Dealing with crowding on the Minuteman Bikeway
To avoid unwanted interactions, I wish that the path was wider
ON A WEEKEND in early March, the weather broke; the temperature was in the high 50s and New Englanders were out en masse walking, running, and cycling while we all attempted to avoid puddles and remnant snow patches.
For my trice weekly exercise routine, I ride my bike from Davis Square out the Somerville Community Path to the Cambridge Alewife station and then on the Minuteman Bikeway to Bedford, about 24 miles round trip.
On my return trip, I was about to pass two women who were walking in the same direction as I was cycling. I thought it would be safest if I passed them on their left as there was no oncoming traffic. When I was 5-10 feet behind them and to their left, they suddenly veered to their left, moving away from a puddle on the right edge of the path and directly into my path. As I was too close to stop and did not think that ringing my bell would significantly alter their trajectory in time, I swerved from behind them and to their right, and through the puddle.
As the puddle was longer and deeper than I anticipated, there was a significant splash that might have hit the woman nearest the puddle.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, there will invariably be interactions between the walkers, runners, and cyclists on multi-use trails. In March 2019 there was a collision of two cyclists in the Lexington section of the Minuteman Bikeway which resulted in the death of one cyclist and serious injuries to the other. The location is marked by a white ghost bike.
I am not a fast bicycle rider; I am 67 years old and average 12 mph. Most cyclists will pass me, but I will pass a few.
I have tried to mitigate my interactions with fellow travelers by adding a bell, front and rear light to my bicycle.
Some have complained that my flashing front light is too bright. A middle-aged man recurrently verbally harassed me about my light every time I cycled past him. The last time I encountered him he began to rapidly walk across the path, toward me and I was forced off the path and onto the shoulder. He then straddling my front tire and harangued me about my light. When I picked up my phone to document encounter he tried to take my phone from me – a most unpleasant experience.
Despite that encounter, I will not shut off the light as I know it reduces potentially dangerous interactions with other cyclists.
When I approach a cyclist or pedestrian who is traveling in the same direction as I am moving, I will frequently ring my bell to warn them of my presence before I pass on their left. This is especially important if there is oncoming traffic on the left side of the path, as the trail is only 12 feet wide and any sudden movement by the pedestrian to their left might result in a collision.
I try to remember to ring my bell whenever I encounter a walker who is accompanied by a child or a dog, as their movements are less predictable.
As a result of these mixed signals, if I expect to be on the extreme left edge of the path when I pass the pedestrian I may decide not to ring the bell, believing that there is no possibility of an interaction. Unfortunately there was one time when the pedestrian abruptly turned to their left and directly into my path.
Despite everybody’s best efforts to avoid despoiling others enjoyment of Somerville Community Path and the Minuteman Bikeway, unavoidably bad interactions are inevitable with so many people moving in close proximity at very different velocities.
I wish that the Minuteman Bikeway was wider.
I wish there were places where I could conveniently and safely cycle without being at risk of an interaction with a vehicle or pedestrian.
I wish our politicians would rectify this problem before more bad things happen to cyclists, runners, and pedestrians.And I wish I had stopped to apologize to the woman I may have splashed on the Minuteman Bikeway.
Hayward Zwerling is a resident of Somerville.