Bike lanes are ‘nothing short of treacherous’

While state and town squabble, cyclists are at risk on sandy Beach Road.

Neither the state nor the town says they authorized this sign and both are pointing fingers at the other for the collecting sand in the new bike lane on Beach Road. — George Brennan

The newly created bike lanes along Beach Road in Vineyard Haven are a potential danger to cyclists because they’ve been filled with sand for weeks, with no sign of either the town or the state being willing to sweep them anytime soon.

At a joint meeting between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard select boards Oct. 18, officials on both islands were bemoaning the lack of maintenance on state roads by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). 

At that joint meeting, Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande said because of the lack of support from MassDOT, the town’s DPW actually sweeps Beach Road. “Presently, we have an agreement to do road sweeping — street sweeping — on Beach Road, because of their diminished presence on the Vineyard. They don’t sweep the road as often as it’s required to be done,” Grande said at that meeting. 

But when The Times asked Grande why Beach Road hasn’t been swept in the two-plus weeks since that meeting, even though there’s enough sand to build a pretty large castle, Grande appeared to contradict what he said at that joint meeting. “State has contracted for street-sweeping services. Previously, that contract had lapsed, and the town was sweeping out of necessity,” he wrote on Nov. 3. “The area is an active construction zone, and maintained by [the] contractor.”

But a spokesperson for MassDOT pointed the finger back at the town. “MassDOT’s contractor is responsible for the removal of any debris from its construction activities. The sand is a natural occurrence due to the roadway’s proximity to the beach and susceptibility to storm surges,” Judith Reardon Riley wrote. “The sand has been an issue in the past, and will unfortunately continue to be a future maintenance issue.”

Grande followed up, writing that Verizon is completing the relocation of wiring, and the road contractor, Lawrence Lynch, has a few more items to complete. “MassDOT will have Lawrence Lynch Brothers do a final sweeping prior to the final walkthrough,” he wrote. “MassDOT’s goal is to have Verizon … wrap up by the end of November, and then MassDOT can do a walkthrough late November or early December.”

Reardon Riley confirmed that work is continuing by Verizon, and that there is some landscaping, and sign installation still to be done. “MassDOT hopes to have a final walkthrough in early December,” she wrote.

Neither MassDOT nor the town could say who put out a temporary sign near Five Corners that states that bicycles must not operate on the sidewalks.
In the meantime, John Merrow, a cycling enthusiast who has written about the poor condition of Island bike paths for The Times, urges his fellow cyclists to beware of Beach Road: “My first reaction to the new bike path lining Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs was pure delight, and it still might be a total blessing, but unless the two towns, particularly V.H., begin to maintain the paths, it’s really just an accident waiting to happen. The sand buildup on the path out of V.H. is nothing short of treacherous. It basically forces cyclists to choose between riding through the mini-dunes (I’m not exaggerating!) or riding with the cars and trucks. I’m 81, and do not dare risk falling, and so I end up riding with the vehicles, which no doubt enrages drivers. Their anger should be directed at the local highway folks, not at me. But what a Sophie’s Choice for cyclists: Risk falling because of the sand OR getting hit by a car!”







  1. I rode my bike through those dunes yesterday. (Nov 7). It’s crazy negligent to not clear that sand. It’s an accident and a lawsuit waiting to happen. I wound up riding in the car lane most of the way myself. Even in the few spots that were not buried in sand, I stayed in the car lane so I wouldn’t have to swerve in and out of the bike lane. Cars behind me seemed understanding, as they can probably see the sand and understand why I was where I was.
    One other thing I have noticed is that bikers heading towards V.H often stay on the lagoon side of the road all the way into 5 corners and ride against traffic rather than cross beach road. I think some tourist don’t realize the bike path ends near winds up, and assume they are still on it. There needs to be some clear signage warning inbound bikers that the bike path is ending and they REALLY need to cross the road. The current signage is inadequate. That would be the place to put the flashing pedestrian signs. When I am coming from O.B I just stay on the right side of the road past the hospital and over the bridge. I think it’s a mistake to direct bikers to cross over on the ob side of the bridge.

  2. Agreed, Don. The state of these bike lanes renders them useless. I also have to bike in the regular car lane in order to avoid swerving in and out of the sandy bike lane. And there is little (if any) signage indicating it’s a bike lane. There are painted logos in the lane but they are entirely covered in sand.

  3. The sign has been in front of the store with the cat, next to the bike rental place for years. Someone must of moved it . Agree the sand is dangerous causing bikers to ride closer to the road.

    • The location of the cross-over at the Tisbury end of the bikepath was moved by the DOT, using inscrutable logic, and the sign indicating to bikers that they must now cross to the other (harbor) side to ride into town in lying in the bushes.

      The sand in the road has been a problem forever, now exacerbated by the creation of new, apparently planned stretches of sand by the side of the road.

