Calhoun Path Etiquette

I live a block from Lake Calhoun, so I’m on the lake’s bike and walking paths almost every day. When the weather is nice, these have to be the most congested recreational bike and ped facilities in the state, and probably several states in any direction. People clearly love Calhoun, but small discourtesies and thoughtless behavior mar the experience when it’s busy–or even when it’s not busy. Time for an etiquette lesson.

On the walking path
The Calhoun walking path is 4 people wide. Since the path is 2-way, it’s not difficult math to determine that a pair walking side by side in one direction can comfortably meet and pass a pair walking or running in the opposite direction without anyone having to move to avoid a collision.

This simple truth eludes those who walk 3 or 4 abreast. It devolves into a game of chicken. I try to hold my ground in the hope that the 3rd and 4th person will do the right thing and yield. Perhaps half the time they do, and just as often they don’t. Not wanting to body check my way around the lake like a hockey enforcer, I yield.

Three abreast, inconsiderate.

Three abreast, inconsiderate.

Four abreast, rude.

Four abreast, rude.

Hogging the path seems to be half selfishness and half cluelessness. Charity event walkers in herds are particular offenders. In a state of moral smugness for supporting a cause, they seem to feel they have rented the entire path. One yearns for their tax exemption to be revoked.

At the lake you tend to run into people you know. When this happens and you decide to stop and chat, please get the hell off the path.

The foursome at right stood in the path and chatted for 10 minutes.

The foursome at right stood in the path and chatted for 10 minutes.

Clean up after your dog.

Clean up after your dog.

Most Calhoun runners are singles or pairs who accept that they must weave around walkers, and they do. That’s good behavior. Many take to the adjacent dirt cowpaths, also a commendable strategy.

But oh, the running groups. Here the game of chicken escalates. As they bear down on you 3 or 4 abreast, they have velocity and usually youth on their side, and will knock you on your ass if you fail to yield. And they usually fail to yield. In my experience they are the worst of the bad actors. I long to deploy the invisible wall or tripping device.

Four runners abreast. Intimidating.

Four runners abreast. Intimidating.

On the bike path
Biking around Calhoun on a busy day is dangerous and requires alertness at all times. Where to begin? For starters, anyone riding 2 abreast takes up most of the path. You can get by the slow ones if they don’t swerve or wobble, which many of them do. A rollerblader in full arm-swinging speed skater mode is as wide as two bicycles but still slower than a bike and therefore challenging to pass. Pairs of inexperienced rollerbladers lurching uncertainly always seem to lurch next to each other, not in single file as they should. In the absence of signs that say “Keep Right” and “Single File Only”, the biker is left with no option but to yell “On your left!” and hope the offenders aren’t wearing headphones.

The problem is made more acute by the wide variety of people on wheels going very different speeds. There is no solution to this. If you’re on a bike, on rollerblades, or roller skis or in a wheelchair you have every right to be on the bike path. We certainly don’t want you on the walking path (except the wheelchair). However, that means the Tour de France types in aerodynamic helmets who are busy exceeding the posted 10 mph speed limit must try not to kill 3-year olds with training wheels.

The one-way bike path is complicated by the occasional person going the wrong way. It is also beset by runners who think that running along the bike path’s concrete curb is not actually being on the path or that somehow being a runner makes it OK to run on the bike path. In spring when the walking path is completely free of snow, and the winter period of everyone sharing the bike path is clearly over, it takes weeks before the runners get off the bike path.

Running on the bike path, in the middle of a bike event.

Running on the bike path, in the middle of a bike event.

Perhaps my tone identifies me as a cranky old person. Guilty as charged. However, this has been therapeutic and I can’t wait to read the comments.


Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

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50 thoughts on “Calhoun Path Etiquette

  1. Andy

    Couldn’t have written this better. While this is specific to Calhoun, I see this lack of etiquette all over the paths in the city. I try to nicely talk to people doing things when I think they could get hurt. Like peds walking, or worse, standing on the bike path: I warn them they might get clipped and should walk on the other path. Some are thankful.

  2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    That was therapeutic to read. Little to disagree with.

    Just a little consideration of others goes a long way to keep these from being conflict moments.

