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Soap Box On Biking

Of all the places I have cycled, I have witnessed more inexcusable biking behavior on Martha’s Vineyard than anywhere else.

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?

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Betty Burton May 18, 2011 at 01:32 AM
Thank you for mentioning my pet peeve. Just last year when I was leaving work at dusk, I went down Lagoon Pond and started to turn right onto Skiff. I slammed on my brakes and nearly had a heart attack. There was a family on their bikes; mother, father and two children. They had no helmets, no lights. The only way I saw them was a quick flicker of light from the reflector in the bike spokes of the last bike. They were right in the intersection. My husband rides some 30-40 miles a day here on the Vineyard and can always find a way where ever he is going that is safe and legal. He used to rent a room in Somerville and commute home on the weekends. He had no car there, so he rode his bike 5 miles to work in South Boston in the traffic. He is more afraid to ride on the Vineyard (off the bike paths) than he ever was in Somerville/South Boston. Thank you for the soap box. I have written many letters in my head but never put them on paper. I agree with everything you said, and you said it very well.
Jason Peringer May 18, 2011 at 12:43 PM
Thanks for the comment. Personally, if I cannot ride before the landscape crews head to Aquinnah, I stop at the Chilmark Store to avoid the trucks and trailers on the narrow, winding road. Share the road, bike defensively, and wear a helmet...
joy May 18, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Love the horse-drawn cart memory. Makes my rough rainy morning sound much more enjoyable.
Holly Nadler May 18, 2011 at 03:41 PM
What pedaling revolutionaries propose is that we need to reach a critical mass of cyclists and walkers so that ALL roads have lanes for them. In Amsterdam, with a population of some 750,000, fully half the people commute by bike. This makes car drivers much more careful; the average speed limit is 19 miles an hour. There are far fewer accidents and when a car and a cyclist collide, the fault is always assigned to the car driver. The Age of Oil is over, and those that get with the program earlier will be spared a lot of heartache and frustration. A note to Chilmark and Aquinnah: PLEASE put in a bike path! Wouldn't you like to reduce the number of cars on your narrow lanes?
Maggie Dempsey May 18, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Holly, that is the very thing that keeps me from buying a bicycle here. I can't imagine trying to share the winding, 40mph South Road with motorists. It scares me just to think of being out there; what we certainly could use is some sort of path to keep cyclists safe from motorists. Although just thinking about all the impending landownership quarrels and "you can't take my property for a bike trail!" arguments it would cause, gives me a headache.
Vanessa Czarnecki May 18, 2011 at 06:12 PM
Ditto, Betty. I biked for many years in Boston. That city has a bad biking reputation, somewhat deservedly. But I could always find a safe route where I wanted to go. Here, I stick to the bike paths. Too many curves, too many people in the summer who don't know the roads, too much sand on the shoulder. I see people brave it all the time, but they're braver than me.
Holly Nadler May 18, 2011 at 09:32 PM
Yeah, Maggie, it's hard to sway people; Chilmarkers claim they don't want to change the look of their quaint, narrow country lane. But why can't they tuck a bike path back a ways like the one that runs from the WT fire station to the airport? If people would just provide a bit to easement on their land, they would never need to weave their way around cyclists again. And it might occur to them that in exchange for an easement, they can hop on their own bicycles and grab a bite to eat on the cliffs!
Jason Peringer May 18, 2011 at 10:42 PM
I once did a somersault at 20+mph on South Road when I teetered off the pavement into the 'soft shoulder' after a rather 'intimate' pass from a black 7 Series BMW. Luckily, the toe clips are more forgiving that 'rat traps' and released. The car passing me did not stop, but the local in the pick-up did, (surprise, surprise). I dusted myself off and went on for another 30 or so miles, but I swore I would never put myself in that situation again... and get the license plate if it came to it.
Betty Burton May 19, 2011 at 08:07 PM
After reading all of the comments about bike paths in Chilmark and Aquinnah, I have to say many of the bikers don't use the bike paths that are available. There is a rule about how fast you can ride on a bike path, so I am assuming those that want to ride in the road even when there is a bike path must be going very fast indeed. David W our own Island bicycle maven knows more about the rules. It would be great to have a bike path and have the riders actually use it. When we are driving up Island, my husband will point out where the path is in the woods just as we nearly hit a biker. Reminds me of a comment from a friend. Many years ago we were driving on a road that ran just next to a park with paths for running. I mean they were right next to the ocean (Honolulu). Obviously they had chosen to run on the edge of the road. "He might as well just stick a hose in his mouth connected to the exhaust pipe so he can suck all those wonderful fumes right in." But I digress.
