When using trails, heed the rules of the road

So there you are, out for a lovely evening stroll. Maybe the dog’s with you on a long leash and some righteous tunes are blaring from your earphones as you make your way down one of Modesto’s several public multiuse trails.

Just your dog, the fresh air, the music and you.

Except it’s not. There are others out there, and you need to be aware – and respectful – of them.

You might never realize, for example, the blood pressure spike you just gave the cyclist, who finally – finally! – was able to maneuver around and get past you and your scent-seeking dog who’s been moving back and forth across the trail, in essence blocking anyone coming from behind. Those earphones kept you from hearing the cyclist or his admonitions to allow him to pass.

As many enjoy the city’s multiuse trails this summer, some likely aren’t considering their finest Emily Post – if, of course, the esteemed Ms. Post ever penned a set of etiquette rules for public pathways.

But seasoned trail users know there are right and wrong ways to enjoy Modesto routes like the Virginia Corridor, the Peggy Mensinger Trail, the Hetch-Hetchy Trail, those in Dry Creek and at Tuolumne River Regional Park.

Multipurpose trails are true recreational gems, but it seems there are some things everybody should know – cyclists, runners and walkers alike – in order to keep them safe.

Walkers, keep to your right to allow cyclists, runners or faster walkers to pass on the left. Maintain a tight leash on Fido so he isn’t blocking – or maybe even scaring – others. Don’t fan out across the trail with friends or family. Cyclists, announce your presence to slower movers so they aren’t startled or surprised as you whiz past.

Loren Holt, manager for park planning and development for the city of Modesto, said the city gets calls – while not necessarily frequently, often enough – from “people using the trail and how (others) might be abusing the trail.” Generally, complaints are about cyclists riding too fast as they are coming up on pedestrians or from cyclists complaining about pedestrians not allowing them space to pass.

Dry Creek and the Virginia Corridor see the heaviest use, Holt said. The city has striped the centers of the paths in Dry Creek for left- and right-side use. On the Virginia Corridor, there are signs posted asking slower users to stay to the right.

That isn’t to say it’s anarchy out there. According to a few people stopped on the Virginia Corridor last week, most walkers, runners and cyclists do properly share the trail.

“Generally, people are pretty good and tend to watch out for each other,” said John Lopes of Modesto, who was just finishing his run Tuesday evening along the Virginia Corridor. Lopes both runs and bikes the trail about three days a week, and also uses other trails in town.

A lot of bikers have started using bells to announce their presence, he said. “After a while, you get tired of (saying) ‘on your left, on your left,’ so most have gone to a bell.”

Still, not everyone is mindful.

In fact, just a few minutes into an investigative walk on the Virginia Corridor recently, a family of four along with their dog was seen fanned out across the trail. As a pair of teenagers on their bikes came up behind them, it took some time for the family to realize they needed to move over and let the cyclists pass.

Neither the family nor the cyclists seemed to be in the know in terms of trail etiquette: The family was spread out and blocking passersby, and the cyclists didn’t announce their presence with the traditional “on the left,” a bell or any other form of notification.

Moments later, when a clearly more seasoned cyclist came up behind the same family, they seemed to have taken heed and were now sticking to the trail’s right. “I’m on your left,” the cyclist announced, before riding past.

Robert Fish of Modesto also uses the Virginia Corridor for walking, jogging and biking. Like Lopes, he’s got a bell on his bike to warn of his approach.

Also like Lopes, Fish didn’t think etiquette was a huge issue on the trail, although he has seen people fanned out across it. He’s also seen plenty of people with their earphones in, but said, “for the most part, they generally stay over (to the right side).”

Fish also bikes a trail in Moose Park, where he said there is more congestion. But he added that it’s easy to follow good manners: “Slow down, ring your bell and say, ‘Hi.’ ”

Here are some trail etiquette tips to follow:

• Pass with care: 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 trails. If you want to travel the trail side by side, be diligent about checking behind you to make sure you aren’t a roadblock by the time others reach you.

• Teach your kids: Few things are as scary as coming upon a family with a kid 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 earphones: Earphones 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 or earphones that allow you to hear ambient noise or, at least, take one ear bud out so you can hear.