When walking on a road, I walk facing traffic. But when I walked facing traffic (thus on the left) on a bidirectional bike trail (with a yellow dashed dividing line) recently in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, I was yelled at to "keep right" by a cyclist heading toward me from ahead. Should we walk facing traffic when walking on a bike trail? There was no dedicated footpath and I think this bike trail is a multi-use trail, but there is no explicit indication of where pedestrians go.

  • 2
    Wasn't the bike traffic both ways? When coming from behind you riders will either yell "On your left" or "Keep right" to warn you of their approach so you don't divert into their path for some reason.
    – topshot
    May 15, 2019 at 13:45
  • @topshot The bike traffic was both ways. The cyclist yelling at me was coming at me from ahead. Edited question for clarification.
    – gerrit
    May 15, 2019 at 13:52
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    I understand better now. You should walk on the right side of the bike trail so with traffic. Slowest traffic is always on the right. Here is an example
    – topshot
    May 15, 2019 at 14:14
  • I searched this same question, because I just had a similar experience, also in Madison WI. I always stay to the left, just like on the road. It gives me time to see the bike coming and crowd the edge. Most importantly, my dog heels on the left, and knows to stay on the left side of the road. To change for a bike path would be confusing for him, and make it much more likely that he would step into the path of the bicycle. I see other folks with their dogs sticking to the left also. (I was thinking, if I had been on the right side, and started heading back one minute before, the bicyclist who y
    – Greg
    Feb 8, 2020 at 0:09
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    "yelled at to "keep right"" - I would probably yell back: "your right or my right?" May 15, 2020 at 8:53

8 Answers 8


The usual expectation in the USA for shared use trails is that traffic keeps to the right and passes on the left. There are exceptions, though, which are usually marked on the trail itself or on signs. For example:

In Sacramento, California, and in Rhode Island, the rule is to keep left when walking (as you would on a road, facing traffic) and right when cycling. And some trails ask that all traffic keeps left.

What is more universal, however, is the yielding rule: horses have right of way, then pedestrians, then inline skaters, then cyclists.

In general, the higher traffic the trail experiences, the more likely it is to have specific controls such as trail markings and signs. Low traffic trails might not have any markings or signs.

As mentioned before, usually it's stay to the right, pass on the left, but it's worth checking for any local regulations in your area to see if different expectations hold.

And of course, the yielding rules mean the cyclist is the one who must slow down or even stop, and wait for pedestrians to give enough space to pass.

As a cyclist who uses such trails frequently and has done all over North America, I can say that the cyclist who passed you was most likely just taking out his frustrations on hapless you, who was just in the wrong place (!) at the wrong time.

As a cyclist, I fervently wish pedestrians would:

  • Be aware of their surroundings. I've lost count of how many times someone was out for a stroll on the trail and completely oblivious to the fact that anyone else was in the same universe. They wander and weave all over the trail without looking, making it unsafe for them and for me. Sticking to one side or the other means you don't walk right into a passing cyclist, or worse.

  • Move to one side when they hear the bell. Sometimes I encounter groups of pedestrians out for a walk and taking up the entire width of the trail, as if they were alone in a universe shared only between them. Sometimes they don't get out of the way until I'm close enough to smack them and frustrated enough to want to.

  • Control their dogs better. I've also lost count of how many times people have had their dogs off-leash, or worse, having a leash stretched across the trail where I'm about to cycle right into it. Dogs should stay on the same side of the trail as pedestrians, if they're even allowed at all.


As a cyclist (in Europe) I've never heard of such an expectation. It doesn't seem to make a lot of sense either -- as a walker your speed is significantly less than cyclists, so no matter which side you walk on about the same number of cyclists will need to veer around you, and there's not really an appreciable difference in how long they have to see you either.

In those circumstances the usual argument for walking to face traffic seems to be the only relevant consideration: It allows you to see traffic that is headed towards your position, and thus do your part to make the encounter smooth.

Really I think the most important point is to stick to some side of the path such that a cyclist coming from behind you can easily plan which side to pass you on.

As for the person shouting at you, I think he was just rude and his real message may have been "keep on whatever side of the path I'm not using at any given time".

You might have a better chance of getting an answer that covers any US-specific expectations by asking at Bicycles.

