#36 – Share the Trail: Minimizing User Conflicts on Non-Motorized Facilities

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Todd Litman, Director, Victoria Transport Policy Institute


A major portion of bicycle crashes involves falls or collisions with pedestrians and other cyclists. Non-motorized facilities (sidewalks, paths, bike lanes and trails) tend to be particularly hazardous. There are a number of reasons for this:

These conflicts are likely to increase in the future as user diversity grows. For example, in recent years public paths and sidewalks have experienced increased use by motorized wheelchairs, inline skates, push scooters and electric-powered bicycles. New devices such as Segway may become more common. Effective management of non-motorized facilities is increasingly important to avoid problems, to accommodate diverse users, and to manage resources efficiently.

This case study reports on best practices for managing non-motorized facilities. The goals and objectives of such management are to:

Relying only on separation to solve user conflicts may effectively prohibit some forms of transport. For example, many communities have laws that prohibit cycling on sidewalks, yet many cyclists do not feel safe riding on busy streets. As a result, cycling becomes infeasible for many users (particularly for children and inexperienced adults along busy arterials), or the regulations are ignored by users and seldom enforced by police. Similar patterns occur with other modes, including skates, skateboards, push scooters, and Segway.

An alternative approach to constructing separate facilities is to address potential user conflicts by establishing clear rules that define how each user of a non-motorized facility should behave, supported by adequate education and enforcement efforts. Regulations concerning when and where specific activities are allowed or prohibited, maximum travel speed, and who must yield to whom can help reduce user conflicts. For example, rather than prohibiting all sidewalk cycling (including along suburban arterials where there may be few practical alternatives), it may be better to establish rules that prohibit cycling on sidewalks in commercial areas and other crowded areas, limit maximum travel speed to 10 mph on sidewalks, and require cyclists to yield to pedestrians and other sidewalk users.

In other words, good management focuses on user behavior more than user type, since it is the behavior that tends to create conflicts. For example, there may be less conflict between a walker and a slow, courteous cyclist than between a pedestrian and an inconsiderate jogger, although both of the latter would be classified as pedestrians. Focusing on user behavior can accommodate a broader range of users and address a broader range of conflicts.


Development of Planning Principles and Guidelines

Many communities have adopted programs to manage non-motorized facilities, including sidewalks, paths, bike lanes and trails. Such programs are particularly important on heavily-used urban trails, but virtually any non-motorized facility requires some degree of management involving a combination of education and enforcement regarding the safe and considerate sharing between different types of users.

Good management requires the establishment of the basic principles and priorities to guide individual policies and practices. Decision-makers (which may include agency staff, policy makers, citizen advisory groups, etc.) should identify the factors they want to consider when setting priorities for different non-motorized facility users, such as the relative importance and impacts of different types of activities, and the needs and abilities of different types of users. For example, transportation activities may be given priority over other uses of sidewalks and paths, such as paths (signs, vendors, games), and more vulnerable users (wheelchair users and children) and modes that impose fewer impacts on others (pedestrians) can generally be given priority over less vulnerable and higher impact activities (cyclists, skaters and users of motorized mobility devices).

The table below provides an example comparison of non-motorized modes that has been applied to the management of the Galloping Goose Regional Trail in British Columbia. While some of the listed modes, such as motorized wheelchairs, are not strictly “non-motorized” modes, they frequently use non-motorized facilities such as sidewalks, paths and trails. Of course, these factors, such as speed, maneuverability, and priority are somewhat subjective and may need to be modified to address the needs of a particular situation.

Table 1: Example Comparison of Non-motorized Facility Users on British Columbia’s Galloping Goose Trail (VTPI, 2002)
Mode Speed Size (Width) Maneuverability Priority
Walkers Low Narrow High High
Walkers with children Low Medium to large Medium to low High
Walkers with pets Low Medium to large Medium to low Medium
Human powered wheelchairs Low Medium Low to Medium High
Motor powered wheelchairs Medium Medium Medium High
Joggers and runners Medium to high Narrow Medium Medium
Skates, skateboards and push-scooters Medium Narrow to medium Medium Low
Powered scooters and electric human transporters (Segway) Medium Narrow to medium Medium Medium
Handcarts, wagons and pushcarts Low Medium to large Medium Medium
Human powered bicycle Medium to high Medium to large Low to medium Medium
Motorized bicycle High Medium to large Low to medium Low
Equestrians Medium to high Large Low Low


This type of information can help decision-makers develop appropriate guidelines and regulations to manage the use of non-motorized facilities based on the performance and value of each mode. For example:

The report, Conflicts on Multiple-Use Trails: Synthesis of the Literature and State of the Practice (Moore, 1994), provides further guidelines for developing programs to manage trails. Although this report is primarily concerned with recreational, off-road trails, the guidelines are generally appropriate for managing any non-motorized facilities, including sidewalks and bicycle paths. The report is available at no cost from FHWA. The report identified the following 12 principles for minimizing conflicts on multiple-use trails:

Trail User Education and Enforcement

User guidelines and regulations for sharing non-motorized facilities are only as effective as their education and enforcement. Such programs require special efforts, since there are no testing and licensing requirements for using non-motorized modes as there are for motor vehicles.

