Some tips for busy summer bicycling
To the Editor:
With the summer season ready to truly burst forth this July 4 weekend, it is again timely to remind people traveling around the Vineyard — visitors and Islanders alike, whether motorist or bicyclist — of the need for safety on our narrow and often congested roads and shared-use paths. While this is a long message, for motorists and bicyclists to safely travel about, everyone needs to know the rules of the road and exercise patience.
A starting point concerns the shared-use paths, a.k.a. "bike paths." These paths extend along several main down-Island roads and the State Forest and present an alternative to cyclists who would rather not ride in roadways. But even where these paths exist, bicyclists retain the legal right to ride in the roadway. Pedestrians, slow-moving cyclists, and debris on the paths may make opting to ride on the road safer for everyone, especially faster cyclists.
When in the roadway, cyclists have the right to be in the travel lane used by cars. Some cyclists may choose to keep to the shoulder, but debris, drainage grates, and variable shoulder width often make it safer to stay consistently inside the edge of the travel lane rather than weave in and out of the travel lane to avoid such obstacles.
Here are a few additional reminders for safe bicycling and driving on Martha's Vineyard.
• When riding on a road, remember to follow the same traffic laws as if you were in a car because, by law, you must obey the traffic laws for motorists. Always ride with traffic. It is against the law to ride the wrong way on a one-way street. By law, cyclists must ride on the right side of the travel lane, or in the shoulder, unless positioning to turn left. Ride predictably by obeying the rules of the road.
• Remember, share the road also means you shouldn't unnecessarily hold up motor traffic. To allow motorists and faster cyclists to safely pass on narrow roads, ride single file when in groups and spread out. Especially on winding roads, opportunities to pass even one or two cyclists are limited, let alone a half-dozen or more cyclists. Make it easier for motorists to share the road.
• When using the shared-use paths, pay attention. Think of yourself as a motorist on the roadway: stay to the right, pass on the left, slow down to adjust for congestion — anticipate other path users to act unpredictably. Remember that pedestrians have the right of way, and give them an audible warning when passing (say "Bike passing" or "On your left"). Be alert for motor vehicles crossing the path from side roads and driveways. Also, pull off of the path when pausing, so as not to obstruct the path for other users.
• Riding on sidewalks is permissible, except in downtown areas and where posted otherwise. Yield to pedestrians and walk your bicycle when conditions dictate.
• Protect yourself. Although Massachusetts law requires riders 16 and under to wear a helmet, all riders should. It's also the law that you have proper lights and reflectors when riding after dark. Bicycling with headphones or ear buds is strongly discouraged. Why take the chance of not hearing potentially life-saving sounds?
• When crossing a shared-use path — whether exiting a driveway or turning off a main road — remember that cyclists and pedestrians always have the right of way. (The stop signs for bikes at some path intersections are cautionary and are to be phased out by the towns.)
• Bicyclists on the road are legal and are part of traffic. They are (usually) more slowly moving vehicles that you may have to wait behind before passing.
• When passing cyclists on the roadway, please do so cautiously and courteously. Pass only when you are sure there are no oncoming vehicles. State law requires you allow at least three feet between you and a cyclist when passing, but you should allow more space the faster you are traveling. It's usually best not to honk your horn while passing, especially from immediately behind. The blast can jolt cyclists and cause them to lose control.
• Remember that bicycling is beneficial. For every adult who is biking, there is one less car on the road and one less car hunting for a parking space. Bicycling is also healthier, less expensive, and more environmentally friendly than driving.
For more information on bike safety, biking to work or school, or bicycle laws, visit www.massbike.org. Vineyard bike shops can also provide you with information, as well as helmets, lights, and other gear.
For information on how to get involved with bicycle and pedestrian issues on the Vineyard, or for other cycling-related information, call or e-mail me at 508-693-3453 x15 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Joint Transportation Committee Bicycle and Pedestrian representative David Whitmon at 508-693-4905 (email@example.com). Safety first.
Senior Planner For the Bicycle and Pedestrian
Planning Advisory Committee,
Martha's Vineyard Commission