Narrow-Gauge Rail Trail, Bedford: safer to walk across the street?

The photo below, from summaer 2011, is a cylindrical panorama: Hillside Road, at the right, is at a right angle to Route 4-225 (the Great Road) at the left. The Narrow Gauge Rail Trail runs from front to rear in the photo, alongside Hillside Road and (at the rear) Bacon Street. (Google map of the location) You can click on the photo to enlarge it and get a better view.

Route 4-225 and Spring Street, Bedford, Massachusetts, USA

Panorama — Trail at Route 4-225 and Hillside Road, Bedford, Massachusetts, USA

There are heavy, steel gates across the trail at either side of Route 4-225, so bicyclists must thread through narrow openings. Someone has posted a sign, “Walk bikes in crosswalk for your own safety.”

Is walking really safer? My take is that it depends on who you are. If your bike-handling skills are lacking, it probably is safer, because you will be able to pay more attention to the traffic in the cross street.

If your bike-handling skills are good, that is, if you can slow nearly to a stop without losing your balance, look around for traffic and accelerate smartly, riding will be safer, because you get across the street sooner, and you are more maneuverable riding the bicycle than walking next to it.

In either case, the bicycle will be broadside to the traffic as you cross in the crosswalk, a much wider target for an errant motorist to avoid than a pedestrian without a bicycle.

My own preference is to avoid using the path here entirely, entering the intersection as a bicycle driver on the street, so I do not have to look behind myself for turning traffic. Car-bike collisions are common when motorists turn in front of bicyclists on paths which run alongside roads.

As to those steel gates: well, they’ll slow down most people, only causing a crash occasionally if someone fails to see a gate, or collides with a post threading through a narrow gap. There are better ways to slow bicycle traffic where a path approaches a street: for example, see the third photo from the top on this page.

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