  • 1
    Though, around here I have difficulty thinking of any mixed-use path that had marked lines to separate the directions of cycle traffic without also explicitly setting aside part of the path for pedestrians -- so the problem doesn't really seem to arise in the first place. May 15, 2019 at 14:17
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    I feel that walking you are much slower than bikes, so keep the other side. But when you run and go as fast as many bikes keep the same side. (Dutch, so European, as well.)
    – Willeke
    May 15, 2019 at 16:24
  • @Willeke, Henning: mixed-use paths in the US typically do indicate that all traffic should keep right, at least in my experience, if they indicate anything. I am unfamiliar with any reasoning behind this, but I would note that if two cyclists are approaching from opposite directions, such that cyclist A (in the lane with pedestrian P) cannot get around the pedestrian without colliding with cyclist B, then A must stop. If P is walking in the same direction as the cycle traffic, then P can keep walking. If P is walking against the cycle traffic, then P must also stop.
    – phoog
    May 15, 2019 at 20:41

Since the question isn't tagged as USA-specific, I found myself wondering about the situation in the UK. The Highway Code only mentions these paths once in the pedestrian section:

Rule 13

Routes shared with cyclists. Some cycle tracks run alongside footpaths or pavements, using a segregating feature to separate cyclists from people on foot. Segregated routes may also incorporate short lengths of tactile paving to help visually impaired people stay on the correct side. On the pedestrian side this will comprise a series of flat-topped bars running across the direction of travel (ladder pattern). On the cyclist side the same bars are orientated in the direction of travel (tramline pattern). Not all routes which are shared with cyclists are segregated. Take extra care where this is so (see Rule 62).

So, no requirement of pedestrians, and only general guidance to take extra care on unsegregated cycle tracks. That said, I for one do not regard use of a headset as being compatible with taking extra care. Let's see Rule 62, which is in the cycling section:

Rule 62

Cycle Tracks. These are normally located away from the road, but may occasionally be found alongside footpaths or pavements. Cyclists and pedestrians may be segregated or they may share the same space (unsegregated). When using segregated tracks you MUST keep to the side intended for cyclists as the pedestrian side remains a pavement or footpath. Take care when passing pedestrians, especially children, older or disabled people, and allow them plenty of room. Always be prepared to slow down and stop if necessary. Take care near road junctions as you may have difficulty seeing other road users, who might not notice you.

The italics are mine; the bold text is in the original. So on unsegregated tracks, the onus is principally on the cyclist to avoid any conflict with pedestrians. In particular, the cyclist has no lawful expectation that (s)he will make unhindered or uninterrupted progress on such a track. The courteous cyclist will slow down when approaching pedestrians on such a track, to give the pedestrians time to organise themselves to permit the lawful passage of the cyclist. If approaching from behind, courteous use of the bell is advisable (Rule 66).

  • I have seen the tactile paving that you mention. It is used on the divided path that I mention in my answer. However, as I said in my answer, no one pays any attention at all. I am happy to be cautious with pedestrians and young cyclists but I am disappointed that other healthy, adult cyclists care so little.
    – badjohn
    May 15, 2020 at 8:42
  • @badjohn if the track is segregated, cyclists must stay on the cycle side of it (Highway Act 1835 s72). If that makes it too narrow to pass without slowing to a crawl, the cyclists must do so. I'm pleased to say that in my experience where I live and cycle (Cambridge), segregated tracks are generally correctly observed.
    – MadHatter
    May 15, 2020 at 8:59
  • The trouble is the difference between "must" and "do". I guess that in Cambridge you have a greater number of cyclists than here (Warwickshire / Worcestershire) and have developed better behaviour. If I rigidly stuck to the rules then I would suffer many collisions. As I mention in my answer, I try but often the others don't yield and it is a choice of pass on the wrong side or crash.
    – badjohn
    May 15, 2020 at 9:02
  • @badjohn I think you are probably right about Cambridge. However, I question your assumption that you'd suffer collision if you stuck to the rules, as the rules generally recommend slowing down and/or stopping in conflicted situations. People charging ahead because they're sure they have the right of way - and I'm not suggesting you're one such - are not, generally, obeying the rules; they're riding/driving as if everyone else is obeying the rules, and that's not the same thing.
    – MadHatter
    May 15, 2020 at 9:05
  • I slow down or even stop in these head on cases but often the other does not. I have not yet been brave enough to hold my position until the last moment. I have waited long enough that it would be difficult for the other to stop or avoid me. Some will get annoyed at you for trying to stick to the rules.
    – badjohn
    May 15, 2020 at 9:28

The 'rules' evolved over centuries and were not created with the advent of the automobile. The rule is a simple one; Pedestrians keep left; vehicles keep right except to pass.

