ride you will find out the role I play. But it should reveal a phone number and you can ask for who in BikeNY runs that ride and ask that person if I show any anti-bike bias.

      I did however, back in 2013, work with the Town Board and its attorney to draft text for town code Article 74 CL regarding cyclist responsibilities on the rail trail. That text is adapted from NY State Vehicle and Traffic Law Article 34. The Town Code’s section on cyclist behavior has the force of law. Law enforcement officers, if they choose to enforce the law, would need to cite Article 74 CL on the ticket. The rules regarding pedestrians, etc. are ones of common sense and courtesy and not contained in any language in Article 74 The police do not have the power to enforce anything not backed by legal statutes. By the way Article 74 does have language regarding dogs and dog walkers that are enforceable.

      I hope this satisfies you that what I said that drew such an angry response to my earlier letter to the editor does not “have all the earmarks of now-familiar fake news.”

      1. Rafael Diaz

        Jimmy,

        As I said at the end of my description of Incident #2, news was about to break. The senior citizen who was pushed by a cyclist appeared at the Lloyd Town Board meeting Wednesday July 19 and spoke during the part of the meeting called Privilege of the Floor, i.e. public comment.

        He described the episode in detail, drawing gasps from a larger-than-usual audience. Lots of comments from the audience and board members condemning what happened and relating similar incidents . It was all captured on camera as the meetings are videoed live on cable (as well as rebroadcast on cable; you can find it on the public access station the town uses).

        There were also reporters present from the two weeklies: Mark Reynolds for the Southern Ulster Times and Terence Ward for the New Paltz Times. The latter is published by Ulster Publishing that has this website, hudsonvalleyone.com.

        The two reporters are hard-working individuals who cover local news diligently and faithfully for their communities as does national media for a wider audience. What they all do is not “fake news” but rather a valuable service for an informed citizenry in a democratic society.

    2. R Bannistet

      “Share The Road” signs with a bicycle painted on it only appear on public highways, not in parks? Its a matter of public safety

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