To the Editor:
Recent letters to the editors in both Island newspapers raised questions about the use of the Vineyard’s “bike” paths. The Island’s nearly 40 miles of bike paths are technically “shared use paths” (SUP) designed for recreational use by pedestrians and bicyclists. This combination requires path users to exercise caution and to practice some common rules of etiquette. With the summer upon us, it is timely to remind people traveling around the Vineyard — visitors and Islanders alike, whether pedestrian, cyclist, or motorist — how to move about safely along our narrow and often congested travel ways. While this is a long message, everyone needs to know the rules of the road (and sidewalks and bike paths), and exercise patience.
First, everyone should understand that even where bike 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.
Here are additional reminders for moving about:
- On sidewalks, be mindful of other users. Vineyard sidewalks are usually modest in width, so it is even more considerate to stay to one side of the sidewalk when possible, especially when pausing. Try to use crosswalks in the town centers. That is where motorists and cyclists expect to have people step out into the roadway. Even when using a crosswalk, look both ways before stepping into the road.
- If you are on a bike path, keep in mind other users such as bicyclists, skateboarders, and rollerbladers that travel faster and will have to pass you. Stay to the right side of the path unless you are passing others. Look behind you before moving across the width of the path. If you must stop on a congested path, try to step off the path to prevent additional backup.
- If walking along a roadway, always walk against traffic. You need to see if a distracted driver is not noticing your presence and be prepared to jump aside. Be aware that not all roads have shoulders for you to avoid walking on the pavement. If walking at night, have a flashlight, or use your smart phone as a light to alert drivers of your presence.
- When riding on a road, you are legally required to follow the same traffic laws as if you were in a car. Always ride WITH traffic. It is against the law to ride the wrong way on a one-way street. Generally, you should ride on the right side of the travel lane, to the left side of the white “fog” line. Some cyclists may prefer to ride to the right side of the fog line when there is enough pavement available. Just be aware that paved shoulders are highly variable in width, and can include sand, debris, and drain gates that may result in suddenly needing to merge back into the travel lane. It is best to keep a steady track rather than weaving from one side of the fog line to the other. Riding in a predictable manner — like a motorist on the road — improves your safety.
- Remember that “share the road” also means you should not unnecessarily hold up motor traffic. While it is legal to ride two abreast, do so only when it does not prevent motorists from passing due to traffic volumes, or curvy or hilly roads. To allow motorists and faster cyclists to safely pass, ride single-file when in groups, and spread out. Many Island roads present limited opportunities to pass even one or two cyclists. Consider pulling off the road and pausing if you find many vehicles behind you. Make it easier for motorists to share the road.
- When using the bike paths, remember that they are essentially wide sidewalks, which pedestrians also use. Pay attention and behave as if you were on the roadway: stay to the right, pass on the left, slow down to adjust for congestion. Remember that pedestrians have the right of way, and give them an audible warning when passing (say “Bike passing” or “On your left”). Anticipate other path users acting unpredictably. Be alert for motor vehicles crossing the path from side roads and driveways. Stop only when you can pull off the path, so as not to obstruct other users. Many cyclists find the paths too congested and choose to stay on the roadway.
- 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 is 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 lifesaving sounds?
- Always be on the lookout for pedestrians. Even in our town centers, not all streets have sidewalks. And pedestrians have been known to cross streets at places other than designated crosswalks! Many roads in the rural areas do not have sufficient shoulders for people to step off the pavement when vehicles approach. Slow down.
- Bicyclists on the road are legal and are part of traffic, even when there is a “bike” path next to the road. Bikes are (usually) slower-moving vehicles that you may have to wait behind before passing.
- Look both ways when crossing a bike path. When exiting a driveway or turning off a main road, remember that cyclists and pedestrians have the right of way.
- 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 the faster you are traveling. It is 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. An adult on a bike may represent one less car on the road and 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 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, contact senior planner Bill Veno at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission at 508-693-3453, ext. 115 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Simon Shapiro, chair
Martha’s Vineyard Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee