It was a hot August morning when Suzanne Hagner joined the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia for a ride from the art museum to the airport. They took off behind the museum and onto the Schuylkill River Trail, riding single-file, calling out, “Passing on the left!” as they rode by other cyclists and joggers.
But one jogger, wearing earbuds and apparently not paying attention, didn’t notice the group passing her.
The jogger turned into the cyclists, Hagner hit her, and they both tumbled onto the pavement.
“I knew I was going down and tried to hit the grass,” Hagner recalls. “When I got up, I was shaken up but thought I was okay until one of my friends, who had come back, told me that my hand was twisted sideways from my wrist. I looked at it and knew it was broken.”
The jogger went to the emergency room, but had no major injuries. Three weeks later, Hagner had surgery on her hand, and she now has a permanent plate screwed into her wrist.
That was two years ago.
“Fortunately, it healed well, and I only notice some stiffness if I don’t ride regularly,” she says. “Riding and using my hand definitely helps keep the wrist flexible.”
Hagner’s story is not uncommon. Millions of people use the Schuylkill River Trail every year, and as crowded as it is, incidents occur. Everyone notices it, and some have abandoned the trail altogether.
“It’s been more than a year since I tried riding on the trail,” says Shannon Wink, a content strategist who lives in Fishtown and commutes by bike, train and foot. “Each and every time it was the same thing: being passed last-minute with zero warning by some guy acting like it’s a race.”
Riding the Schuylkill River Trail, she says, “is more stressful than riding in the street. I’m afraid of being hit and of hitting someone else while trying to dodge one of these racers.”
As the Schuylkill River Trail has expanded, to South Street in 2014, and to Christian Street this April, it has become increasingly popular.
With that popularity, the 12-foot-wide trail has to accommodate a million users each year, according to Parks and Recreation.
And it’s probably not wide enough for all of us—especially those who use the trail as a training ground for bike racing.
The biggest critics of these fast cyclists and ear-budded joggers: other cyclists and joggers.
“I do feel that some riders, mainly male, ride the trail way too fast,” says Stephanie Ford, the leader of Pedal Posse Divas, a women’s cycling group in the city. “They also expect you to know they are coming up behind you without using the proper trail etiquette.”
The Schuylkill River Development Corporation has noticed the dangerous speeds, lack of attention, and resulting incidents and has begun taking precautions.
Most notably, 5-mile-per-hour speed limit signs adorn the Center City portion of the Schuylkill River Trail, and new security cameras were recently installed. According to Zoe Axelrod, design assistant and outreach coordinator of the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, such cameras could also be used to figure out who is at fault if and when a crash occurs.
“In terms of design measures, the boardwalk deck was scored in order to imitate wooden planks, but also to slow down cyclists,” notes Axelrod. “We use cones to slow down traffic during movie nights and other events… And of course, yelling after cyclists to slow down as they whiz past us is always fun.”
Randy LoBasso is the communications manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.