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It’s Time To Talk About Bicycles

One reader's take on sharing the road safely.

The other day driving to town I missed a child on a bicycle by this much. (Picture my thumb and forefinger spread about an inch apart.) Even though I was going very slow and it was in the middle of the block where I had no expectation of a bike darting out in front of me, if I hadn’t been able to stop I, and this child’s family, would have had to live with that the rest of our lives. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-bike. I even ride one occasionally myself. I do feel, however, that sharing the road means sharing the responsibility of safety. I would like to assume that motorists are already obeying the laws of the road, so this is for the bikers.

 

Eight Simple Rules for Riding Your Bicycle on M.V.

1. Please wear a helmet, no matter how old you are. Be a good example for others. Besides, who will raise your children, love your husband/wife or help your elderly parents if you are sitting in a chair somewhere with a permanent brain injury? Just because you’ve been called hard-headed . . .

2. By law you are required to obey all the same traffic rules as cars. You must ride with the traffic, not against it. You must stop at all stop signs, not just the little bike ones. And please follow the same four-way stop rules that you would if you were driving a car.

3. Please ride single file, on the pavement. Especially if you are towing a child. It will make it much easier for us to pass you. (If you go off the pavement onto the sand you might topple over into the road.) 

4. Pay attention to signage. There are streets on this Island where bikes are prohibited. Usually because the street is narrow or the area is very congested. If you must use one of these streets, please get off your bike and walk. This includes the downtown areas of most Island towns.

5. Pedestrian crossings are for pedestrians. If you are on a bike, you are not a pedestrian. If you wish to take advantage of laws that protect pedestrians, get off your bike and walk.

6. If there is a bike path, use it. They are there to get you off the road where you will be safe.

7. Those of us in automobiles can’t read your mind. Hand signals would give us a clue.

8. Stay alert. On any given day there are hundreds of cars being driven by people who are unfamiliar with the roads here. Bike defensively. 

These rules should be disseminated to anyone bringing a bike off the ferry or renting one in a shop.

