Trails in Indiana

Carmel Trail Users Flunk Trail Etiquette 101, Force City Leaders To Approve Ordinances For The Good Of All

You only need to be on the Monon Rail Trail in Carmel or Broad Ripple on a sunny Saturday to see the present reality of popular trail use and the future status of most trails. Congestion. Just like on the vehicular expressways at rush hour, but now you have a mixture of defenseless pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, skateboarders, scooters and handicap people vying for the same half of the trail with body armor only consisting sometimes of a helmet.

So simple if it was only one of each type of user at one time to regulate. But consider groups of walkers marching single-breasted across the entire trail; walkers with earphones cranked up loud enough to have the rest of the world and the jingle of a bike bell or the friendly biker voice saying “passing on your left” go away. Consider families teaching the next generations a new way of life in that ages-old method of “do as I say, not as I do”; people with strollers filled with everything from packages, to human babies, cats, and dogs; or dog(s) on leashes long enough to produce a guillotine for anything and any one at the same height such as the recumbent bike users. Add in beginning bikers and Lance Armstrong wannabes, metal scooters and wobbly skaters. And clusters of any and all combinations of the above----all focused on their own special reason for enjoyment of the trail---all vying for the same “body” space.

Something has to give and it does. The consequences range from an  angry walker complaining about speeding bicyclists and just as angry bicyclists voicing their irritation at walkers monopolizing the trail, forcing them to---Oh My Gosh!---walk their bikes; to much more costly and long term outcomes. Outcomes such as destroying your bike in a collision with another bike or person; or your own injuries from falls off bikes to avoid a clueless, electronically deaf walker, or death of your four-pawed best friend or you for that matter because a trail user could not abide by the basic etiquette of the trail. Simple life-saving etiquette.

Etiquette is the unspoken basic manner of behavior that everyone by their own volition chooses to live by in a civil society; recognizing that everyone wins if everyone accepts this small compromise of choice; it’s called for the good of all. Merriam-Webster defines etiquette as: “the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave.” Interestingly, the origin of the word in 1750, étiquette, means ‘ticket.’  Like manners, etiquette is not enforceable---it is the “Please abide by this” level of conduct. What is enforceable are ordinances and legislation. Even better are those ordinances with consequences such as a fine and/or community service requirements. The best are those that allow a judge to sentence the repeat offender for up to a maximum penalty or more---for the good of all.

So is the recent passage of the first comprehensive bike, vehicle, and pedestrian usage ordinance ahead of the game for the safe use of trails or just being, well “pink” Carmel? The City Council of Carmel, Indiana passed Ordinance D-2137-13   on Monday, November 4, 2013. Complete information on Carmel’s trail system, etiquette, do’s and don’ts and the status of the new ordinance can be found here.

Zionsville, Indiana is another desirable residential destination for its great quality of life, which includes its trail system. In our interview with Matt Dickey, Zionsville, Indiana’s Parks Director, we heard firsthand what could happen when basic trail etiquette is not observed. As an avid bicyclist in his own right, a responsible owner of dogs and being accountable for Zionsville’s Trails----he has seen it all and constantly, but nicely reminds trail users of the safer way to use the trails. Yet within a split second on a well-known trail, he discovered what a trail collision felt like and within days; looked like in black and blue bruises. Through his many years of managing trails, he is knowledgeable about what the basic etiquette should be.
1. Pets on leashes-short and constant control by the owner.
2. Bicyclists announce themselves when passing anyone.
3. Head phone volume low or in one ear only
4. Do not block the trail
5. Leave no trace----from your dog, your food, you


He goes on to say that trail design, now beyond the basics of widths and amenities should begin incorporating more trail safety such as purposely placing “step-off the trail” places along the way to enable the social component of trail use without creating hazardous conditions.

Indy Parks Etiquette for Greenway Trails including the Monon Rail Trail and the Central Canal Towpath is similar:


And Indy’s updated Safety Guidelines clarify the expected behavior of all users on its trail system:
Indianapolis has one of the best Greenway systems in the country! These multi-use trails are for the recreation and enjoyment of all residents. Indy Parks strongly encourages all trail users to abide by the following safety guidelines:
1. Trail hours: Dawn to dusk (Monon Trail trial period until March 11, 2011, 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
2. Keep to the right; communicate before passing. Let other trail users know when you are approaching from behind. Signal by saying "passing on your left" and give others time to respond accordingly.
3. Maintain control and safe speed. Adjust your speed to accommodate for other users, traffic and trail conditions.
4. Pedestrians have the right-of-way on the Greenways. Bicycle riders and in-line skaters must yield to all other trail users. Parents: please keep children from wandering into oncoming trail lane to avoid accidents.
5. Share the trail and be courteous. Indy Parks Greenways are multi-use recreational trails appropriate for walkers, joggers, in-line skaters and bicycle riders. Please respect others, regardless of their mode of travel.
6. Do not trespass or cut through adjacent properties or yards to access a Greenway.
7. Stop for cross traffic and obey all signage.
8. Respect the trail environment. Do not disturb the wildlife or the many native plants and wildflowers that grow along the Greenway.
9. Pick up litter and place in trash bins. Please remove all pet waste.
10. Keep pets on short leashes (4-6 feet max.) If using a retractable leash, please keep pets near you.
Portland, Oregon, voted the best Bicycling City by Bicycling Magazine and the Best Walking City by Prevention Magazine, has created a brochure with useful images to ensure that “walking, bicycling, skating and strolling is fun and safe for everyone.” 


So are Carmel trail user’s a unique group unable to follow simple rules of safety and civility? Not really. They are though; fortunate to have leadership that has a vision and ability to pass ordinances to ensure the quality of life of its residents that is arguably unequalled in at least the state, if not the country. Carmel’s passage of this ordinance establishes a direction and standard for all communities, including Indianapolis to follow to ensure a safe, viable transportation system for the good of all regardless of the mode of transportation. And, if the ordinance needs some help in getting established as a normal trail behavior there is the last alternative: to paraphrase a parent attempting to rein in an unruly child; “Don’t make me call Ray Irvin.”



Article by Tinuccia Jones