Once guidelines and regulations are established, it is important to promote them using signs and brochures, by enlisting the help of public organizations (such as walking and cycling clubs) and schools and by promoting responsible behavior at events such as fairs. Some communities use staff or volunteers to talk with users and distribute brochures and other information materials on public trails during particularly busy times. Special outreach efforts may be warranted for particular groups, such as wheelchair users, pet owners, skaters and mountain bikers.

Educational information should be presented frequently. For example, in dense urban areas, signs with trail use guidelines can be located at every intersection or every few hundred meters. In less dense areas they may be located every kilometer or so. In general, the more frequent the better to ensure broad distribution of this information.

Messages should be simple, easy to understand, and presented in a friendly way. They should clearly state what behavior is expected from trail users. It generally is better to communicate the intent of the law than to present the actual wording of a law (laws are often difficult to understand). The boxes below illustrate examples of such guidelines.

An example of an education program designed to minimize conflicts among user groups is the Galloping Goose Regional Trail in British Columbia (see figure). The Official Guide: The Galloping Goose Regional Trail brochure (Mulchinock, 1996) promotes the following about shared-use trail etiquette:

The key word is multi-use. Share the trail. Keep right except to pass. Motorized vehicles are prohibited (except for motorized wheelchairs). Respect private property adjacent to the trail.

Figure 1. An example of “Share the Trail” signs along the Galloping Goose Trail in Victoria, British Columbia.

Additional guidelines directed at cyclists on how to share public trails are available in the League of American Bicyclists’ Fact Sheet titled “Sharing the Path” (see http://www.bikeleague.org/educenter/factsheets/sharingthepath.htm). They include showing courtesy and respect for other users, announcing yourself when passing, yielding to other users when entering or crossing, keeping to the right, passing on the left, being predictable, using lights at night, not blocking the trail, cleaning up litter and using roadways rather than paths for higher speed travel. A similar set of guidelines for shared-use trails is also available from the International Bicycle Fund (http://www.ibike.org/education/trail-sharing.htm).

It may also be important to develop special enforcement procedures for non-motorized traffic violations. Existing traffic enforcement practices often are ineffective for non-motorized modes, because such modes do not generally require a license or vehicle registration, and many non-motorized trail users are children. It is unrealistic to impose a standard traffic citation on non-motorized violations, in part because the fines will seem too large to many residents and in part because there often is no effective mechanism to process a citation if the violator is a minor or does not have a driver’s license.

An alternative approach, recommended by the International Bicycle Fund, relies as much on education as on enforcement and creates a friendlier, positive relationship between non-motorized facility users (and their parents) and public officials. The text of a model ordinance is available on the IBF Website (http://www.ibike.org/education/trail-ordinance.htm). Non-motorized facility enforcement is also an ideal application for bicycle police (see IPBMA Website, http://www.ipmba.org) and for bicyclist diversion programs.


Most non-motorized facility management programs appear to be successful. However, we have not found any evaluation studies that measure before-and-after or with-and-without effects, so it is not possible to say with any confidence to what degree such programs reduce crashes, reduce user conflicts, improve user experiences or increase non-motorized travel.

Different communities have had different experiences with programs designed to encourage responsible sharing of non-motorized facilities, virtually all of which are positive. If trails are functioning well with a minimum of conflicts among users, this could be taken as evidence of good trail design and/or management programs.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Management programs that address potential conflicts are important for the safety and comfort of non-motorized facility users. This applies to sidewalks, paths, bike lanes and trails.


Costs and Funding

Costs vary depending on the type of program and its activities. Most non-motorized facility management programs require staff time for planning, plus resources to produce signs, brochures and other outreach materials, which are usually funded from local transportation or parks budgets. Most other activities, such as traffic law enforcement on non-motorized facilities, are included within existing agency budgets.


Todd Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
1250 Rudlin Street
Victoria, BC V8V 3R7 Canada
(205) 360-1560