LEXINGTON — The Minuteman Bikeway from Cambridge to Bedford is 12 feet wide and 10 miles long, but for many it provides limitless escape.
The trail is protected from motor vehicle traffic, providing a refuge for cyclists, families pushing strollers, scooter riders, walkers, runners, roller bladers, and dogs on leashes.
But now tragedy has been introduced at the spot in Lexington where two cyclists wearing helmets collided head-on around 2:09 p.m. on March 24. One cyclist, Cary G. Coovert, 71, died, and the other, who hasn’t been named publicly, was hospitalized with serious injuries, Lexington police say.
Further details about the crash and what may have caused it haven’t been publicly disclosed. A makeshift memorial including flowers, rosary beads, and a blonde-haired doll wearing a tiara and yellow ball gown marks the spot where the bicyclists slammed into each other near an outdoor furniture and gardening store.
“This was a tragic crash on a popular path,” said the Rev. Laura Everett, a pastor and cyclist who has officiated “ghost bike” ceremonies for people who have been killed riding bicycles.
On Saturday afternoon, Everett and others hosted a gathering at Kickstand Cafe in Arlington for people who have been touched by the crash. About 20 people attended, Everett said, including some of Coovert’s friends, neighbors, and relatives.
“Many people have been affected by this crash in many different ways,” Everett said. “It was a reminder to me that a fatal crash affects a wide community.”
Coovert’s obituary describes him as an avid cyclist who biked to work from his home in Arlington during warmer months. His family asked mourners to consider making donations in his memory to the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition or Friends of the Lexington Bikeways, the obituary said.
Coovert’s family didn’t respond Saturday to a request for comment.
Galen Mook, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, said collisions like the one that killed Coovert are rare. Most fatalities involving cyclists occur on roads with motor vehicle traffic, he said.
“It is a reminder that all life is fragile,” Mook said. “We are still just people and life can change in an instant.”
The fatal collision has also brought new urgency to challenges that the bikeway has faced throughout its 26-year history.
“We’ve had problems with courtesy and congestion on the bikeway almost since it opened,” said Peggy Enders, who leads the Bicycle Advisory Committee in Lexington.
On busy days, as many as 4,500 to 4,600 trips are made on Lexington’s portion of the trail, she said. Such popularity suggests Massachusetts needs more trails like the Minuteman, Enders said.
The types of users on the Minuteman span generations and modes of transportation.
On Saturday, some users said the bikeway’s inclusiveness is its best feature and its biggest drawback.
“I love the bike path. I’ve had no bad experiences other than there is way too much mixed usage,” said Jim Leone, 75, a Belmont resident who rides the bikeway twice weekly. “It makes for congestion and dangerous situations.”
He said he pedals at a moderate pace, 12 to 16 miles per hour, and keeps a close eye on his surroundings.
“My strategy is to always keep my speed moderate and vigilance, vigilance, and hypervigilance,” Leone said. “I would suggest everyone needs to be more vigilant, alert, and pay attention, and too many people aren’t.”
Rachel and Chris Frankenfield said they walk and ride bikes on the path. On Saturday, they pushed their two young children in a double stroller with ease.
The more crowded the bikeway, the more difficult it becomes to navigate, they said.
“People go so fast down here. That’s the biggest issue. Because it’s a mixed-use trail and not just a bike path, I think that is definitely worrisome when bikers are using it at a really fast pace,” Rachel Frankenfield said.
As a driver, she said she’s thankful bicyclists have a place to ride where they’re safe from motor vehicle traffic.
Nathaniel Jean, 23, said he uses the bikeway to commute from his home in Woburn to his job in Copley Square. Once he leaves the path, Jean said his trip becomes more dangerous.
“It’s a lot safer here than anywhere past Alewife,” he said. “This part is the safest. I’m much more relaxed on the bike path.”
Kelly Lindert, 51, of Arlington ran on the path Saturday. She said she looks out for others when she’s passing someone on the bikeway.
“I routinely say, ‘On your left.’ I’m the dork who’s always calling it out,” she said. “In that sense, I’m overly cautious.”
Bob Prescott, 61, of Westford said he enjoys biking on the path because he feels safer than he does on the road. He said he’s never had a problem on the bikeway but believes it could be improved.
“If it was wider it would probably be better because if you’re moving along at a good clip you have to slow down for people walking five or six wide. But it’s for everybody,” he said.
Enders said officials are considering ways to make the bikeway safer, including better signage and speed guidelines. The trail is maintained by the four communities it runs through: Cambridge, Arlington, Lexington, and Bedford.
Signs asking people to be courteous and share the bikeway will be installed soon on the Lexington stretch, Enders said.
“People, I think, value their own lives,” she said. “I hope this is a lesson for people who have ridden perhaps fairly carelessly.”