Path wars: cyclists vs pedestrians

Cyclists on the shared use path
Cyclists on the shared use path
  • Pedestrians talk of “terrifying” experiences
  • Dog walker says some cyclists are “provocative and dangerous”
  • Cycling campaign group and county council call for common sense

A dog owner in Caton has described cyclists using the shared Millenium Path as “provocative and dangerous”.

Others agree, but many feel that cyclists, pedestrians, and dog walkers have an equal part to play in ensuring safety and enjoyment on the 15km route.

Here Chief Reporter NICK LAKIN shares some of his own experiences, and finds out what the issues are when it comes to ensuring you get to work, school, or the shops in one piece.

It’s 8.40am on a Tuesday morning and I’m cycling to work along the Millennium path between Lancaster and Morecambe.

Cycle network map

Cycle network map

Up ahead, a man is walking his dog off the lead. I ring my bell as a warning, or greeting, and slow down. The man hears me and tries to call his dog but it starts to zig-zag along both sides of the path instead.

I try to second guess its movements but give up and I’m forced to come to a complete stop to avoid a collision.

I smile at the dog walker, who looks apologetic, and then I’m on my way, moving back up the gears to attain a reasonable speed again.

On other occasions, as a pedestrian with young children on the path, I find myself being on higher alert when cyclists approach, adjusting my movements, stopping if I have to, ensuring the kids are safe - generally with no major issues, but occasionally thinking the rider should have slowed down.

“There are a number of men of a certain age who are so provocative and so dangerous.”

These are just some of the common themes along this multi-use path which is enjoyed by many, and used as a relatively quick, direct and car free route for commuters who prefer to leave their vehicles at home.

As the start of the Way of the Roses cross country cycle route between Morecambe and Bridlington, it is also used by cyclists as part of a much longer route.

Pedestrians, mothers and fathers pushing prams, groups of school children, cyclists, dog walkers, mobility scooters and even the occasional horse and trap use the 15km path to access numerous gateways between Morecambe and Caton.

There is an unwritten etiquette, and most seem to observe it.

Paul Stubbins

Paul Stubbins

But for others, using the path has become a nerve racking pursuit, with tales of confrontation, flaring tempers, and letters to the Lancaster Guardian describing “terrifying” instances - one of which recently resulted in a trip to A&E for an elderly woman in her mid 70s.

As summer approaches, the path gets even busier, and a recent event held by Lancashire Leisure and Tourism Roundtable concluded Lancashire should be doing more to promote cycle tourism, potentially putting further pressure on the wonderful asset that is Lancaster’s Millennium Path.

One woman, who walks her dog on the multi-use path near Caton, but did not wish to be named, said: “There are a number of men of a certain age who are so provocative and so dangerous.

“There’s obviously going to be a major accident soon and someone’s going to be seriously hurt.

“There’s one guy that comes up behind me very quickly, doing 25mph without any warning. If he was to hit me I would be badly injured. It’s very provocative behaviour and it seems to have got completely out of control.

“I have seen cyclists with what looks like cycle club signs on their clothes, and it’s like they’re using the path for speed trials.

“The majority of cyclists are rude. I actually had to leap into the bushes at one point. The council seems to have made the cyclists untouchable. It’s just anti social behaviour pure and simple.” It’s a sentiment reflected on social media as well.

“The basic rule of using shared use paths is to give way to more vulnerable users, and the vast majority of cyclists do so.”

Pedestrians describe “rude” cyclists who think they own the path, giving way to no-one.

But others describe an experience of mutual respect between all users of the path, while some say that each different user - be they pedestrian, dog walker, or cyclist – can be respectful or ignorant in equal measure.

Paul Stubbins, from Lancaster cycling campaign group Dynamo, said it was unfortunate that a minority of cyclists are making the use of the path uncomfortable for other users. He said: “The basic rule of using shared use paths is to give way to more vulnerable users, and the vast majority of cyclists do so.

“This most commonly achieved by cyclists slowing down when passing pedestrians, so as not to shock people.

“Pedestrians too can help the situation by walking towards the side of the path, rather than down the centre, which allows all users more space, and dog walkers should keep their dogs on a short lead, as the thin extendable leads are an unacceptable hazard. The discipline of the white line on the Morecambe greenway is observed by most cyclists and pedestrians, and is helpful in this regard, so is probably worth instating in other areas, such as from Caton to Lancaster.”

Mr Stubbins said the path is one of the major successes of the improvements at the end of the last millenium.

He said that people should avoid adopting the thinking of “cycling versus pedestrians” and should work together to improve the provision of off road routes.

He added that consideration should be given to widening the paths in some areas, and that this should be something to bear in mind if and when plans to extend the shared use path across Heysham Moss come to fruition.

LOOK OUT FOR EACHOTHER

It seems to be a common-sense case of “look out for each other”, as Alasdair Simpson, Lancashire County Council senior cycling officer, suggests as part of a code of conduct that can be found on signs along the path.

He said: “National research indicates that accidents between pedestrians and cyclists on shared used paths are rare, though people may have to make minor changes to their course to avoid one another.

“We are not aware of any other collisions happening on the riverside cycle path in the last ten years, although there may be other incidents that have not been reported to us.

“We are keen to encourage cyclists and walkers to look out for one another when using shared paths, especially at this time of year when more people are getting out and about. Many cyclists also use the paths regularly on foot. The signs on the path promote that it is shared use, and we include a code of conduct on cycling information such as the Lancaster Cycle Map.

“Possible solutions have been put forward in the past, such as putting in dividing lines on paths, and while we have these in some locations based on previous guidance, current guidance does not favour dividing paths as both cyclists and pedestrians tend to ignore them and research indicates that they do not reduce the risk of collisions.

“If anything, cyclists tend to go faster if one side of the path is marked out for their use.

“We’re keen to get across the message that both cyclists and pedestrians should look out for each other on shared paths, and give each other plenty of room.

“Cyclists should cycle at a relaxed pace and slow down when passing other users.

“Ring your bell or say hello and thank you when passing walkers or other cyclists.

“When walking on a shared path allow room for cyclists to pass, for example by keeping to one side of the path.

“If cycling or walking with young children keep a close eye on them.

“Dogs should be kept on short leads.”