  3. Monte Castleman

    I’d like to have them start writing citations for running on the bicycle trail, or at least have the cops get out of their car and tell them to get off. I do wonder though if the bicycle trail could be a bit wider if space allows, enough to allow two to ride abreast and a third to carefully pass.

  4. Monte Castleman

    Also, Calhoun I’d like them to convert the parkway to one way and add a marked bicycle lane or a cycletrack, maybe the helmet and spandex types would use that and leave the path for the more casual riders.

  5. Kevin

    Best post ever. I find that these commonsense pedestrian rules are flouted basically everywhere Minnesotans walk. Sidewalks, skyways, shopping malls, you name it. I’m always dodging groups of oblivious people three or four abreast.

    My experience is this behavior is less common in places where walking places is more an everyday activity and less a form of recreation. When I was in Philly–a town not especially renown for its civility–I was struck by how easy the pedestrian experience was. Of course, three- or four-abreasters would probably be subjected to torrents of abuse and obscenity out there.

    1. UrbanDoofus

      Same in Chicago and NYC. Move over or people will flat out check you.

      Yup, people just don’t know how it works here. Not sure how often people walk to know these are the unspoken rules.

    2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      These Minnesota pedestrian poor etiquette habits get carried into the State Fair … and I can’t deal.

    3. wayne

      THIS THIS THIS. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve shoulder-checked people on the sidewalk because they have no idea how to move over when someone is going the opposite direction. Or how many times I’ve had to yell ‘excuse me’ to people walking in the same direction taking up the entire width of the sidewalk. People in Minnesota seem like they’re still on the farm and have no idea how to walk in a city. It doesn’t help that even the widest sidewalks in town are dismally narrow (far too narrow for a city) and that most sidewalks are barely the minimum allowable width, even in commercial areas.

      And then there’s the complete disregard for the flow of pedestrian traffic by shop owners who litter what little sidewalk there is with planters and sandwich boards, narrowing the walkable space down to a couple feet wide in places and turning it into a meandering nightmare to navigate if anyone else comes along walking two (or three or four) wide or has a dog on a leash that’s too long. Then there’s the city’s apparent willingness to give a permit for a sidewalk café to anyone who asks for it, no matter how narrow it makes the sidewalk. This is seriously an awful city to be a pedestrian in.

      1. wayne

        And then there’s the way-too-frequent curb-cuts in commercial areas, the lack of enforcement on cars blocking crosswalks or making rights on red in the few places where it’s actually banned, or the fact that right-on-red is even legal here.

  6. Scott

    I get frustrated on the shared use portions of paths. If pedestrians are walking along a road with no sidewalks, they are to walk on the left side (to face oncoming traffic). Why do they do the opposite on shared use paths?

    People who walk or run on the right cannot see those with wheels approaching behind them.

    1. Monte Castleman

      I really don’t like this idea. If a car is driving on the right and a pedestrian walking on the left on the road meet, the cars going to shift to the left towards the center, and/or the pedestrian is going to shift to the left to the grass. If a pedestrian walking on the left meets a bicyclist riding on the right meet, the bicyclist would move to the left to give way to the pedestrian, but with a bicyclist going straight at them, chances are the pedestrian is either going move out of the way, either to the left into the grass, or to the right where the bicyclist is moving also. If a pedestrian meets a pedestrian it’s strange to pass on the left. Do we apply the same rule to sidewalks to be consistent? if not then what’s a path and what’s a sidewalk? What about a bicycle on the sidewalk in areas where it’s allowed (or even when it’s done illegally?) Should really slow bicyclists, say a little kid riding with their family, ride on the left so they can see spandex and helmet types zipping the other direction?

      With the present system the only way anyone goes on the left is a pedestrian on the road, and a road is wide enough relative to a pedestrian that it doesn’t feel wrong to do so. A bicycle approaching a pedestrian from behind is why they have bells and why pedestrians shouldn’t blast their iPhones so loud they’re totally unaware of their surroundings.

  7. Susan

    I dealt with this on the U of M campus in the 1980s by holding my books with a sharp edge out and letting the people bash into me. What startled looks I got! Now I’m older with gray hair and seem to intimidate younger ones with a look. I’m not that way naturally, but some youth are scared of older folks. I chose my battles. A loud “excuse me” might work with the middle-agers. Try another language from Google translate: “Entschuldigung Sie.”