David Whitmon July 21, 2011 at 12:05 PM
Good piece Carolyn When my children were young there would be an end of the year bike ride from the OB school to the beach. Much to my chagrin the kids were lead on one way streets going the wrong way. That was the last time that I or my children rode the wrong way on a one way street. Many adults that I have spoken with are surprised that cyclists have to obey the laws set down in the vehicle code. In all 50 states, bicycles are considered vehicles and cyclists are considered vehicle operators. Cyclists as you note are suppose to follow all the rules of the road just like any other vehicle operator. I agree absolutly. It's the safest way to ride. In Massachusetts when a cyclist is riding on a bike path they are considered a pedestrian and as such have the right of way on these paths when they cross side roads, drive ways and entrances to subdivisions and parking lots. Motorists are required by law to stop and look both ways before crossing a bike path. The concept of a cyclist being a pedestrian and having the right of way while riding in a cross walk has been up held in a court of law. Motorists are lax in stopping for pedestrians in cross walks.
Judy Searle July 21, 2011 at 12:38 PM
Thank you Carolyn (and David for the bicyclist's perspective). If there were only a way to get this information to those who NEED it. Tuesday a small child (maybe 8-10) rode a scooter down the hill on Samoset, through the stop sign and right into my path. She was oblivious. Luckily, I was going very slowly and was able to stop. Her parents had outfitted her with a helmet but they hadn't trained her to think about traffic rules. I would never be able to recover from hitting a bicyclist, that's why I'm that pokey driver who annoys you so much in the Summer.
David Whitmon July 21, 2011 at 01:02 PM
Bike paths are optional for cyclists to use. There are no mandatory side path laws in Massachusetts. There have been numerous past attempts in the state legislature in the pass such laws but because the local jurisdictions would then become (financially) responsible for the safety and well being of those using them, these attempts have all failed. Look at our two way on one side of the road bike paths. 50% of the time you are riding against traffic. This type of bike path is an acknowledged major design and safety flaw. Acknowledged by both state and federal, and known to be so by the local Island highway departments who built them. You are more likely to be hit by a car riding on these paths than if you were to ride as a vehicle on the road way. What you say about motorists not being able to read a cyclists mind is very true. Cyclists need to ride in a consistent, predictable manner at all times. Remember though that the majority of cyclists you see out there also have a license to drive. Motorists must learn the laws as they pertain to other road users such as cyclists. Motorists must learn that it is not safe to pull into oncoming vehicular traffic on a strait away when passing a cyclist. They need to learn that passing a cyclist around blind curves and over the crest of a hill is not very wise at all. They need to learn to "WAIT" as is stated by law.
David Whitmon July 21, 2011 at 01:30 PM
"Pay attention to signage. There are streets on this Island where bikes are prohibited. Usually because the street is narrow or the area is very congested. If you must use one of these streets, please get off your bike and walk. This includes the downtown areas of most Island towns." One last thing. The above statement is completely false. There is not a single public road way where cyclists are prohibited to ride on Martha's Vineyard. That includes Peases Point Way S in Edgartown. Main St Edgartown, Main St VH and Circuit Ave in OB. I ride these very roads multiple times a week if not more. Yes, there are signs up but they are illegal and not enforceable. Ask the police. A cyclists does not have to get off their bicycle and walk on any street in any town on Martha's Vineyard. They do have to obey the rules of the road just as do the motorists. You may have noticed that Edgartown made an attempt at marking bike lanes on Upper Main St. White fog lines and bicycle icons on either side of the road way in the gutter. These overly narrow, substandard, dangerous lanes were put down with no regard to state and federal design and safety guidelines. They didn't last very long. They are now gone as should these improperly posted signs mentioned above.
David Whitmon July 21, 2011 at 02:04 PM
Judy. Pokey Driving is good. My only car is a 63 year old Jeep which rarely sees over 35 mph going down hill with a tail wind. As a very young child (6 years old) I was way down at the end of the block, off the block actually which was against my moms rules. Coming home I ran out between two parked cars and hit the side of a moving car. I bounced off the car, then against one of the parked cars and then hit the tail end of the moving car again before I hit the ground. The driver got out and was yelling for help. Amazingly I pushed the the driver off of me and ran home, almost a half mile. I flew over the chain link fence. My mom was hanging clothes on the line and I ran into my room and dove under my bed. I was all torn up and bleeding. I ran back out of the house to my mom, all in a panic. I was talking and crying a mile a minute. My mom slapped me to calm me down (I guess) and I told her that I had been run over by a car. I don't think she believed me. Then an ambulance and fire engine pulled up to the house. Nothing broken, no stitches but I was black and blue and hurting for weeks. If I had been but a second faster I would have been in front of that car and I would not be here. 20 some odd years later I was riding in a friends car. A beautiful day, window down with my arm resting on the window sill when a kid runs out and slams into the side of the car and my arm. He ran back in his house and I ran right in after him. He was banged up but OK.
Carolyn O'Daly July 21, 2011 at 04:34 PM
So are they pedestrians or vehicle riders? Can't be both--
