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Pump your brakes on the trails to improve safety for all

A line of cyclists travel on a crushed limestone trail.
(Photo by Chad Merda)

The Forest Preserve District has an important message for trail users: pump your brakes and slow down for everyone’s safety. 

The trails are designed to accommodate a wide variety of visitors including bicyclists, runners, walkers, rollerbladers and equestrians. They all share Forest Preserve District’s trails, and it is crucial that everyone use proper trail etiquette to avoid collisions or injuries. 

If you are traveling faster than the traffic in front of you – whether it be on a bike, rollerblades or a horse – shout “on your left” or "passing on your left" to alert other trail users you plan to pass.

Slower traffic should always stay to the right and faster path users should pass on the left. It’s a simple concept, but one that should never be forgotten for the safety of everyone. 

Slowing down also is crucial as you wait to make sure your announcement was heard and slower path users have time to react. It can mean the difference between a collision or a clean pass, Forest Preserve police say.

"The safety of people using our trails is our number one priority," said Deputy Police Chief David Barrios Jr. "From the bike riders, rollerbladers, runners and families that are out for a nice walk, everyone has to be aware of their surroundings."

The key is to remember that you are not the only path user, he added.

"District trails are multiuse trails, and all trail users must do their part by staying to the right on trails, moving to the shoulder when stopping and finally, when passing on your left, giving a clear warning signal before doing so. People who want to pass on the trail should not expect other trail users to move over right away and should slow down until they do."

Consumer Reports advises that all bicyclists should wear a helmet as well. 

"In the majority of bicyclist deaths the most serious injuries are to the head," according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety information shared by Consumer Reports. “This highlights the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet. Helmet use has been estimated to reduce the odds of head injury by 50 percent and the odds of head, face, or neck injury by 33 percent." 

Other trail safety tips include:

  • Don’t wear ear buds in both ears and have your music so loud you can’t hear others on the trail.
  • Walkers and runners who are out with members of their households should form a single file line while passing to maximize safety.
  • Do not block the trail. Use no more than half of the trail width when in a group, and be sure to watch and listen for other trail users.
  • If you have to stop for any reason, whether to check your phone, tie your shoelace or take a photo, step fully off the trail so you aren't blocking traffic. Cyclists should also remove their bikes from the trail until they are ready to resume.
  • Dogs must always be leashed in the preserves (other than inside dog parks). Leashes should be no longer than 10 feet and dogs should be kept at their owner's immediate side when using trails.
  • Bikers should yield to horses. In these instances, use your voice rather than bicycle bells, which could startle the animals, to announce your approach. 
  • Always yield to oncoming traffic at intersections, and follow all posted signage. 
  • Do not take photos directly on the trail. This impedes the flow of traffic and creates unnecessary hazards for others. 

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