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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.

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    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 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 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 at 14:14
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The usual expectation in the USA for shared use trails is that the slowest 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.

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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.

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    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. – Henning Makholm May 15 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 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 at 20:41

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