  8. Julia

    I’m more familiar with Isles, but I’ve noticed walking with strollers on the bike path lately as well. I’m not judging it or most of the other transgressions you list–the vast majority of the lake infrastructure is dedicated to car traffic and parking, and that leaves insufficient space for those outside cars. If we can reclaim that under-used space, I think we’d all end up a lot happier.

    In the case of Isles, the lack of any social spaces around it compounds the problem of the people who are making plans while standing on the paths. There’s no place to GO briefly directly on the lake, unfortunately. No restrooms, no rec center, no coffee shops or restaurant. Stepping off the path often leads to being in the way of runners, surprise goose poo, or soggier-than-expected ground.

    I’m a runner who often uses the wheels path. Part of it is habit (the lack of other options in winter, spring (before the warming-house moves), flood years) and part is that it’s safer–it doesn’t dip into secluded areas like the foot path does. I also have walked on portions of it when with those who are walking but don’t feel secure on the incline.

    I love the lakes, but we have a long ways to go in terms of designing/building appropriate infrastructure and zoning them appropriately.

  9. Hokan

    Wheelchair users belong on the walking path, not on the cycletrack. Wheelchair users are legally pedestrians. They are pedestrians in a practical sense too because they usually travel closer to walking speed.

  10. Eric SaathoffEric S

    I have to admit that I am guilty of flouting the one-way rule around Lake Phalen in St. Paul. This is probably only allowable because it has such low traffic. Still, I often travel only a short distance around its perimeter and want to return the same way instead of going all the way around (3 miles). Some of these paths are really used for non-recreational rides since you can’t ride through the lakes, and I think making two-way bike travel allowable/safe should be a priority.

  11. YukioMachine

    Can’t agree more Aaron! Simply be observant and cognizant of the shared values of why everyone is out there in the first place. Better and more signage would help; along with a solid yellow center line. Then you could point to or reference the sign/line as you “tactfully scold” path hoggers.

  12. Nick

    If in a group, runners are definitely by far the worst trail users. If you and your club want to run in a 30 deep pack that takes up the entirety of both directions of the trail, you better be finished with your run before 5:30am or start it after 10:30pm. I’ve had to completely stop my bike on two occasions while big groups of runners occupying the entire path (West River Parkway) were heading in the opposite direction. Both times, they acted like I was doing them wrong by simply staying in my lane of the path, as it forced them to go around me.

    If solo, people wearing headphones are definitely by far the worst trail users, regardless of mode. It’s not impossible to politely use a shared space while rendering yourself effectively deaf, but it’s difficult enough that you just shouldn’t do it. If you cannot enjoy yourself without listening to music, maybe you should consider doing something else, or use a treadmill, trainer, nordictrack, etc. Also, when your keys fall out of your pocket while biking and two people shout at you to stop, you will probably stop and not just ride on because your headphones prevent you from hearing people yelling. I hope you circled back and found your keys!

    As a note, when I ride my “Tour de France type” bike, I ride in the roads adjacent to the respective paths, which is what you really should be doing for that kind of riding. The speed limit on parkways is only 25mph so if cars have an issue with me going at or slightly below the speed limit they can frig off. When I ride my commuter, I generally take the trails because I’m not going nearly as fast.

    I’m going to finish by saying that electric bikes should be banned from trails and only be legal for in road use. Folks do 30mph on those things which is way too fast for trail use. Considering they are heavier than NiceRide bikes, a crash at speed could inflict some serious injury were someone to be hit.

    1. wayne

      Speaking of runners in groups, the running club in northeast Minneapolis decided the other day to just completely take over the sidewalk while they were getting ready to go … the same sidewalk I use to walk home after work. Someone was standing on a chair in the middle of the maybe 8′ wide sidewalk and there were easily fifty people blocking like a 1/4 of the block. I just rammed my way through them because I’m sick of their garbage.

    2. Steve

      Electric bikes are going to be the next regulatory shitshow. Someone here at should do a forward-looking piece on how much of a mess that’s going to be as they become more popular and become a common part of our bike system.

        1. Steve

          Yeah, definitely. Sales are already way up in the US, a couple hundred thousand sold a year now. I’ve seen a few on bike paths here, but not too many.

          Really really not looking forward to their emergence.

    3. Rosa

      Thank you for riding in the road!

