Friday, April 2, 2010


Cats and dogs.  Rap and country.  Ford and Chevy.  Snowmobiles and cross country skis.  And now with spring upon us,  you can add runners vs. bikers vs. cars.

Can we coexist?

Gratuitous picture of my cat and dog, Nacho and Pancho respectively.  If they can get along, can't we all?

Now I realize this is the Minnesota Distance Running Association and not the Twin Cities Parkways Running Association, so there are many members who never use the trial systems where runners and bikers and pedestrians share one or two paths.  However, many of us do use River Road, Minnehaha Creek, and the chain of lakes as our primary running turf.  I personally start and end the bulk of my runs along West River Road, so I am at ground zero of the bikes vs. cars vs. runners turf war.

In the winter, it's a pretty black and white deal.  The cities plow one path and people in running shoes have to share with people on wheels.  Traffic on the path is at a minimum and there is little to no drama.  But things change when the snow melts and there is supposed to be a path for bikers and one for runners.  And I hate to say it, but I see runners on the bike path a lot more than bikers on the footpath.  In my many years of running the Minneapolis lakes, Minnehaha Parkway, and East and West River Road I have been witness to or in the middle of some pretty tense moments between people using the paths.

In general I have seen three major points of conflict:

1. Rollerblades vs. Shoes. This has subsided over the years. But every now and then (especially between Lynnhurst and Lake Harriet), I have had to dodge or ask a rollerblader zipping around pedestrians at dangerous speeds to slow down.

2. Runners on the Bike Path. This is one we can prevent. I think bikers can be more polite about directing us back to the footpath, but time and time again I see runners on the wrong path. This is especially perplexing when the pedestrian path is parallel to the bike path, just five feet over. I think this is usually due to lack of awareness more than anything else.

But... it does give runners a bad name.  When I am out for a casual bike ride, I do get annoyed by runners on the bike path.  And if I was a regular biker, I may start to resent this.

And I know it may seem annoying to follow the footpath along portions of Minnehaha Creek, where the bike path follows a tangent and the footpath forms an arc.  But you're out for a run!  The longer the better, right?  If you insist on staying on the bike path, please follow my one simple request.  Just shout "Wisconsin Distance Running Association rules!!!!" to every bike that passes by.


MDRA members Nathan Campeau, Steve English, and Paul LaMere after the LaCrosse marathon.  The close observer will note the bike in the background.  The closer observer will note that Nathan, Steve, and Paul are wonderful role models for biker-runner harmony as a) they did not light that bike on fire in an anti-cyclist rage while b) Nathan and Paul are wearing shirts sporting the MDRA logo.  Hey wait, upon closer inspection, that's MY bike.  I rode it to cheer Nathan on during his third place finish in the marathon.  Man, I'm really glad we didn't light that bike on fire.

There are places where, especially if you are running alone, you may decide you want to be on the bike path for safety (W River Road's foot path is below street level and secluded, between 38th and 44th street). In these cases, the bike path is safer, just be alert, as you are a "guest" on the bike path.

Bottom line is: be aware. Be aware which path you are on. And be aware that if you choose to go the bike path route you are a guest on their path. To repeat: Do your best to stay on the grass. If you are with a large group of runners, string yourselves out so you are not taking up the whole path.

3. A pack of runners vs. one or two runners. This happens when a training or social group is out for a Saturday run, and half of the metro area decides to go for a walk around Lake Harriet, as they are entitled to.  I think all us who have run in packs have seen the looks of annoyance or even trepidation on solo pedestrians or joggers as we come at them with a critical mass.  I've even heard a comment or two that didn't suggest they were glad to see us all out enjoying the day  Again, this is the time to shout "Wisconsin Distance Running Association rules!!!!"

On these occasions, I think we should be cut a little slack, as long as we are on the pedestrian path. The lakes are for everyone, groups or individuals. It may be idealistic of me to say this, but I hope that other people can remember they are using a popular city park in an urban area. Navigating through packs of runners comes with part of living in a big city with a great park system. It's just something they will need to deal with.

That being said, awareness on our part can help. I'm sure a huge group of us can be intimidating to an individual going the other direction on an already crowded path.  We will give running and the group we are running with a better name if we make like ants marching in two lines. The hardest thing for me is to be patient if there is a log jam.  I hate having my pace broken because it takes a lot of inertia and time for me to get up to my slow and easy pace.  But it can't be as annoying as clipping people and cutting them off just so I don't break pace.

No matter what: everyone in this city needs to take a deep breath and relax before he or she heads to the trails. Very few, if any other, cities have a trail system as extensive as ours. And, equally rare, we have trails desginated for those moving with heels and those using wheels.

If everyone on the paths can remember that, and be grateful for that, a lot of this tension could melt away.


crossn81 said...

Great post! On my first ride of the season there were still a LOT of people (runners and walkers) using the bike path. As a biker it was a little frustrating, but I do also remember as a runner that it can be quite annoying dodging all the walkers, strollers, etc on the "pedestrian path" Can we get a 3rd trail?!?

Anonymous said...

A question and a comment:

Since the speed limit on the bike path is 10 mph, if I'm running faster than that may I run on the bike path?

I have approached groups of our "Wisconsin Running Assoc." runners from the front and had to yell "On your left" so that they see me and think to give me part of the path. What's up with that?

Old Man

Rocco said...

Like my grandma always said, "If you are running faster than 10 mph for any extended period time, you can do whatever you want."

I agree, big packs of runners on the trails can be an annoyance. But these classes and groups get people out and running, whish is pretty cool. Coaches and leaders of traning groups are the ones who need to make sure the group is respecting the limited and shared space on the trail and giving other runners space.

Drew said...

On our Saturday long run we hit the Midtown Greenway. We coaches reminded our runners to be mindful of the bike lane and for the most part, from what I could see, that was achieved. What I didn't expect was another running group to also be running the Midway at the same time. Those runners were all over the place - 5-6 wide. I'm not a biker, but THAT would have been very frustrating. Can anyone say bicycle slalom?