Ask the Expert: Basic Safety Tips for Multi-use Fitness Trails

September 3, 2020 – Defence Stories

Basic Safety Tips for Multi-use Fitness Trails

Pedestrians and cyclists share the same trail.

Q: My community has become significantly more physically active during the COVID-19 pandemic and some days our fitness trail feels like the Trans-Canada Highway. I now share our trail with runners, walkers, in-line skaters, wheelchair athletes, cyclists, dog walkers and skateboarders. Everyone is moving at different speeds and some people don’t pay attention to what is happening around them. Do you have some safety tips that people who enjoy fitness trails should follow? Active Antoine

A: Dear Active Antoine: You are blessed to have a fitness trail and it’s wonderful your community is making good use of it. When a large number of people are doing different things on the same trail, it’s very important everyone follows some basic “Rules of the Road”. The following rules will make sharing your trail safer:

  1. Wheels yield to heels – the fastest moving people on the trail usually are on wheels. These folks need to be cautious when they approach walkers and runners especially from behind.
  2. Always pass people on the left – just as you do driving.
  3. If you aspire to win the Tour de France – don’t train on a heavily used fitness trail. You will be frustrated by frequent slowdowns and travelling fast will increase the risk of collisions. To satisfy your need for speed, train on the roads.
  4. All cyclists should use a bell or horn to warn others they are planning to pass. This “heads up” is appreciated by everyone you pass and reduces the risk of accidents. Remember that dinging your bell is not a “command” to get out of the way – you still need to be prepared for people who do not respond to your warning. If you don’t have a bell or horn, use a verbal warning such as “coming by on your left”.
  5. Maintain situational awareness – look around regularly and listen for people coming up behind you. Staying vigilant while you use a shared trail is difficult to do if you are wearing ear buds, texting your friends or reading a book.
  6. When you walk your dog on the trail, it should be on a leash. Even the best trained dogs can be unpredictable especially if they see a squirrel.
  7. Children are motivated by fun and sometimes will rapidly change direction to see something interesting such as a frog. When learning to ride their bikes, children are particularly unpredictable because of their poor balance and bike control. Parents and everyone who shares the trail needs to recognize this and be appropriately alert to prevent collisions.
  8. Be understanding – you may be sharing the trail with people who have hearing, visual, mobility or intellectual disabilities.
  9. If you are exercising as a group, avoid travelling side by side such that you impede the flow of others who are also enjoying the trail.

The bottom line: Fitness trails offer many people a wonderful opportunity to stay fit and enjoy Mother Nature. It is important to remind yourself that you don’t own the trail and if you follow the above “Rules of the Road”, everyone who shares the trail with you will be safer and have more fun. If you exercise alone, make sure someone knows where you are and when you expect to finish. Exercise is Medicine.

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Dr. Darrell Menard OMM MD, Dip Sport Med
Dr. Menard is the Surgeon General’s specialist advisor in sports medicine and has worked extensively with athletes from multiple sports. As part of the Strengthening the Forces team he works on injury prevention and promoting active living.

Strengthening the Forces is CAF/DND’s healthy lifestyles promotion program providing expert information, skills and tools for promoting and improving CAF members’ health and well-being.

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