the rationale is quite simple. humans do not have eyes in the back of our heads. Thus for safety we should face traffic - ALL vehicular traffic (cars, horses, bicycles, skateboarders, roller blades, etc...). This is because vehicles are traveling at much greater speeds. In many cases, by the time that a pedestrian hears the approaching vehicle from behind, there will be little or no time to react. And unfortunately, it is also a normal reaction for humans when suddenly confronted with a threat to panic. when facing traffic, there is a much lower likelihood of panic given the visual warning of the approaching threat, and the average person will not 'spook'. When a vehicle suddenly is made aware within feet behind a human, said human will likely jump and attempt to 'get out of the way'. In the case of walking on the right, said human will likely jump to the left to avoid the threat, DIRECTLY in the way of the vehicle which, following the rules of the road is also moving to the left. THUS this rule evolved centuries ago to prevent humans from being hit by horses. This same logic still applies to bikes and cars.

Some states have encoded this commonsense rule into law, in other states, it is just a 'rule.' - SADLY, as we humans become lazier and drive everywhere, we tend to forget common sense rules that are not applied daily, and as 'drivers' of cars, we are used to being on the right. Thus, on the rare occasion that we do walk, we forget what we are supposed to do. Soooooo, remember, KEEP SAFE; Pedestrians left, vehicles keep right (except to pass).

PS, I have a scar up the back of my leg from learning this lesson the 'Hard Way' 25 years go. I was walking on the right, a bike approached me from behind, as he went to pass on the left I 'spooked' and jumped to the left right into his way. We crashed. He yelled at me; "Pedestrian's keep left, vehicles keep right!!! YOU MORON!!!" I limped home, looked it up in my state's driving manual and found that I was wrong, and he was right. Ive never forgotten it.


When you walk on the left side facing traffic both you and the bicycle have time to avert a crash. When you walk on the right with traffic there is only a couple seconds to crowd to the trail edge. Walking on the left is far safer


In a 2 lane bike path cyclists should ride in the right lane and pedestrians should walk in the left lane.

  1. Most walkers and joggers wear headsets and can not hear you coming up behind them. So telling them you are going to pass on the left is useless.
  • Welcome to TSE, but your answer isn't clear to me: where do cyclists and pedestrians going in the opposite direction go? I would further add that whether faster traffic is on the left or right will depend on whether your locale is left-hand or right-hand drive.
    – choster
    May 15, 2020 at 12:13

Here in the UK, it is just anarchy on cycle paths.

In some countries, pedestrians behave similarly to drivers and typically pass each other as cars would on a road. The UK is not such a country and when you approach another pedestrian you just have to figure how to pass each time. Passing to the left (as you would in a car) is no more likely than to the right. It is common to perform a little dance and collisions occasionally occur. At walking speed, this is generally not serious.

Unfortunately, we seem to behave in the same way on cycle paths. I would be pleased if other cyclists obeyed the road rules but few do. I have no expectation of pedestrian behaviour at all. When I approach another cyclist, I move to the left (UK road style) and hope that they do as well. Quite often they stay to their right and we end up playing a game of chicken. It is common to encounter a group of cyclists occupying the entire path who are oblivious to you (especially if you are approaching from behind) and sometimes reluctant to let you past even when they notice you.

Occasionally, there are markings. E.g. one path I use frequently is divided into two: one side for pedestrians and one for cyclists. The cyclists side is divided again but these lanes are so narrow that you could not safely stay in them while passing. No one, neither pedestrians nor cyclists, pays any attention to these markings.

Addition: based on comments to another UK based answer, I will mention that this is my personal experience in Warwickshire and Worcestershire. In some other areas where there is greater cycle use, behaviour may be better. However, since at least in some areas of the UK, the rules are not observed, I would recommend caution if cycling here for the first time.


In this COVID 19 year I have been walking and cycling a lot in the Netherlands, as have many others.

A lot of my cycling and walking is done in a nature reserve and most 'roads' there are cycling paths which are also allowed for use by people walking.
I personally keep the left on the cycle paths, facing the traffic, as I feel it is more safe that way. Others keep to the right, as if they are the main traffic on the path. As a cyclist I do not mind but I feel it is the lesser choice.

What I can not understand is those people who walk each on a side of the road, so they can talk and look each other in the face, forcing others to find the middle of the path to pass them (often not getting the required distance from either of them,) and making it extra hard if cyclists use the road both directions and need to pass each other near or between those walkers. And that kind of people are not bothered by what others have to do or withstand as long as they themselves are not inconvenienced.

Coming to your Madison, Wisconsin problem, do the same as the other people walking do, and if there are no other people walking, keep to the side you feel it is the best, ignoring the things people passing by say, especially when they contradict each other.

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