Jason Peringer May 20, 2011 at 12:08 AM
Betty, as an owner of some mid level road bike gear, I must say that the bike paths on this island would destroy my rims in short order. Should you happen to ride on the one paralleling Etown/W.Tis road, you would notice that they are poorly maintained. Fact of the matter is that the majority of road cyclists wearing all the "gear" are riding at speeds in excess of 20-30 mph. State law stipulates that there is a "share the road" policy with cyclists, just as there is with moped riders. I personally do not want bike paths, but better courtesy from automobile drivers. In fact, if you are cycling to Chilmark, you cannot get there on that particular bike path w/o a detour through a wooded area where you need to carry your bike. I've done it... But I digress.
Sara Piazza May 20, 2011 at 01:17 AM
I agree with Jason. What needs to happen is a paradigm shift in terms of sharing and courtesy. The main purpose of the so-called bike paths is to get the bikes out of the way so the cars can go faster.
Maggie Dempsey May 20, 2011 at 03:26 PM
I always try my best to give a wide berth to any bikers I see on the road. I definitely don't want to scare them off the road, but at the same time, passing them can be a tricky maneuver... as we all well know the roads here are narrow and often winding, meaning a clear shot at one moment can sometimes mean traffic is just around the bend. What else can we do though? Cars can't be expected to go 20 mph behind a biker, and the bikers can't be expected to haul ass down the bumpy, branch littered bike paths... We will just have to learn to live together. Maybe instead of a bike path, simply adding an extra small lane to the side of the road might do the trick? When I was living in downtown Seattle, I observed that buses and bikes had an extra lane at the far right of the road so that they could ride the roads along with us and it seemed to do the trick. Either way, I think we've all agreed that some change is necessary, whether its concrete or compassion, in order to avoid more accidents and mishaps.
Sara Piazza May 21, 2011 at 09:17 PM
In many cities there are designated bike lanes painted into some streets, and not necessarily over to the side. Some are smack in the middle of the street. In these places, there is a shift in awareness of and attitude towards bicycles. As long as you're trying to get bikes out of the way, off to the side, we are fostering the auto driver's attitude that bikes are a nuisance and if the bikes would just nudge over a bit and let me speed on by, everything would be fine. That is not necessarily the safest scenario, unfortunately.
David Whitmon May 23, 2011 at 06:58 PM
First off let me say that for all intent and purposes I am a bicycle advocate. I am a member of the Joint Transportation Committee representing the interests of Cyclists and Pedestrians. I am also a member of the Bike and Pedestrian Committee which is adjunct to the JTC. I have a number of different bicycle. My favorite is a rather unique bicycle, or should I say human powered vehicle. Holly did a very nice article about mine and Myron Garfinkle' Velomobiles. I live in the Deer Run subdivision near the 4 way stop/blinker. I can get from my house to the 4 way stop, down Barnes Rd to the OB post Office in just under 11 minutes if I push it. I've been pulled over by 5 of the Island Police Departments and twice in one day on Cape Cod. They initially assumed I was driving a motorized vehicle as you can't see that I am pedaling. I ride in the lane as a vehicle. In regards to our bicycle paths. The bike paths we have on this Island are substandard at best. They don't meet the design criteria of AASHTO.,the America Association of Highway and Traffic Officials. In the AASHTO guide to bicycle facilities, they list 9 design flaws. To read them is as reading a description of our Island paths.
David Whitmon May 23, 2011 at 07:23 PM
When a cyclist is out on the road they are considered vehicle operators with the same rights and responsibilities as any other vehicle out there, motorized or human powered. When riding on the road and moving over to an adjacent bike path, the status of a cyclist changes from vehicle operator to pedestrian. A pedestrian even though they are riding a bicycle. As a pedestrian on these paths, you have the right of way over any motorized vehicle that crosses these path. The trouble is, our motoring public is dismally educated as to the rules of the road. Take the Edgartown Vineyard Haven Rd bike path. You have some where around 130 curb cuts. Each and every one is like an individual chance at a game of Russian Roulette. These paths are also used as bus stops with the buses pulling up onto the paths and discharging their passengers. You have every Tom, dick and Harry, in their motor vehicles using these paths for parking, for what ever reason. For passing lanes, turning lanes, staging areas for contractors. You have FedEx and UPS trucks parking on the paths. You have oil and propane trucks parking on these paths. These paths need a lot of work. They need barriers to keep cars, trucks and buses off of them. The entrances to roads, drive ways and subdivisions need to be narrowed so that motorists cannot fly in and out with wild abandon. They need stop signs for motor vehicles, not the cyclists.
Betty Burton May 23, 2011 at 07:30 PM
Thanks for all the info on bike paths. I always give a wide berth to bikers and try to be courteous. My understanding of the rules and the condition of the bike paths was not up to date. So I will watch out and try to give more room. Actually I was never a hog, just didn't understand why, when a seemingly lovely path through the woods was available, a biker would choose to use the edge of a road. Now I've got it.
