Etiquette on the Trail

This team is truly amazing. When we all get together we can have a major impact on the world. This is generally a good thing, a VERY good thing. Unfortunately, because of our size we can sometimes have a less than favorable impact on our friends and neighbors who would also like to use Chester County’s multi-use trails. A lot of the focus has been on parking and access to the various trailheads around the Downingtown/Exton area. Discussion about and solutions to that problem are something I’ll leave to another time and place.

Today, I’d like to talk about being good citizens on the trails. These guidelines are beneficial to keep in mind at all times, but especially when we gather Sunday mornings for Sunday Runday Funday or any other large group outing. When Team CMMD starts out a run with dozens of runners/walkers all hitting the trail at once, it is our responsibility to try not to overwhelm the other people who are out enjoying the trail along with us.

To that end, I’d like to address a few basic trail etiquette and safety issues. If we all try to keep these in mind, we’ll not only lessen our negative impact on other folks’ experiences, but perhaps we can help model the type of courteous behavior that will improve conditions on the trails for everyone.

First up, the question of right of way is important to address. The question of who has to yield on multi-use trails can be confusing. Though there are no absolutes, the general rule of thumb is that the faster person should yield to the slower. In practice, this means for the most common uses of the paved trails in Chester County:

  • Cyclists should yield to roller bladers
  • Roller bladers should yield to runners
  • Runners should yield to walkers

Though this can seem counterintuitive, the common thread is that the faster you are, the more you need to be in control of yourself. Allow the slower person to take their lane, make their way and then when the path is open and safe, go ahead and pass them.

The slightly different rule, and one that doesn’t often come in to play around Chester County is that everyone else yields to riders on horseback. The shorthand I’ve seen elsewhere is Wheels yield to feet and feet yield to hooves.

multi-use-trail-sign copy

Having said that the faster folks need to yield to the us slower runners and walkers, doesn’t mean we don’t have any responsibilities. Just as important – if not more so – for us turtles is to be sure we aren’t taking up the whole width of the trail and inadvertently blocking access for people to pass us.

Many of the trails around the county are converted rail trails – which usually means the paved surface is only 10 to 15 feet wide at most. In order to allow easy flow of two-way traffic and room for people to pass, it is important to try to stay to the right and run only two abreast. If you are running in a larger group than that, try to file into several rows of runners. You can still all travel together, but this will ensure other runners can maneuver easily around you if they need to.

When passing a person or group that is slower than you it is common courtesy to give them a polite heads up in some way. If you are on a bicycle and have a bell, a simple, single ring of the bell will alert them to your presence. Whether on bike or foot, if you are passing calling out “on your left” will give them an idea of where you are AND also where you intend to go. Most people will naturally shift over further to the right when the hear this call, and I usually follow up with a “Thank you” as I pass them. Similarly, if I am being passed, I will usually thank the cyclist or runner who gave me the heads up as they pass by me.

Passing and communication brings up another important point. I wear headphones as much as anyone while I am running, but I make sure the volume is low enough that I can hear someone trying to call out to me on the trail.  There is some debate about headphones for cyclists, but I am firmly in the camp that it is a safety no-no. When you are the fastest thing on the trail, you have a responsibility to be at your peak awareness at all times. The jury is still out on the social acceptability of Bluetooth speakers on bikes, but they are definitely much safer than earbuds worn by the cyclist.

Another issue that is about both safety and courtesy is the use of traffic signals and signs. In our usual area, this mostly applies to the Chester Valley Trail since it crosses so many major roads. Especially along newer sections of the trail, it is important to use the pedestrian crossing signals when appropriate. It is not only a safety issue for yourself, but by consistently using them, runners can help to train motorists that there are pedestrians who cross at those intersections.

Finally, from a safety standpoint when there are so many different speeds and types of use going on all at once, it is important for everyone to be predictable – especially when nearing other users, hold your path and don’t change speeds suddenly. If you are doing intervals on a busy trail try to let other folks know before you suddenly drop from a run to a walk right in front of them.

To summarize, a little common courtesy on the trails can go a long way toward staying safe and keeping Team CMMD viewed as a positive force on the trails.

Rules of thumb to remember:

  • Yield to slower trail users as appropriate – wheels yield to feet, feel yield to hooves
  • Keep right
  • Don’t block the path – run/walk two abreast at most
  • Obey traffic signs and signals – use the crossing signals where they are provided (mostly on CVT)
  • Be courteous – let others know your intentions when you are passing them
  • Be respectful of private property – some areas have private property adjacent to the trail.


~ Ted Howe


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