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I thought I'd share a pet peeve of mine regarding Ohio trail usage. It concerns a few so-called "experts" who are compelled to try to make our trail experience a nightmare. This particular peeve really gets my shorts in a twist. I'll call it the Great Trail Debacle!

I'm a firm believer that if you decide to build a bridge, you should know something about engineering. More simply put, you should know what you're doing. A similar logic should hold true for people who oversee trails. They should get out there once in a while and see how the dynamics of trail use works and be knowledgeable. I extend that further to those, like myself, who write or post information about trails. If we provide poor information regarding trail use, well, some people are likely to take it to heart not knowing any better. The next thing you know these innocents scurry off to their local trails and proceed to wreak havoc!

The Inane Concept

The 'Great Trail Debacle' I'm referring to is the idea that certain trail uses should be confined to different portions of the same trail. Maybe you've heard of this or, heaven forbid, seen a trail sign indicating this convoluted strategery. It can take several forms. Perhaps the most common is sometimes called (believe it or not) -- Walk left - Ride right! No, I'm not making this up.

I'm not referring to side-by-side trails, like the Holmes County configuration, that breaks up usage by placing horses and buggies on a separate trail. But rather one trail where users are asked to use different portions and move in conflicting directions.

Walk left - ride right might work in a world where trails are all one-way, but unfortunately they are not. It also flys in the face of the common practice of passing slower "traffic" on the left. You can't pass where you've asked others to travel. And of course, that's exactly what "walk left" inanely suggests.

I was reminded of this recently while on a ride with my friend Phil. We were cycling on the Kokosing Gap (no, their trail rules do not encourage this practice) when he suddenly found himself playing chicken with a jogger. She was holding her line along her left side of the trail, coming directly at him. It was touch-and-go there for a moment as the jogger refused to budge. I'll admit it made me queasy. I have no idea if the jogger subscribed to the walk left (in this case, jog left) -- ride right dictum. But the incident does illustrate how ridiculous the concept is.

Why It Doesn't Work (a.k.a. Stating the Obvious)

Consider a cyclist passing a slower bike riding in the same direction. The slower bike is riding right, of course. We also have a number of walkers walking left in our same direction, say single-file. Ok, so the passing cyclist wants to move around the slower one and squeeze between the walkers on the left. Ok, now that we have that sorted out, envision the same senario playing out and coming at these users from the opposite direction -- yikes! Walk left - ride right encourages chaos. What will be next, anarchy?

DOT Sign

We found this Department of Transportation sign that's a bit more on target. It's used along one-way urban trails to help separate traffic where there's no oncoming traffic to contend with. It could also be used on two-way trails with a simple modification of "Pass Left" over the bike symbol. No trail sign (with the exception of this one-way example, of course) should ever encourage normal travel on the left side of a trail.

Who Thunk It?

I imagine there may be a grain of misguided logic that's buried somewhere deep within the walk left - ride right brainchild. I picture a safety-conscious old soul who felt that what was good for the road is good for the trail, by gum! After all, walking left when facing traffic is proper safety protocol on the street, right? And with this type of thinking we're right back to square one. If you aren't knowledgeable about something, like bike trails, please don't prescribe rules for them... or build them... or manage them.

Trails are different from roadways in that they are much narrower and do not have a shoulder. There is no place for anyone to walk left while others are riding right from the opposite direction. This strategy begs for trouble. It assumes that users will know how to handle this conundrum and avoid a collision. Cyclists have enough trouble avoiding dogs, wandering toddlers and novices who know nothing of trail etiquette. So let's send a bunch of walkers straight into their paths -- yee-haw!

Field Test

I want to propose a solution to this troublesome strategery. I think we should gather up the entire walk left - ride right crowd and send them out in their hiking shoes onto the busiest trails we can find on a mid-summer's weekend... with adequate protective gear of course... and their insurance cards... ok, might as well give them a first aid kit too. But no video cams. If the evidence fell into the wrong hands we could be charged with complicity to idiocy.

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