By CRIS GEARS and LARRY BLACKSTAD
The Twin Cities and Minnesota boast one of the best networks of biking and hiking trails anywhere in the United States. In the Twin Cities, nearly 8.5 million visitors enjoy regional trails annually. It seems that almost as soon as fresh asphalt is put down, bikers, bladers, hikers and dog walkers discover a new treasure.
However, with the growth in use of these treasures comes added responsibility -- for users and providers alike.
In late August, a 50-year-old woman biking on a Three Rivers Park District trail in Bloomington was killed after a head-on collision with another biker. It was the first biking fatality in the Park District’s history. Earlier this summer in northern Minnesota, a 59-year-old man in-line skating with his daughter was struck by a car and killed. While minor accidents happen on virtually every trail in the state, these fatalities remind us that safety on trail systems is not guaranteed.
One benefit of trails is that walkers, bikers and in-line skaters can relax and enjoy their surroundings. There’s an allure to being part of nature. Yet as with any road system, trail use comes with the responsibility to maintain awareness of conditions and of other people.
Drivers are taught the critical value of seat belts, the importance of defensive driving, and that speed can kill. The same holds true for trails. Bikers and bladers must follow trail rules as if they were on any other road system. This means using proper safety equipment like helmets, avoiding excessive speed, obeying stop and yield signs, increasing awareness at road crossings, announcing lane changes, and exercising caution when sight lines are reduced.
At Three Rivers Parks, we’re committed to promoting trail safety throughout our system. We are working with partners like the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota and its leader, Dorian Grilley, who is calling for trail builders and trail users to work together.
We will continue to examine what we can do to prevent incidents. Modern roads are extremely well-engineered to maximize safety. Still, some roads and intersections are safer than others. The Minnesota Department of Transportation, county highway departments and city public works departments constantly seek to improve safety.
The same must hold true for the public agencies that build and maintain trails. It is one thing to build a trail to meet state and federal guidelines, but the quality of our trail system will truly be enhanced when all trail providers go the extra mile to consider the safety implications of every bend and each road crossing.
At Three Rivers Parks, we’ve already begun efforts to increase sign visibility and awareness near the recent accident location. In the coming months, we’ll be examining all components of our trail system, and we will commit ourselves to increased public education. We invite the public to help us by sharing concerns and experiences at threeriversparks.org.
As with roads, the millions of annual uses of our trails mean there will be accidents. It’s an unavoidable reality of going from place to place and using multiple modes of transport. But together, trail users and providers can contribute to the safe enjoyment of our treasured trails.
Cris Gears is superintendent of the Three Rivers Park District. Larry Blackstad is the district’s board chairman.
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