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 30 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?

    1. Russell Nelson

      Pedestrians have no idea what to do when they hear a bell. More often than not, they turn their head to the left to see what the noise is about. That means that they take a step or two to the left, endangering themselves and the cyclist.

      Pedestrians should walk on the left, cyclists should ride on the right. The standard advice that pedestrians should walk with their backs to oncoming traffic is dumber than dumb. It’s dumb squared. Do you walk on the highway with your back to oncoming traffic? NO!

  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!

    1. Russell Nelson

      I’ve had so many bad reactions from cyclists when I call out to them, that I just give them a wide berth now. If I can’t do that, I slow down until I can. The biggest danger on the trail is stupid pedestrians who think they can safely walk down the middle of the trail, or walk two abreast down the middle, or three abreast down the middle. Pedestrians should walk on the left, so they can see oncoming traffic. Oncoming traffic has the responsibility of moving into the other side of the trail to pass them safely.

  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.

    1. Russell Nelson

      Having a police officer on the trail doesn’t shield anyone from injury. It slightly increases the possibility that if someone causes an accident, a policeman might do something about it. Since they don’t do anything about cyclists getting hit by cars, why should you think they will do anything about pedestrians being hit by cyclists?

  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. Russell Nelson

          I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called out “On your left” and the pedestrian obligingly moves to the left. Or even worse, there was a couple. Guy on the left, girl on the right. Walking down the middle of the trail. I call out “On your left”, and the guy crosses over to the right, the girl crosses over to the left.

          The best thing happens when I go off onto the grass (if I can — I ride a hybrid) to avoid the pedestrian entirely. Then it doesn’t matter what they do.

          Second best is when I slow down and call out to someone walking down the exact middle of the trail “I’d like to pass”, and let them decide which side they want me to pass on.

          You can’t trust pedestrians. They’re dangerous.

      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. Russell Nelson

        “The rules regarding pedestrians, etc. are ones of common sense and courtesy.” Nope. Just as on roads, where pedestrians should walk on the left, pedestrians should was on the left on trails, and for the same reason — so you’ll see the faster traffic coming.

    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

  8. Russell Nelson

    Cyclists should ride on the right. Pedestrians should walk on the left. That way, pedestrians see cyclists on their side coming, and won’t be surprised when they pass on the pedestrian’s right. Cyclists can see if the pedestrians are aware of them, and exercise due caution if they are distracted. Cyclists can see other cyclists or pedestrians on the left, where they will be passing. They can slow down and give way, then pass when their left is clear.

    The rule that pedestrians should walk on the right side is facially moronic.

    I’ve ridden every rail-trail in New York State, including the entire Erie Canalway Trail twice. I kinda know what I’m talking about.

    1. Steve Rice

      I disagree strongly. Experience does not make you right Mr. Nelson. Keep right except pass is the safest approach to safety for all users. My experience includes decades of trail planning and building as well as trail use as a pedestrian, cyclist and dog walker.

  9. Deb

    I have been both a walker and a cyclist on the rail trail. When I am cycling, I use my bell to warn and slow down. I am especially careful near groups, especially with children and/or dogs.
    When I am walking, it is rare for anyone to let me know that they are passing. Sometimes I am caught off-guard as they speed past when I had no idea that they were there. Perhaps they think I can hear them coming. Sometimes I do, but sometimes there are other noises in the area. When a cyclist does warn, either by ringing their bell or by saying something, I thank them. Sadly, there are very few of them. I walk the trail several days each week and this is becoming more of a problem. Town code says that they should have a bell and warn, but the majority are not doing that.

  10. Claire Winslow

    Mr Diaz is completely correct.
    Cyclist need to warn period end!
    Dog walkers, seniors and children have every right to enjoy the trail. All the cyclist needs to do is warn that is not asking a lot from them. Get a bell on your bike!!!
    If not get a ticket!!!!!
    So to all the cyclist that fly by and do not warn please start following the rules!
    It’s called common courtesy!

  11. Rafael Diaz

    This is addressed to Russell Nelson.
    1) From you numerous comments on this and other threads regarding rail trail issues, I get the impression that you are going out of your way to deal with pedestrians who are blocking your right of passage, i.e. giving polite warning, slowing down, even going on to the grass if necessary. So congrats on being a responsible cyclist.
    2) On the other hand, I think terming some pedestrians as “stupid” is not a good thing to do. That is just my opinion.
    3) Your idea of having pedestrians walk on the left and cyclists be on the right is clearly borrowed from the rule of pedestrian on roads. You always need to face traffic when walking or running on a road (but cycle with traffic).
    However, that convention is not the universal rule or expectation that is decades old throughout the US, Canada and most other countries on hiking trails and rail trails. To change that trail-convention would lead to all sorts of confusion.

    The only time a group of us ever ran on the Highland Rail Trail going on our left was about 7 years ago. A rogue, unsanctioned biking event put several 100 cyclists on the trail. The organizer did not clear it with us and, in his promotional material, he encouraged participating cyclists on the rail trail (and Walkway) to use this opportunity “to find the Lance Armstrong in you” (this was before Armstrong’s fall from grace). They were flying down the trail 3-abreast at speeds between 15 and 20 mph. The situation was so dangerous that one long distance runner I know opted to take her chances on parallel New Paltz Road! The rest of made the switch to running on the left as an extreme way of dealing with this rogue cyclist group.

    1. RS

      There should actually be some signs put up explaining the proper rules for walking and riding on the trail. Every day I see some people walking like they are supposed to on the road, which just causes more chaos since now you have pedestrians walking both ways. If everyone stayed on the right except to pass, things would move much more smoothly.

  12. JJR

    Municipalities do not need to spend money on bike police. That is one of the dumbest ways I’ve ever heard to spend taxpayer money.

  13. Steve Rice

    As a cyclist, I agree that the onus on safe over taking of any other users is ALWAYS on the cyclist. Those cyclists who wish to train at uninterrupted paces to keep their target heart rate high should NOT be using rail trails. Get a wind trainer or set of rollers and train to your heart’s content where you endanger no one but yourself. When on the rail trail you must look out for the safety of others, even if they are violating every sensible rule there is. There may come a time when a civilian bike patrol is needed to calm traffic. It has been effective at Mohonk and Minnewaska for decades.
    Those patrols are backed up by the Rangers on those properties. We might consider having bike patrols with NYS Constables among them if a peace officer with powers of arrest is needed. Asking for police coverage at this point is too big of an ask.

    All users of the rail trail should keep right except to pass.

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