Carolyn O'Daly July 21, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Neither cyclists nor motorists get it right all the time. I don't blame (serious) cyclists for not wanting to ride on the bike paths but they are nice for those nervous nellies who choose to. The one thing I would like all cyclists to know is SINGLE FILE and ON THE PAVEMENT.
Carolyn O'Daly July 21, 2011 at 04:41 PM
I didn't expect my op ed to get you so wired up. Just requesting people (both bikers and motorists) to show a little common sense and courtesy. It is dangerous for bikers to ride in certain areas and I think for their own good it wouldn't hurt to avoid them. I have walked the sidewalks of down town Edgartown more than once and been almost knocked down by someone riding a bike.
David Whitmon July 21, 2011 at 06:52 PM
Carolyn. I'm not wired up at all. Just clarifying the rules of the road between fact and fiction. I agree about the sidewalks in Edgartown. They are clearly marked as no bikes. State law allows bicycle on side walks except within towns where marked. The bike lanes that Edgartown tried to install was because of the bicycle traffic on the adjacent side walks. The town went about it the wrong way. I agree that there are novice cyclists who if they are nervous about riding in traffic they should refrain from doing so.
David Whitmon July 21, 2011 at 07:08 PM
Carolyn O'Daly wrote, "So are they pedestrians or vehicle riders? Can't be both--" When riding on the road, a bicycle is considered a vehicle and the cyclist a vehicle operator. That same cyclist transitions from the road way onto a Shared Use Path (SUP) or a Multi Use Path (MUP), AKA Bike Path, even though they are still pedaling, riding a bicycle their status changes to that of a pedestrian, while on the path with the same rights and responsibilities as such. One point to clarify is that a person walking on one of these paths has the right of way over a person riding a bicycle. A cyclist is suppose to slow way down and verbally signal and or ring a bell when passing a walker. It's a major peeve of mine when a cyclist flies by a walker to fast and to close. Both cyclists and walkers have the right of way over motor vehicles crossing these path ways. The term "Bike Path" is no longer in use by state or federal agencies. In Massachusetts under Mass General Law a "Bike Path" is defined as "for the exclusive use of bicycle." Under that definition there isn't a single bike path in the whole state and I would guess nation wide.
David Whitmon July 21, 2011 at 07:31 PM
Carolyn O'Daly wrote "Neither cyclists nor motorists get it right all the time. I don't blame (serious) cyclists for not wanting to ride on the bike paths but they are nice for those nervous nellies who choose to. The one thing I would like all cyclists to know is SINGLE FILE and ON THE PAVEMENT." I agree. We have a long way to go for both cyclists and motorists to actually know what the laws are all about. What I would like to see with our bike paths are barriers that will keep motor vehicles from driving and or parking on the path ways except at crossings. These crossings, drive ways, side roads and parking lot entrances, need to be narrowed so that a motorist cannot fly in and out with wild abandon with out looking. I want these paths to be truly safe for the nervous nellies. This will be happening here on Martha's Vineyard as it is nation wide. As is has elsewhere around the world. As of january 3, 2009, bicyclists in Massachusetts are no longer restricted to riding single file at all times. You can now ride two abreast (two bicycles, side-by-side), except that you still have to help faster vehicles to pass. So cyclists should stay in single file when cars need to get by! On multi-lane roads, you can ride two abreast, but all the cyclists in a group must stay in one lane (which will usually be the right-hand lane unless you are making a left turn).
Clarke Camper July 22, 2011 at 11:10 AM
Thanks, Carolyn. I don't claim to know much about rules and regulations relating to cycling, and I too am NOT anti-cyclist. But I fully support your point that both drivers and cyclists need to show more courtesy. The same goes for scooters...
joy July 22, 2011 at 11:34 AM
Though legally accurate, it would make it so much easier/safer if bikers dismounted or avoided these roads, such as Circuit, as a courtesy. I agree some of these roads are overly narrow and substandard based on today's codes. Why make the situation worse by insisting on biking these routes?
David Whitmon July 22, 2011 at 12:04 PM
Very true. One set roads and one set of rules for all of us.
David Whitmon July 22, 2011 at 12:47 PM
Joy wrote, "Though legally accurate, it would make it so much easier/safer if bikers dismounted or avoided these roads, such as Circuit, as a courtesy. I agree some of these roads are overly narrow and substandard based on today's codes. Why make the situation worse by insisting on biking these routes?" Why? "Courtesy?" The problem is to many cars. One car=one person. There are last I heard over 25,000 motor vehicle registered on Martha's Vineyard. Parking? Traffic Engineers will give you an average of 1.2 people per each parked car. Where as 12 cyclists can park in the same space as one car. We are going to choke ourselves into perpetual year round gridlock before to long. We can't continue like this. We will be seeing our main streets becoming pedestrian and cyclists only with cars parking on the outskirts. We are doing it to ourselves. Yesterday I rode into Vineyard Haven. I took a round about way to get there. Down Barnes Rd to County, to Eastville by the hospital and over the draw bridge. On Beach Rd, traffic was backed up almost to the draw bridge from 5 Corners. Though bicycles are permitted by law to pass motor vehicles on the right, I personally think it's a bad idea, especially when approaching 5 Corners. I sat in traffic and inched along with all the other vehicles stuck there. It sure wasn't bicycles causing the gridlock. I have a very unique bicycle but a bicycle none the less. Went to the bank and grocery store and rode home.

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