Saturday morning between 8 and 9 I was cycling northbound on the Burke Gilman Trail (aka the “BGT” or simply “the trail”) to join a group ride at Log Boom Park. The BGT is a 27-mile multi-use recreational trail that runs from Ballard, along the Lake Washington Ship Canal, then along the northwest shore of Lake Washington to Kenmore at the north end of Lake Washington.
At that time of day the trail is usually just starting to get busy. As is typical at that time of day on a weekend, clumps of friends were walking, jogging, and cycling together, followed by long stretches with no users.
I generally avoid the BGT, but it’s the most convenient way to get from Seattle to Log Boom Park on a bike. When the coast is clear, I ride faster than the posted 15mph speed limit. But, depending on the circumstances, it’s necessary to come to an almost complete stop in order to pass.
At one point Saturday morning there was a group of about three pedestrians or joggers on the right side of the trail, and a cyclist who had dismounted and was exiting onto a side trail on the left.
As I saw this unfolding ahead, I slowed down and moved left, in between the guy exiting and the pedestrians/joggers on the right.
Behind me was the oncoming whoosh of a cyclist moving at high speed. He shouted “on your left!” as he threaded between me and the guy exiting the trail. I estimated he was going 25mph.
I yelled at him to slow down.
A few minutes later I confronted him at Log Boom Park.
I described the positions of the other users when he weaved between us, and that he just barely missed me and the guy crossing the path.
He asked: “There were pedestrians?” Which I interpreted to mean “but…I was just crowd surfing!” Which, I know well…because I’ve done the same thing.
He said that he thought he warned everyone by yelling “On your left!”, but I explained that was inadequate given the situation. He apologized and his apology seemed genuine.
Please use self-restraint when riding multi-use trails.
The 15mph speed limit signs on these trails is misleading and mischaracterizes the responsibilities of the trail users.
For example, section 11.44.120 of the Seattle Municipal Code deals with riding on a sidewalk or public path:
“Every person operating a bicycle upon any sidewalk or public path shall operate the same in a careful and prudent manner and at a rate of speed no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions existing at the point of operation, taking into account the amount and character of pedestrian traffic, grade and width of sidewalk or public path, and condition of surface, and shall obey all traffic-control devices…”
According to this Seattle 911 Blog post the Seattle Seattle City Attorney’s Office says there is no speed limit on the Seattle section of trail.
There is a 15 mph speed limit on some King County trails, which are regulated by section 7.12.295 of the King County Code.
For some informative and entertaining back and forth, check out the comments section of this 2014 Seattle Bike Blog post about King County multi-use trails.
Like both codes say, the guideline is to cycle at speeds no faster than conditions permit. If there are no users as far as the eye can see, it might be ok to travel at warp speed, although you never know when someone or their dog might pop out of the bushes or a side trail. On the other hand, when a trail is crowded, 15mph is too fast. Practice self-restraint and situational awareness.
When you ride multi-use trails, keep the pace and aggression down. Just like you expect from automobile drivers when you are on a roadway. Ride on the trail with friends and use the opportunity to have a good conversation. Save your legs for where it matters: wait until your group gets out of town, then put the hammer down.
The average multi-use trail user doesn’t differentiate team or club uniforms: We’re all just “cyclists in lycra.” When this kind of thing happens it just reinforces the belief that all cyclists, especially those in lycra, are jerks.