Trails are great—free of cars, filled with beautiful views, and often the most direct bike route between places in the region. But trails can also be concerning. They’re cut off from the street grid and some are unlit at night. But are trails unsafe?
Safety is complicated. How and what makes you feel safe is likely informed by your safety requirements and how your body is treated by society at large. Sexism, racism, transphobia, and more impact safety in ways that make answering this question far from simple. However, trails are part of our region, and generally as safe as everywhere else.
Overall, people driving cars and trucks cause a lot of serious injuries and fatalities. Trails are pretty much car-free with a few exemptions for city services and a few confused people. This common risk of vehicles is what makes trails so much safer.
Since trails have people, they’re a place where harrassment and profiling occur, and could happen to you. Because these people are going places, it reduces the time span and likelihood of street harassment. If you are harassed you have a number of options, including just keep going! There is no right or wrong way to respond to street harassment, because it isn’t your fault.
If you see someone being harassed, and it’s safe for you, there are ways to be a helpful bystander. You can stay on scene and observe, or directly intervene.
Finally, there are ways you can contribute to reducing street harassment and making trails safer. First and most obvious is don’t catcall or shout at other people. Also, give others adequate space on the trail—biking too close to someone can come off aggressively. Be careful what assumptions you make about others you see. Stereotypes are built into our society and cause immense harm.
Physical violence is rare on trails, no more likely there than anywhere else. Even still, having a plan can make you feel better and be helpful:
- Learn how the trail connects to the street grid on your route so you have options for leaving the trail earlier.
- Generally pay attention to your surroundings, if you had to call 911, could you tell the dispatcher where you are?
- Making sure you have enough food and water to keep your brain going.
This plan is a “just in case.” You’re very very likely to be absolutely, totally okay and are likely in greater risk from something that is so common you don’t think about it (use sunscreen!).
What about at night?
Not being able to see things in the dark is scary! But sometimes you need or want to ride when it’s dark. Fewer people on the trails can feel worrisome, but also has its positives: there are far less people with the potential to harm you. The bigger risks for riding trails at night are the mundane hazards you might miss in the darkness. These include puddles, potholes, tree branches, and the occasional wandering deer. If you are going to ride at night, make sure you have good front and rear lights. The goal is to both see and be seen. Many trails are unlit so it is up to you to bring lights. For more on this, be sure to check out our tips for Riding at Night!
Last updated by Ursula Sandstrom on October 5, 2020.