This is the fourth article in our Contested Spaces series. These pieces look at the conflicting uses, expectations and norms that people bring to public spaces, the clashes that result and how we can resolve these.
Evidence suggests that transport modes (walking, cycling, public transport, private motor vehicles) should be separated wherever possible. However, this isn’t always the case.
In all Australian states – except Victoria and New South Wales (unless the rider is under 12 years of age, or accompanying someone who is) – cyclists are allowed on footpaths. This effectively makes every footpath a shared path.
The mix of pedestrians using shared paths varies greatly. So how is it that we don’t always run into each other? And what can we do to prevent clashes?
Urban etiquette 101
The golden rule of shared paths is that the person in the less vulnerable position should be mindful of the more vulnerable user.
Think of it as a hierarchy: from cyclists, to adult pedestrians, to children and the elderly.
Not surprisingly, a lot of the basics stem from road rules. In general, try to stick to the left and overtake on the right. Check your blind spot before overtaking, keeping an eye out for faster-moving joggers or bicycle riders. Be courteous and respectful to others.
The number of pedestrians walking on a path can vary dramatically, especially around high-traffic areas like shopping malls, parks or inner-city neighbourhoods. When it comes to etiquette, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind.
Walking two-abreast while chatting to a friend is only natural; nobody should expect pedestrians to walk single-file down a shared path.
If a busy shared path (especially in dense, inner-city neighbourhoods) isn’t wide enough for two people to walk side by side, it might be a good idea to write to your local council asking for some more space.
Some cities, such as Chongqing, China, have recently installed “mobile phone lanes” on shared paths. Using your phone while playing Pokemon Go is fine, so long as you remain mindful and considerate of those around you. Try to keep to the left, be aware of your surroundings, use your peripheral vision and look up regularly.
Try to keep your dog on a shorter leash while on a shared path. Cyclists and joggers can tend to sneak up on your dog and give them a fright.
Bring a poo bag (or two). There’s nothing worse than stepping in poo.
If your dog can be nervous or anxious around people, think about using a special lead or harness to warn others.
Parents with prams and kids
Instilling the next generation with the common sense and confidence to actively use shared spaces will pave the way for their best possible use in the future.
Reinforce the importance of being courteous and respectful to others using the path.
Teach children to ask permission before patting a dog. Some dogs can be nervous, easily frightened, or can become aggressive.
Bikes, trikes and scooters are a great way for kids to enjoy an afternoon walk.
Don’t listen to the fear-mongering of some motoring organisations. Using wheels is a great opportunity to teach kids how to be the active transport users of the future.
As we age, and in some cases become unable to drive, the use of shared paths (whether walking, using a wheelchair, or driving a mobility scooter) becomes increasingly important for independence.
Elderly pedestrians are susceptible to falls. Be mindful of cracks and uneven paths.
Elderly pedestrians often walk more slowly and can take longer to cross roads. They should use refuge islands if needed.
If a set of traffic lights in your local area doesn’t allow you enough time to cross safely, don’t be afraid to write to your local MP asking for the lights to be adjusted.
At the top of the hierarchy, cyclists need to be mindful of all other users of the path.
Cyclists should slow down, keep their fingers on the brake lever and remember they are in a less vulnerable position than pedestrians. They should afford the same courtesies to pedestrians that they expect of drivers while sharing the road.
Pedestrians are unpredictable and can change direction at any moment; children are even more unpredictable. When overtaking, cyclists should slow down and give a wide berth. If there’s not enough room to overtake, wait until it’s safe to do so.
Cyclists should watch out for people walking dogs. Approach as if the dog has enough slack to walk into your path; again, slow down and give a wide berth.
And if you’re in training for Le Tour de France, trying to beat your personal best time, the shared path probably isn’t for you.
There are several signs reminding bicycle riders to use their bell when approaching pedestrians. The intention behind this message is one of courtesy.
However, a bell is often perceived (or used) as an act of aggression in the same way as a car horn might be – or the pedestrian might think they’re in the way, and try to get out of the way, but instead move into the cyclist’s path. This creates a hazard when there was previously none.
In Tokyo, cyclists routinely ride along footpaths, weaving through pedestrians without using a bell. Don’t be afraid to use your voice. A smile and a gentle “Coming through” or “On your right” can be a pleasant way to interact with others.
Motorists are required to give way to pedestrians when crossing a footpath. When designed properly, small features can give each user cues about who is required to give way.
A poorly designed shared path – like the one in the first image below – suggests the pedestrian is crossing the path of the motorist. The footpath in the second image suggests the correct right of way, where the motorist is crossing the pedestrian’s path.
Although some government authorities suggest you should “make sure you can still hear others”, there’s no difference between a deaf person using a shared path and someone listening to blaringly loud music. If it’s safe enough for the hearing-impaired, it’s safe enough for noise-cancelling headphones.
Be safe and have fun.
You can read other pieces in the series as they are published here.