Pandemic & Shared-use Trails

The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the fact that shared-use trails do not work for cyclists. There are things the Town and region can do temporarily to improve physical safety for cyclists and pedestrians until permanent infrastructure is in place.

The following expresses the general opinion of Cycle Newmarket, partially in response to Kathryn O’Reilly’s letter to the editor in the Era Banner: “Cyclists Must Respect Other Trail Users”, April 23, 2020, and is based on anecdotal observations of some of our members.

In this time of COVID-19 pandemic, being able to get out on Newmarket’s Trail system, particularly the Tom Taylor Trail, has been an important part of personal well-being for many citizens. For pedestrians, joggers and cyclists, the trails are safe places to be outside while maintaining physical separation. The trails are wider than sidewalks so, if one has to step, run or ride off the trail, it’s onto grass, not onto a road with cars, trucks and buses.

Unfortunately, there have been confrontations on the trails, between pedestrians and cyclists, many caused by cyclists failing to maintain the required 2m separation between themselves and the pedestrians.

Cycle Newmarket believes that these conflicts really highlight the fact that the shared-use trails do not work for cyclists, now or ever. They are too narrow in many places, sometimes as little as 3m wide, and many sections have edges that are in poor repair. We also believe that Newmarket and the Region must greatly expand on the great start they have made with street cycling infrastructure.

There are ways to act now, as the pandemic continues, to provide temporary relief and increased safety to both pedestrians and cyclists. Some examples:

  • Brampton and other places have created temporary cycle lanes on roads that have greatly reduced traffic loads. This could be done now on Davis, Prospect, Mulock and others that could provide true, direct connectivity.
  • Many places have restricted vehicle access on some streets to expand the safe zone for pedestrians and cyclists alike. Nobody should have to step out into a traffic lane to maintain physical distance from someone else. This may not be applicable in many areas of Newmarket, where so much is residential, but closing Main Street South should be possible, as it seems mostly to be used as a bypass for cars.
  • On-street parking could be removed on Regional roads.
  • Speed limits could be dropped to 30 km/h in residential areas, and lowered to 40 km/h everywhere else.

There are many reasons for the Town to beef up its cycle track infrastructure, beyond the safety of the cycling public. Cycling helps us meet our climate emergency commitments, improves community health outcomes, and strengthens local businesses. These considerations have taken on added urgency with the COVID-19 pandemic and the required physical distancing.

Update from May 2: Apparently the Town has been hearing the same complaints, and has developed these signs:

A very positive approach, and cyclists have been seen coming to a stop to let others finish crossing.

Ride on!

9 Replies to “Pandemic & Shared-use Trails”

  1. Main Street cannot be closed to vehicles. It will kill Main Street. Restaurants and tourists only visit on the weekends and at night. Have you ever been through Main Street on a weekday morning? Nobody walking. Nobody biking. We aren’t a destination spot for the rich people to visit when they get hungry, we are a community that operates 24/7. Retail and professional services in the area rely on people having the ability to drive in. We need all modes of transportation to facilitate the whole community. Push for more bike lanes on side streets, you don’t need to kill our community.

    1. Cycle Newmarket has never advocated for complete closure of any street to vehicles. Instead we advocate for a rebalancing of the rights of all road users. In fact, Main St is already partially a cycling route and with the recent installation of patios and a 30 km/h speed limit, it is more cycle-friendly than ever. It has been shown that a more pedestrian-and-cycling-friendly retail street attracts more business. The mornings you are referring to are busy with cars who are passing through, not using Main St businesses.
      As far as side streets go, I think we would all agree that asking cyclists to use only those streets without the destinations they re seeking (retail, professional, institutional, etc) would not be fair at all.

  2. As a pedestrian trail user, I thank you for this thoughtful response to the subject of shared trail use. I agree that the trails are simply not wide enough for both cyclists and walkers, but I don’t know how this can be resolved. With summer coming and many more people out enjoying the trail system, we will see more issues arising.
    I would like to stress to cyclists:
    Please obey the signs and dismount and walk through the Mulock underpass, rather than riding. I have never seen any cyclist do this.
    The same goes for the boardwalks, although I have occasionally seen riders walking their bikes through those.
    Please give ample warning and slow down when passing a walker.
    Thank you for promoting cycling in Newmarket

    1. Thanks for your response, Teresa. When I go under Mulock, which I have been unable to do this year, I always ring my bell (it’s a very loud one) first to hear if there is a response. If I did meet someone (never have) I would stop against the railing. Now, I think I would walk it.

  3. Hello,

    I am both a cyclist and pedestrian. I have noted cyclists whizzing by me without warning on the trails. Yes the trails are narrow but the onus is in the cyclist to alert any pedestrian proceeding in the same direction.

    Why are cyclists not using the virtually empty streets? I see some out on Warden and they are able to progress with little passing vehicular traffic.

    Is it just human nature to be inconsiderate when there is a power imbalance? Cyclist over pedestrian. Motororist over cyclist. SUV over sedan.

    I guess it’s easier for Cycle Newmarket to blame local government rather than call out poor behaviours.
    I’ll be interested to see if you post my comment

    1. Thanks for your response, Patrick, and sorry it took so long to get to it – I hadn’t set up notifications yet.
      Cycle Newmarket members do comment on inconsiderate riders on social media, especially now, and we are ramping that up a bit. That said, we feel that the problem is recreational & fitness cyclists, and our focus has always been with cyclists using bikes as transportation.
      The blog post/open letter was not meant as criticism of the Town, but as a set of suggestions for things the Town could easily do to make roads & trails safer and more enjoyable for cyclists and walkers.

  4. I simply don’t get it. First off, I’m not a cyclist so I have no axe to grind here. That bridge – even sidewalks, is perfectly wide enough for pedestrians and cyclist use without stopping to let others cross. This social distancing rule was made for when groups of people INDOORS were forced into close contact, i.e. grocery shopping. Passing someone on the street, on a forest trail, or a bridge, does NOT pose any threat of contamination (unless some stupid person were to cough directly at another while doing so). Jumping into the middle of the road when someone is walking towards you is absolute paranoia.

    1. I both walk and cycle on the trails, and I can tell you that the bridges are not wide enough for a cyclist to pass walkers and keep 2m away. A cyclist won’t let their handlebars get closer than about 20-30cm from the bridge railing, so the biker’s shoulder will be over a metre out.
      And the social distancing rule is not just for indoors.

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