      I’m on the Greenway a lot, and it’s really geting to the point where there’s enough traffic (of all kinds, but bikes are fastest) that the assumption that the fast people should always get to pass and/or everyone else will move out of their way, just won’t hold. Just like in a car on the street, sometimes there isn’t enough space to pass and people just have to SLOW DOWN. It won’t be very far! The path will widen up again! Or the oncoming traffic will have a gap, or everyone will get past the family walking with toddlers in the walking lane.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        The road is a good analogy, because we do it exactly wrong there too.

        While there may be cases where the faster traffic just has to slow because there is nowhere to go, it also needs to be the responsibility of slower traffic to move over/yield to faster traffic. Failing to do so endangers everyone’s safety and slows the whole system down.

        Anyway, a bigger deal on the freeway than the bike path, but I guess most of this can be summed up with “be considerate of other people.” Why is that so hard?

        1. Rosa

          Why should the slower people have to be “considerate” of faster people and not the other way around?

          I wasn’t talking about freeways, I was talking about city streets – drivers are always I HAVE TO PASS when someone else chooses to drive the speed limit, turn left, or ride a bike. But it’s always possible to just wait for a minute, or drive under the speed limit for a block or two if there’s only two lanes and there’s oncoming traffic in the other one.

          There are a number of narrow choke points on the Greenway. But not that many, and none of them are very long. If people can’t slow down for the width of a bridge abutment or the, what, one block length where lanes are narrow (or if they have to bomb up the Sabo bridge by passing a whole pack of people, while people are trying to go the other direction in the other lane and other people are walking in the walking lane) then they should stick to non-mixed-used paths or roads where mixed use is bikes & cars. Or pick a time other than a sunny Saturday afternoon to do their training rides. There weren’t any traffic issues today, for sure, with the rain.

  13. Steve

    There are few places in the Twin Cities more infuriating than Calhoun. The park board desperately needs to enforce their own rules there.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      [Slight tangent] Does the Park Board have the same “low level” offense laws as the rest of the city, too? Because if they did they could rack up a wealth of money fining runners and bikers for spitting like Barb Johnson thinks is so important to enforce in North.

  14. Anna

    As a runner, I could add frustration over people walking or running with their dogs (or even standing still) who aren’t on high alert over their dog’s location. Letting the leash stretch across the path is worse than running 4 abreast, because an approaching runner from either ahead or behind can’t predict the dog’s motion. Yes, runners in groups should yield in crowded areas by filing 1-2 abreast–that’s common courtesy. But if I’m obliged as a runner to respect walkers on the lake paths by darting around them when I approach faster than they can accommodate, then walkers are also obliged to respectfully share the space and pay attention to what’s going on around them–especially when in conversation with someone. Funny that the author calls the inner path the “walking path”–every runner I know calls it the running path. It’s all perspective.

    1. Nick

      I moved to Mpls in 2010 and have lived first near Calhoun, and more recently near Isles. Without any hard data to back this up, it seems like the number of people with dogs has increased A LOT compared to when I first moved here, especially around the Lakes and on the Greenway. I’m guessing the [perceived] canine proliferation is linked to the rise of the “controversial” luxury apartments, which all allow dogs as far as I can tell. Most older buildings don’t allow dogs in my experience, although that could be changing too. It seems like a lot of the dog owners I encounter around the neighborhood are relatively new to ownership and accordingly lack a strong leash game.

      The extendable leashes are the worst [v. hard to describe them without cursing]. I’ve seen one of those stretched fully across the Greenway with the owner on one side and the dog on the other, blocking me on a bike and a group of 3-4 runners. The owner was indignant when people were visibly displeased with her incompetent dog ownership. The dog seemed happy though, gleefully unaware that it had been endangered by its owner.

  15. tim

    Aaron, well stated, well written well done…….As a 30 yr veteran of The City Of Lakes, I believe I have “seen it all” at this point in my life….I have walked the lakes, run the lakes, biked the lakes, strollered the lakes, bladed the lakes, walked the dogs by the lakes…..Here are my thoughts:

    Be nice
    Be aware
    Be gone

    Generally speaking, most people are inherently good…..There are always going to be a % of ass _ _ _ _ _ we encounter in our day to day lives…..Ignore them, they are not worth your energy or consideration…..Happy Trails to all!…..

  16. Stu

    There is an epidemic of walkers/runners on the bike path and cyclists on the sidewalks at Minnehaha (really the only place I have seen that). Add in tourists on wheels of fun surreys and it’s down right dangerous at times.

    Seriously, though when we have to share the path lets all be nice. But when we don’t have to share the path, lets not! Run on the running trail please, though if you run on the grass near the bike trail due to safety concerns that’s fine. As long as you are on the cow path the whole time.

    This winter can we talk about the most annoying thing of all (aside from extendo leashes)? Walkers on the ski trials.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I bike to Minnehaha all the time and I still don’t know which path I’m supposed to use to get to the bike racks on the east side of Sea Salt when approaching from the west, as the ones that actually seem to go there are marked for pedestrians.

      So I just ride slow and be sure to be careful not to menace anyone one foot.

      1. Stu

        I think you are correct about the area nearest the falls. It is unclear what the rules are and for the most part people act accordingly (i.e. ride slowly/walk their bicycles).

        I am complaining more about the behavior toward the less popular southern end of the park. Though given the Park Board designed the bike path so that it crisscrosses the road twice I can see why some people elect the sidewalk instead.

  17. Jerry

    It has been my observation that people in Minnesota (Minneapolis, primarily) are clueless or so completely self-involved that they just don’t see they’re causing a problem with their behavior on walking/biking paths. This same sort of behavior occurs in the skyways, too. People walking in herds three or four abreast, standing in the middle of the skyway chatting with 4 friends or walking against the flow of traffic. It’s infuriating. The author left out one thing: bikes on the footpath. I’ve nearly been clipped several times while on my morning walk down Main street over the Stone Arch bridge and on the footpath along West River Pkwy. Not cool.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      That’s not cool, but I generally avoid the Stone Arch bridge while biking exactly because the pedestrians are either unaware that the middle is for bikes, or just not paying enough attention to not randomly put themselves in harms way.

      Main Street is another example. Pedestrians seem to almost never use the brick-paved pedestrian path and instead amble along on the only bike-friendly smooth surface, which while shared in places, I think is meant for bikes.

  18. David Greene

    Let’s talk about Wirth Park.

    I took my 2-year-old to the Quaking Bog a couple of weeks ago and the way the mountain bikes are laid out makes it really dangerous. There were tons of bikers that day doing at least 20mph if not more and I and the little guy have to cross two one-way bike trails (mark incomprehensibly as shared bike-hike trails!). By myself I wouldn’t have felt so bad but 2-year-olds are unpredictable. I can grab his hand as hard as I want but if he wants to bolt he’s going to make it at least a foot or two before I can totally reign him in. There’s not enough space between the crossing trails to wait for passing bikes.

    Plus the signage is horrible. It is not at all clear which are hike-only trails, which are bike-only trails and which are shared trails. It’s totally, totally confusing.

    Not quite the same situation Aaron outlines but similar in that conflicts between bikers/hikers are all over the place.

  19. Jim Kruzitski

    I think its time the Park Board give some serious consideration to changing the nature of the streets around Lake Harriet, Calhoun and Isles. If you put aside the lack of consideration on the part of some trail users that the article identifies, there seems to be an over-abundance of non-motorized traffic for the path space that is there. Why is it necessary for the streets to be two-way around all three lakes? Certainly we can have a one-way lane for auto traffic and use the rest of the road space for a bike lane. That would receive some of the non-motorized contention. A few residents might be inconvenienced… I get that. I just think its time for a “reboot” when it comes to the lakes. I doubt that the Park Board has the will to explore this.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      “Why is it necessary for the streets to be two-way around all three lakes? ”

      I don’t think it is. Aren’t Lake of the Isles Parkway and Lake Harriet Parkway entirely one way?

      1. David Greene

        Isles is two-way on most of the west and south sides. Calhoun is two-way almost everywhere.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Isles has a contra-flow bus lane between Dean Parkway and Sheridan, that I think is currently temporarily open to local traffic due to construction somewhere, but is otherwise entirely one-way.

  20. Chris G

    Maybe you mentioned it or maybe someone left a comment, but here is another one. Just because your retractable dog leash stretches 25 ft, does not mean you need to leave it at that length and clothesline everyone else while you walk your dog.

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