Martha’s Vineyard has become known for its family-friendly atmosphere and outdoor activities for summer vacationers. If you have been to the island in the high season, you have no doubt witnessed the avid cyclists, runners, boaters and the like, enjoying all that the Vineyard has to offer. I have been riding a road bike for considerable distances for nearly 30 years. I have found that if you choose your route carefully, it can be quite a challenge to navigate the island on a bicycle, for better or worse.
Yet, of all the places I have cycled, I have witnessed more inexcusable biking behavior on Martha’s Vineyard than anywhere else. I worked at the University of Florida for nearly two years, where 40,000 undergraduates filled the campus with cars, bikes and pedestrians. Campus police issue more moving violations to bikes than to automobiles every semester, for the protection of everyone. If only the existing state biking laws were better enforced, they would be better adhered to, in my humble opinion.
The office I work out of is on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. I drive up Main and onto Church Street to park. When the season is in full swing, more than a few bikes will whiz past me . . . against the one-way traffic. It is worse on Church Street, as it is a favorite of the little kids that glide down the long hill, again against traffic. The tragic bike accident on State Road that involved a day-tripper on a rented bicycle did raise some safety awareness, but I think it is more a matter of common sense.
I lived in Lexington, Massachusetts for a while and seldom, if ever, saw parents and children cycling without helmets on everyone. That same family vacationing here doesn’t lock their car leaves the house open, and most likely rides their bikes in flip-flops without helmets. I’m not sure what it is about the island, but people seem to lose their common sense on the ferry ride over from the mainland.
Now, nobody’s perfect. I’ve been hit by cars on numerous occasions and it was usually an honest mistake in the flow of traffic at speed. I have ridden at speeds in excess of 40 miles per hour down roads in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There was the incident involving riding behind a horse-drawn cart. (Enough said.) All of those experiences involved obeying the rules of the road and wearing proper gear, especially a helmet. Making a decision in the moment may sometimes be less than ideal in hindsight, but that seldom involves common sense.
The mistakes I refer to are endangering children by teaching them to ride with abandon in busy streets with car traffic, without proper protective helmets. Sure, West Chop seems to be annexed by the West Chop Club in the summer, what with their Post Office, parades, and races, but there are designated places to ride safely on Martha’s Vineyard. Aside from the bike paths that run all over the island, consider the State Forest near the airport.
Any time I get into a conversation with someone just learning how to ride a road bike that has toe clips, grip shifting and other advanced gear, I recommend the straight, flat, paved paths that afford a parking area for cars and access by bike path to most every down-island town. Once the new cyclist has become confident and proficient with their riding, the bike paths offer even more freedom. Eventually moving to ride with auto traffic is fair game, but riders beware: The responsibility to obey traffic laws specific to cycling can save lives, especially your own. Oh, and did I mention you should always wear a helmet?