In my community, there is a new trail for bikers and hikers to share. There are one way arrows for the bikers so they go in one direction. Should the hikers go the same way? I had a bicyclist yell at me for going the wrong way. I thought it would be better to be going the opposite way of the bikes, but I’m not really sure. There are no rules posted about the one-way. The trail is very, very skinny. When I heard the bike, I did completely get off the trail so they could easily pass.
TLDNR: The MTB was ( I will be polite ) outright rude, ignorant and out of line.
Virtually every country has a code of conduct for Mountain bikers, most of these are based on the one the IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) has drawn up.
- Always yield to other trail users. Stop, dismount when near horses. Make your approach known in advance with a bell or soft "hello".
The bikers should have yielded to you unless the local trail has other guidelines.
How this related to single direction tracks- Mountain bike tracks are made single direction because the speed of opposing bikers can lead to dangerous a situations and generally riders on bidirectional tracks have to slow down due to the risk of head on. A walker generally does not carry the speed of a cyclist (steep uphill excluded) but importantly is far more agile in the event an expected encounter. To make use that agility, the walker need to be aware, as soon as possible, of the oncoming rider, using both eyes and ears. A walker going in the same direction as the ride cannot use their eyes, so should be walking in the opposite direction of the cyclists.
However, as a rule, MTB trails are made single direction as a way to allow them to be ridden faster. Usually these are the more technical down hill sections of trail where the rider is free to focus on the ride, not potential a head on, with easier and uphill trails reserved for bi directional travel. MTBers have become used to the idea that a single direction track is permission to ignore the potential of other trail uses they may have presumed they would not cross paths with another trail user. This is possibly a flaw in the trail design and should be taken up with the owner/authority in charge of the trail.
In my experience, there's no rule saying everyone has to go the same direction. Some of my local trails allow cycling in only one direction, and hiking in both. Keep in mind I can't speak for the whole world though; there may be regional customs or other variations.
If the trail is a narrow, downhill path, I would imagine it doesn't matter which way hikers travel because of the difference in speed. From the cyclist's perspective, a hiker would be effectively stationary regardless of whether they are going up or down.
A lot comes down to etiquette, I feel. It's hardly something that can really be enforced if you think about it; other than some users potentially getting irritated at you. But that's often modern life sadly at the best of times.
In my part of the world I occasionally follow 'designated' walk trails on my bike through some areas just for the sake of variety, BUT I am conscious of that it is for walkers first, so I exercise due caution and drop a bit of speed to allow for someone appearing around a blind corner etc.
Similarly, I don't mind seeing walkers or hikers on designated bike or cross-country riding trails either - as long as they're cognisant it is a bike trail, and they remain alert and aware there are faster moving users and yield to them off the path when we're heard approaching. Making an effort to be visible in brighter clothing would help too.
Bear in mind also people may sound angrier when they're pumped full of adrenalin, huffing and puffing. It may sound like a big personal affront if they yell at you. Think of a warning shout as a more primal version of a bicycle bell and just shrug it off.
There's probably a few other factors too. I wouldn't ride a walk trail during good weather on a public holiday for instance where there's likely to more walkers than usual. Similarly, if it's a busy bike trail I'd avoid it on foot because you'd be likely spending more of your time jumping out of the way than enjoying the stroll.
If the arrows are expressly labeled as being for cyclists, I'd say that it implies that hikers can go whichever way they prefer. Venturing a guess, the direction is probably mandated for cyclists to prevent them from colliding with one another more than out of concern for them colliding with hikers.
As far as which is safer, as others have mentioned it's generally considered safer on normal roads for pedestrians to move against traffic. However, that doesn't necessarily translate to trails where cyclists are the fastest moving users.
The main concern is the speeds at which users approach one another, sometimes referred to as "closing speed." When two users approach one another, their closing speed is their two speeds added together. When they are moving in the same direction, the closing speed is the chaser's speed minus the chasee's speed.
An average cyclist moves at about 15 mph. An average hiker moves at 3 mph. Where things get complicated is if you throw joggers in the mix, who move at an average of about 6 mph.
This table represents the closing speeds of average cyclists, joggers, and hikers when the users on the left are approaching the users in the top row and they are both moving in the same direction.
* These are technically negative. In other words, the user in the left column will never catch the user in the top row. If they were on a circular track, the user on the top would eventually come around and lap the user on the left.
This table represents the closing speeds of the same users, but when they are approaching one another from opposite directions.
As you can see from the two tables, closing speeds are much higher for users who are approaching one another. And in contrast to what others answers say about a hiker being "effectively stationary" from a cyclist's perspective, there is a pretty drastic difference in closing speeds for hikers moving in the same direction as cyclists vs. in opposite directions.
It's certainly true that moving in the opposite direction of cyclists will allow you to see them and move out of the way faster, but it also gives both parties less time to respond to one another. And if you decide to jog a little, that difference really becomes pretty drastic pretty quickly.
What's more, hikers and joggers moving in both directions actually creates more opportunities for impact due to a higher number of times that users pass one another. When traveling in the same direction, passing a faster moving user is impossible and passing a user who is moving at close to the same speed is exceedingly rare. When they're moving in opposite directions, it's commonplace. If the trail is circular and faster users are doing laps, they'll pass slower moving users much more frequently if they're moving in the same direction.
All in all, it's a judgment call on whether that additional reaction time of seeing approaching cyclists is enough to offset the loss in reaction time due to higher closing speeds compounded with a greater number of impact opportunities. You need to balance the local conditions of the trail (lines of sight, ability to move freely, whether or not people are doing laps, etc.) with the mathematical realities of the closing speeds.
Sometimes bikers are so fast and quiet that it's hard to hear them until they're almost upon you. Safety first: walk in the opposite direction. In that way, you can see fast-moving bikers coming towards you and react accordingly. Accident prevention protects both you and bikers; they should appreciate that.
Some of the trail rules are arbitrary: it may make no real sense. However, one way bike trails may be to prevent erosion: a downhill track cause braking ruts and bumps, or a steep climb requires more torque.
But it may be easier for the hikers to navigate knowing bikes are coming in only one direction.
I would certain respect these rules either way. For all you know, it was a long negotiation to permit bikes on these trails and riding illegally may lose access for all.