You’ve got to be careful what you wish for sometimes, eh? I’m one of the fortunate few whose town has a well-maintained bike path that runs from one end to the other, following along the main road, so that getting around by bike is both safe and convenient. It’s not really a bike path though. It’s a multi-use path.
How many ways are there to use a narrow strip of pavement? Let’s name some. You can walk your dog there, on leash or off it seems. You can let that leash string right across, so no one can pass without asphyxiating your beloved pet. It helps if you have earbuds in.
You can walk with friends, three or four abreast, nitter-nattering to one another as other multi-users approach you from behind. You can jog right down the middle, or even swerving left and right, like an F1 driver trying not to be passed.
You can bring your kids. Kids need to be exercised, like herding dogs. And you can let your kids run/ride/jump/roll chaotically while you chirp at them to ‘stay out of the way,’ which they will never do. I’ve seen the local daycare with a whole cadre of 4-year-olds, most of them mercifully leashed (see above regarding pets).
I’ve seen people with “cross-country skis” down there, the ones with roller blade wheels on them. I’ve seen roller bladers who don’t know how to roller blade. I’ve been passed by electric skateboards and e-scooters. There’s some real Mad Max shit down there.
And ok, many humans are terrible. Some would say it’s our defining characteristic. But we cyclists are not nearly blameless on this highway of madness. With the full parade of mayhem underway, I have seen fully bekitted riders, hard on the aerobars, time trialing through the crowd like it was the prologue of the Tour de Dumb. I’ve seen groups of 10 slithering the mess, trying to maintain a paceline. I’ve seen eBike-cyclists buzzing along at nearly 30mph with music blaring out of Bluetooth speaker.
“It’s time to party, karamu, fiesta, for-evah. Come on and sing along!”*
The conventional wisdom, at least among my cycling friends, is that you should NOT, under almost any circumstances, ride your bike on the bike path. It’s better to submit yourself to the whims and distractions of the drivers on the main drag. Despite everything I’ve said (and felt), I like our multi-use path. In the colder months it’s a free and easy way cross town, because almost all the humans I’ve described above only really leave their homes in clement weather. And then, even in the summer months, sometimes I’ll cruise down there, through the parade of public disorder, happy to see the unwashed horde careening about in whatever way they’ve dreamed up that day.
As a bike rider, I find the multi-use path is much less than the sum of its parts, but freedom for one can sometimes become freedom for all, with all the unpredictable consequences that go along with that. I love it, even if sometimes I’m not IN love with it.
I absolutely effing HATE MUPs and, most especially, their heinous cousin the Shared Use Path. My wife and favorite riding partner refuses to ride on roads, so I’m forced to ride with her on one of the busiest MUPs in the country. There are others farther away not as crowded so I can at least tolerate those. Overcrowding and increasing “trail rage” incidents are one more consequence of cyclists abandoning roads because they “don’t feel safe” with cars. Meanwhile where I live, each time a road is “improved” the local governments deliberately try to drive cyclists off the roads by curbing the outer lanes and installing SUPs which are nothing more than wide sidewalks and often only on one side of the road. We cyclists are slowly but surely losing road access and are fully complicit in that fate.
The best, safest way off the island is a MUP that bypasses a state highway. It’s a four mile arterial out of town for self- (and E-) propelled folks. In addition to all the clueless behaviors you detail, we seem to have a population that has no idea what the sharp peal of a brass bell from behind signifies, like a Galapagos Booby. If they do acknowledge the warning, it’s a coin toss as to which direction they may dart. If the overtaken is to one side or the other (and seems to be moving predictably), I’ll just blow past them, with a cheery “Tally Ho!” as I pass, just to reinforce the desired behavior. But after the sun sets, the trail is mine.