Bike paths around the country and world range in type, use, and functionality which dictates how often, if at all, you use them. Following up on the article “Bike Path Etiquette” which touches on what etiquette you should practice while riding them, this article is intended for if and when you should ride them. Unfortunately everyplace in the country and world doesn’t have elaborate bike path networks. The paths surrounding you, if any, are most likely intended for cyclists as well as walkers, runners, you name it; mixed use paths. With this knowledge on bike paths you can make an informed decision whether riding on the bike path is the better and safer option or if staying on the road is the better choice.
Types of Bike Paths
Bike paths come in every shape and size from a lane separated by a curb from the road to scenic, paved paths in remote areas snaking along a river bottom on an old rail bed. We would all love to ride those remote scenic paths all the time but unfortunately that’s generally not possible.
In recent years a lot of old rail beds have been converted to bike paths as they are no longer in active use and are already graded perfectly for a bike path. Some areas go all the way and make them paved paths while others, particularly in less populated areas, leave them as cinder paths. Depending on proximity to population centers, these paths can have a lot people who live close by riding casually and walking but in less populated areas, they can be utterly empty.
City Bike Paths
Some of the most widely used bike paths are city paths that are built almost exclusively to lessen the number of bikes on roadways while trying to make going from point A to point B on a bike safer. These paths often go over and under busy roadways and can also be good routes out of town to quieter roadways. These paths generally have few people other than cyclists except for areas along parks and where they’re the only option out of traffic. During “rush-hour” they can be filled with other commuting cyclist.
Commuter Bike Paths
In addition to city paths are paths that are built almost exclusively to connect outlying areas to city downtown areas or office parks where good, safe roads to ride are difficult to find. These paths often parallel highways or busy four-plus lane roads with traffic lights. Since these bike paths are often built for the purpose of connecting areas of greater distance, they are normally only going to see cycling traffic and people who are actually riding and not just out for a leisurely spin.
Neighborhood Bike Paths
New neighborhoods often have requirements to not only have “green space” or parks, but also bike paths to connect the neighborhood as well as to provide a place other than streets for kids to ride. These paths can be used to get out of a neighborhood to ride or to connect areas otherwise only connectable by busy roadways but they can often be busy with walkers, runners, and kids learning to ride.
Scenic Bike Paths
Bike paths are a great way to show people more of a cool area as a walking-only path only allows for so much distance to be covered in a certain amount of time. Bike paths along scenic rivers or scenic skylines have created more of a tourist type of path that is used mainly for enjoyment. How busy these paths are again depend on location but a lot of the time these paths are built and are not fully utilized so can remain relatively empty. They also have the added benefit of being picturesque.
Timing and Busy Bike Paths
As with vehicle traffic, the number of pedestrians along a bike path depends on time of day and what the path’s intended purpose is. If it is a path connecting people to and from work, you can expect them to be busy during weekday commute times however on the weekends and mid-day, can be relatively empty.
Neighborhood, scenic bike paths, and rails-to-trails, are often used when people aren’t working and have leisure time such as in the evenings or on the weekends. They can be good options in non-busy times where you don’t have to constantly slow for others.
Bike Paths Along Roads
Along busy roadways a bike path may be installed paralleling it to try and alleviate some of the road congestion. Utilizing these again depends on location as some may be heavily used by walkers, runners, and casual cyclists going slow with their kids. Others however may be empty but cross a lot of side roads which require you to stop for traffic. If the road the path is avoiding is exceptionally dangerous the path may be the better option even if it is busy as going slow around people and taking a little more time is better than getting hit by a vehicle in any circumstance. If both are excessively cumbersome, an alternate route should be sought out to avoid both. Be aware though riding on roadways where there is a paralleling bike path as in some countries and municipalities it is illegal to ride the roadway. Use your best judgement to gauge safety and practicality.
Bike Paths to “Train” On
In some places, particularly highly populated cities, getting on descent roadways to ride can be an issue so bike paths are where a majority of training takes place. This can be practical if there isn’t too much other slow traffic but as soon as you are constantly having to slow and go around people, you’re riding is not only suffering but it’s also starting to become more unsafe with the increased likelihood of hitting someone.
If a bike path of any sort is available to get you off of busy, dangerous roadways, it should be used. You don’t need to ride fast on it and make sure you use proper bike path etiquette to get from point A to B or to the actual roads that you are going to train on. Use common sense in selecting your routes and riding bike paths as you are never the only one using them. Keep yourself safe as well as others while getting the benefit of the bike path and your ride.