Following simple rules make multiuse trails safe for everyone

craig.hill@thenewstribune.comApril 13, 2014 

A cyclist has a stretch of the Foothills Trails to herself on April 7, but as the weather improves the South Sound’s multi-use trails can become quite crowded making good trail etiquette imperative.


Even superheroes use proper trail etiquette.

This is the most important thing I learned last weekend when my son and I watched “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

In the opening scene, Captain America (played by Chris Evans) is running impossibly fast and repeatedly passing Sam Wilson (played by Anthony Mackie). Each time Cap alerts Wilson of his presence with a polite “On your left.” (It should also be noted that the superhero isn’t wearing headphones.)

Wilson gets pretty annoyed by all the “On your left” announcements, but using proper etiquette means something truly bizarre is going to happen for these guys to get hurt. And, of course, it does. But that’s beside the point.

As the weather becomes too nice for us to hang out in movie theaters, people are flocking to the South Sound’s paved multiuse trails such as the Chehalis Western, Foothills, Scott Pierson and Yelm-Tenino. They’re walking, running, biking, longboarding, skating and even riding horses.

These trails are usually safe places to exercise, but they can get dangerous quicker than a Marvel action movie when people aren’t using proper decorum.

Recently, my wife and I headed to the Foothills Trail for a quick bike ride when I heard a shriek of terror.

I recognized the scream. It belonged to my wife.

It was the bloodcurdling scream she uses only when she’s truly scared — like when a child darts into traffic or a crane fly gets in the house.

I never know what end of the spectrum we are dealing with, so I turned to look. And just in time.

The cyclist we were overtaking, a guy riding right down the middle of the busy trail while wearing headphones apparently hadn’t heard either of our “On Your Left” greetings.

He was swerving left toward me and this is why my wife was screaming. I veered left, off the trail, into a ditch and then rolled back up onto the trail. I didn’t fall, but I broke a spoke on my back wheel.

The other cyclist paid a more painful price. He’d lost control when he brushed against me and hit the ground with a sickening slap. A handful of cyclists behind us, my wife included, dodged him to avoid even more calamity.

When my wife suggested he ride with one ear bud out so he’d be more aware of his surroundings, he told her he was a little confused about what to do when he was being passed.

I’m pretty sure he won’t be confused next time.

These multipurpose trails are true recreational gems, but it seems there are some things everybody should know in order to keep them safe. Safety tips that really don’t have to be learned the hard way. Such as:

PASS WITH CARE: Follow Cap’s lead and announce your presence before passing. Pass on your left as you would on the road and give yourself as much room as possible.

AVOID SPREADING OUT: Imagine a caravan of friends or family driving cross country. Would they spread out, driving side by side blocking traffic in both directions? Of course not. But this is commonplace on local trails. If you want to travel the trail side by side, be diligent about checking behind you to make sure you aren’t a road block by the time others reach you.

RESPECT THE YELLOW LINE: When the Foothills Trail bends, solid yellow center lines appear on the trail. This is not coincidental. Just like the road, these lines mean “Don’t pass.” Stay right to avoid finding a collision around the corner.

CONSIDER THE ROAD: If you’re an experienced cyclist who likes to Spandex-up and rip down the trail at 20 mph, you’ve probably spent enough time on the road to handle skipping the busy sections of trail. The Foothills Trail is notoriously congested around Orting. Switching to a back road in this area not only will get you through town faster, but it will keep you from having to dodge slower trail users along the way. Some motorists won’t be happy to see you off the trail, but don’t worry about it. You have as much right to the road as they do.

TEACH YOUR KIDS: Few things are as scary as coming upon a family with a kids pedaling on training wheels. You give a friendly “On your left,” but the little tykes have no clue what you’re talking about and continue swerving back and forth across the trail or maybe just stop and look at the silly man in Spandex. Make sure kids know the basics when you hit the trail and remind them regularly. And if you’re passing a family, slow down and give them as much room as possible.

MIND YOUR PETS: Pets are allowed on most multiuse trails, but stay alert. It’s not good enough to just keep yourself on the right side of the trail. Your dog needs to be there, too, so you don’t clothesline a cyclist with your leash.

BE SMART WITH HEADPHONES: Headphones are allowed on most multiuse trails, but that doesn’t mean they are a good idea. Being aware of your surrounding is arguably the most important step in being a safe trail user. Use headphones that allow you to hear ambient noise or, at least, take one ear bud out so you can hear.

Or, better yet, do like Captain American and leave the headphones at home.

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497

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