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Sharing the trails

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat: COURSEY: Sharing the trails

By CHRIS COURSEY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Published: Monday, February 13, 2012

I've got a pretty good idea of what happened to Odessa O'Brien Schexnaydre.

Not that I was there when the 39-year-old runner and fitness instructor was hit by a bicycle on the Santa Rosa Creek Trail. In fact, the only other person who was there – the bicyclist – took off and hasn't been heard from since.

But I have walked and biked on that trail ever since portions of it were first paved more than a decade ago, and I can imagine what happened because I have seen it play out in my mind there and on other trails hundred times:

The runner and the cyclist are tooling along in the same direction, both enjoying the day, the trail, the exercise. The runner is unaware of the cyclist's approach; the cyclist is unaware of the runner's intentions. One of them – or more likely both of them – makes the wrong move.

In this case, it left Schexnaydre with a fractured skull and other injuries.

Since we live in a society that likes to assign blame and appoint villains, a lot of the discussion of this incident has been about who was at fault. You won't find that discussion here. Instead, let's talk about how we all can safely enjoy our trails together.

As I said, I speak from experience. I ride my bike at least once a week on the Prince Greenway, the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, the Rodota Trail, the West County Trail, the Brush Creek Trail, the trails at Howarth, Spring Lake and Annadel parks or other multi-use trails around Sonoma County. These are safe, convenient, fun and scenic places to enjoy the outdoors in our community. For bikers, hikers and runners, they are car-free corridors that either serve as connectors to other places or destinations unto themselves where users can pedal, walk or run without worrying about cars. For families and children, they offer a safe place to enjoy nature and get some fresh air. They are popular with roller skaters, skateboarders, parents with strollers, wheelchair users or anyone else looking for outdoor recreation.

And, they are getting increasingly crowded. On a sunny weekend, the trails of Spring Lake are a lot more congested than the local mall.

That's a good thing. But it requires some cooperation among users.

First, cyclists need to understand the difference between a trail and a road. Just like you wouldn't drive your car 65 mph down your neighborhood street, you shouldn't ride your bike at full speed on a local trail. If you want to hammer, take your bike out on the streets where you can compete with cars to see how fast you can go. Don't do it where moms are pushing strollers and kids are trying out their training wheels.

Second, pedestrians need to understand they aren't the only ones on the trails. Just like on the street, traffic moves in both directions here, and some users move faster than others. Walkers and runners sometimes have to get out of the way.

In the end, though, we're all out there for the same reason. Whether cycling, walking, running, rolling or skating, we're all just trying to get a little exercise and enjoy the day.

Can't we all just get along? Absolutely. And here are a few suggestions to help us toward that goal:

For cyclists:

- Slow down. Appreciate the scenery. Have some patience. Get used to the pace of the trail, because nobody else is in your hurry. Say hello to other trail users.

- Give plenty of warning of your approach from behind. Yelling “on your left!” when you're five feet off someone's rear end is a good way to scare the hell out of them, but it usually doesn't cause them to move to the right before you're on top of them one second later. I like to yell “bike passing!” when I'm about 50 feet behind, which gives pedestrians time to react to the warning and make a decision. Sometimes they'll go right, sometimes they'll go left, sometimes a group will split down the middle. Regardless, it also gives me time to react to what they do and safely navigate past them.

- Be ready to stop at any time, for any thing: Cats that come out of the weeds. Dogs off leash. Dogs on leash, with their master on the other side of the trail, the leash stretched tightly across your path. Free-range chickens on the Rodota Trail. Turkeys at Annadel. Homeless guys with shopping carts. Kids weaving their bikes from one side of the trail to the other. Adults weaving their bikes from one side of the trail to the other. Gaping vertical cracks in the asphalt ready to grab your wheels. Stop signs (yes, that means you, too).

- Remember that to a pedestrian, a speeding bike passing too closely is just as scary as a car to a cyclist. Practice empathy.

For walkers and runners:

- Remember where you are, and pay attention. Some people are actually using the trail for transportation.

- If you're in a group that takes up the width of the trail, check behind you often, and pay attention to traffic coming toward you. Move to the right to let others pass.

- If you're with small children, teach them to stay to the right. Make sure they know the difference between “right” and “left.”

- If you have a dog, keep it on a leash. If cyclists are passing, keep the leash tight. (And, by the way, clean up after your pet.)

- If you're listening to music, use your eyes. Don't “change lanes” without checking behind you.

For everyone:

- Understand that your fellow trail users are out there for recreation, not competition or regimentation. Don't expect everyone you encounter to behave exactly as you do. Do expect them to be a little absent-minded at times. Understand that they will forget the rules. Forgive them their mistakes.

- Enjoy yourself.

Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.