David Whitmon May 23, 2011 at 07:40 PM
With regards to using the road way when there is an adjacent bike path. These paths are an option for cyclists to use only if they wish to do so. There have been a number of times in the past when one legislator or another tries to get a mandatory bike path law into effect. It has never passed and will never pass. Why? Because the local municipalities would be responsible for the well being of the path users. You think our taxes are high now. With regards to the laws. 2 1/2 years ago the Governor signed into law a "Bicycle Bill of Rights". You cannot pass a cyclist with in the travel lane if the travel lane is under sized. Under sized is a lane under fourteen feet wide. We have very very few lanes that wide. If you ride to far to the right you are endangering your self. Ride to far to the right and a motorist will try to pass you when it is not safe to do so. Motorists are required to pass a cyclist as they would any other vehicle. Moving completely out of the travel lane and not reentering the lane until they are completely past the cyclist. If it is not safe to pass a cyclist then a motorist is required by law to "WAIT". Our biggest problem with the safety of cyclists is the motoring public and the dismal lack of skill and training it takes to get a drivers license. This Island could be a shining Bicycling example to the nation, we just have to learn how to drive first.
David Whitmon May 23, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Absolutly, 100% correct Sara. Any concern for the well being of the cyclists when building these paths was an after thought at best. get them out of the way.
David Whitmon May 23, 2011 at 07:53 PM
My pleasure Betty. These paths are now a days called Shared Use Paths, SUPs. When riding on them, pedestrians, those on foot, have the right of way over those riding bicycles. A cyclist should always slow to the speed of those that they are passing and never go flying past. When I ride, the left hand side of my velomobile (big pedal car) is just about in the middle of the travel lane. It's bright yellow, has a very bright rear flasher about 36" off the ground but also has tail light, brake light, turn signals, more light off the front than most cars, an interior light and a horn. I behave like a vehicle and am treated like a vehicle.
David Whitmon May 23, 2011 at 08:13 PM
As for cyclists who ride like idiots with total disregard for the traffic laws and those around them. Ticket them. Another law pertaining to cyclists. If you get a ticket for a moving violation it cannot affect your driving record or your insurance. the cops have to write "Bicycle" on the ticket. The first time I was pulled over was on Beach Rd. I was heading to Edgartown, passing by Heart Haven when a OB cop passed me on his way back to OB. I looked in my rear view mirror but no flashing lights or brake lights. I caught the green at the first bridge and kept on going. I caught the red and was sitting in line waiting for the green. I hear a siren and look in my mirror and there was the cop. I hit my 4 way flashers but he used his loud speaker to ask me to mover over to the other side. I pulled over as did he. He was walking up from behind and I say to him, "Ya know, this thing doesn't have a motor." He said, "Are you sure?" I started laughing. He had a frown on his face, I guess from me laughing but when he saw who it was he just smiled. 37 mph in a 35 mph zone. The first time I can say that getting pulled over really made my day. But he wouldn't give me a ticket, not even a warning. I would have framed it...(-;
David Whitmon May 23, 2011 at 11:48 PM
Here's a little advanced notice for a Bicycling event next Saturday. Come One, Come All. The 2nd Annual Martha's Vineyard Blessing of the Bikes. 10:00 AM, Saturday May 28th, 2011 at the Federated Church, 45 South Summer Street, Edgartown MA. The event will be officiated by our good friend and fellow cyclist, The Rev. Dr. Jerry Fritz, Pastor All cyclists welcome. Spread the word. Tell your friends. From children on tricycles to folks on high end road bikes and everything in between. Good Karma, Good Fun and Good People
Betty Burton May 25, 2011 at 05:49 PM
I love it, a speeding ticket for biking. Congrats. When I was in grad school, a friend got a ticket for drunken bicycle riding. My friends and I were walking and it was amusing to see him weaving off on his bike. At the time it seemed funny, but in retrospect, it was quite dangerous. Although it was a college campus eons ago when cars were not allowed on campus.
David Whitmon May 25, 2011 at 06:26 PM
The guy wouldn't give me a ticket, not even a warning. I even said please......LOL The cops on Island have been great. The best stop was in Edgartown. I was headed to Katama down Peases Point Way approaching the 4 way stop at the fire house. An Edgartown cruiser had just passed through the intersection coming towards me. His lights came on and I stopped next to him. His window comes down and all he said was "Well?" I said, just going for a bike ride Officer. That's a bicycle?, asks he. Yes it is Officer, says I. His response was totally unexpected. Strait from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure but a little more drawn out....(-; http://www.hark.com/clips/gxbfnxhxwg-excellent

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