      Under the circumstances it makes sense for bikers to choose the safest alternative they see, whether it be riding on the new sidewalks or riding with the stream of vehicle traffic, which they have the right to do.

      So, who will clean up the sand? The bike areas should be swept at least twice a week, maybe more often. Maybe the DOT should provide the Town with a sand-sweeping machine, or maybe two, the sweeping to be done by Town employees.

      It is not a good sign if this fairly simple technical safety issue cannot be solved by Town and State officials.

  4. And the sand problem isn’t limited to the Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. I took a really bad fall this summer because of sand on the bike path near the “Jaws Bridge.” It turned out to be a lot deeper than it looked. The bike paths need better maintenance island-wide; they’re a real asset to MV and should receive more care.

  5. I have been riding my bike though this section of roadway for years, and have never seen so much sand. Now they give us a real bike lane and sand is accumulating at a ridiculous rate.
    What changed ?Why is so much more sand there ? Is this a design flaw ?

  6. This has been an issue for decades. It is not new. Clearly, Mass DOT has stated that they do not intend to remove what they refer to as a “natural hazard”. From the head of the radiology department in Boston at Mass General the number 1 cause of fractures is from bicycles and sand is a major cause. Our DPW in Tisbury is thus left with the responsibility out of necessity since Mass DOT refuses. Obviously this is a stretch for our town but I will say this. As a property owner on Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs their DPW would send out workers with brooms and sweep it clean every day, In winter sidewalks would be cleared. Maybe we do not have enough equipment in Tisbury but it would seem like we sure could, and must, hire a few people to manage it if all else fails. Whatever method, Tisbury is on the hook since Mass DOT simply refuses and sidewalks, I believe, fall (no pun intended) on select boards to determine and control.

  7. I agree so much with the author and Don. The sand has always been a problem and I too was happy to see dedicated bike lanes on Beach Road…. until I saw how often they’re sandy. The arrows and bike icons are covered by sand so unless you know it’s a bike lane, you can’t tell. It’s a sad commentary that adult bicyclists need signs to tell them to ride with traffic after a bike path ends but that is another conversation. And yeah, Don. State Road is really scary but when I do find myself having to travel it on my bike, I choose to be in the road for the stretches that present clear danger. (From Auto Europa to Elio’s Grocery is especially treacherous!) This road is narrow, the shoulders are narrow and have sand or dirt or debris like a hubcap or small tree limb section or weeds growing or potholes. It’s neglected to say the least.

  8. Nature will be nature. Sand on a beach road is inevitable. Sand may be there one day and gone the next. Stop managing nature (sand). Que sera sera! Use your judgement/experience to determine whether you ride, walk or stay away. Use the appropriate bike to fit the road conditions, mountain, hybrid, road, or wide tire beach cruise. Expect government to protect you from every single adventure you undertake.

        • Albert– Tisbury already has at least one street sweeper. They already maintain it, and I doubt that it is difficult to operate. Clearly, the town already has experienced operators.
          But I have a question for you, Albert.
          What is the problem with picking up sand that is clearly hazardous to bicyclist ?
          In the construction industry, there is a concept of “backcharging”
          If the state doesn’t do it, the town should, and bill the state.
          I volunteer to drive the sweeper along that stretch of road if the town is short handed.

    • Roy– yes, nature will be nature. But the sand does not come and go. Watch it for a while. Small cracks will appear in asphalt, Water will get into those cracks and freeze/thaw over years. the cracks will expand and turn into potholes. The pavement will buckle and trucks will hit water filled potholes and project chunks of asphalt into the air which may hit your windshield.
      So when it gets to the point where the road is clearly unsafe, will you decide to walk or “stay away” ?
      Or will you petition the people in charge of the road to spend your tax dollars to fix it.
      I pay federal, state and local taxes. Everyone agrees the government should maintain roads.
      Bicycles have the same right to use the road as cars and trucks.
      I do not expect the government to protect me from every adventure I undertake, but I do expect them to provide reasonably safe road conditions for vehicles and bike riders.
      In the meantime, if you happen to get behind me on my bicycle and I am slowing you down, don’t blame me. Call the state and ask them to clean up their act. 857-368-4636 m-f 9-5

  9. Albert– I can always count on you for a thoughtful comment if andy is not around…
    The concept of bipedalism is nothing short of treacherous.
    I would opine that every single human on this planet who has at some point in their life had the ability to walk has fallen over.
    I am equally certain that a majority of bicycles have never fallen over.
    But regardless, as a society, we try to make things safer for pedestrians, motorcyclist, skateboarders, skiers, sleders, passengers on airlines, busses, taxis’, boats, people in wheelchairs, hikers, hang gliders, balloonists, and every other way that you can think of that people get from one place to another.
    Why would we not care about the safety of bicyclist ?

Comments are closed.