One of the main arguments against bicycles on narrow trails in Marin is the problem of ‘conflict’.  As discussed in our page on safety, conflict appears to be a problem that is more opinion than fact.

A 2012 study by the California State Parks, their Trail Conflict Study, came up with the following conclusions:

  • Information on trail use conflict is primarily based on opinion; little data about actual user conflicts are available.
  • Complaints and controversy about other trail users are common.
  • Actual incidents, including those involving accidents, between trail users are relatively rare
  • User education and outreach are key methods to avoid or reduce conflict.

So conflict is more a complaint by an opinionated few, with few if any factual incidents or accidents to support the fears.

The National Recreational and Park Association published a report in 1994 on The Nature of Conflict Between Hikers and Recreational Stock in the John Muir Wilderness.. To quote the U.S. Department of Transportation:

Conflict in outdoor recreation settings (such as trails) can best be defined as “goal interference attributed to another’s behavior” . As such, trail conflicts can and do occur among different user groups, among different users within the same user group, and as a result of factors not related to users’ trail activities at all. In fact, no actual contact among users need occur for conflict to be felt. Conflict has been found to be related to activity style (mode of travel, level of technology, environmental dominance, etc.), focus of trip, expectations, attitudes toward and perceptions of the environment, level of tolerance for others, and different norms held by different users.

This study was between equestrians and hikers in the John Muir Wilderness and is completely analogous to the conflict between bikes and equestrians in Marin today.  The U.S. Department of Transportation web page on Recreational Trails lists a number of principles for minimizing conflict.  The key ones we think worth noting are:

  • Provide Adequate Trail Opportunities-Offer adequate trail mileage and provide opportunities for a variety of trail experiences. This will help reduce congestion and allow users to choose the conditions that are best suited to the experiences they desire.
  • Minimize Number of Contacts in Problem Areas-Each contact among trail users (as well as contact with evidence of others) has the potential to result in conflict. So, as a general rule, reduce the number of user contacts whenever possible. This is especially true in congested areas and at trailheads. Disperse use and provide separate trails where necessary after careful consideration of the additional environmental impact and lost opportunities for positive interactions this may cause.
  • Favor “Light-Handed Management”-Use the most “light-handed approaches” that will achieve area objectives. This is essential in order to provide the freedom of choice and natural environments that are so important to trail-based recreation. Intrusive design and coercive management are not compatible with high-quality trail experiences.

Compromise was achieved in the John Muir Wilderness – hikers and equestrians are able to co-exist.   Let’s hope that we can do the same in Marin with bicycles, hikers and equestrians.