Share the Road (486 words)
Note: this is too long for many larger papers but may be acceptable in a small local paper. Check your newspaper before you write a long letter!
Over the course of the summer, I was witness to many problems between bicyclists and motorists on North Avenue. In nearly all cases, the problem seems to be a lack of understanding about how to share the road. The most common problems concerned:
Speeding motorists. There are simply waaaay too many people trying to travel 40+ on North Ave, and it's not just those coming off 127; as soon as the road widens to two lanes, some northbound drivers seem to believe they've entered a highway. Think about this: a motorist traveling 40mph on North Avenue is (proportionately) equivalent to a motorist traveling 87mph on the interstate.
What lane should the bicyclist be in? Bicyclists should be in the lane that best reflects their travel intentions. That means a northbound bicyclist traveling to the Ethan Allen shopping center should, and has every right to, shift to the left-hand lane to make a left into the shopping center. Likewise, a southbound bicyclist at the intersection for the High School should be in the "straight ahead" lane if they plan to continue on North Avenue and in the right lane only if they plan to make a right.
Lack of communication. Both drivers and bicyclists need to signal their travel intentions and be aware of those signals.
How much of the lane should the cyclist occupy? In an ideal world, road surfaces would be even from curb to curb, but North Avenue can be very rough, especially around the drains. A bicyclist who isn't hugging the curb is simply trying to avoid dangerous swerving around obstacles close to the curb. Recently some of the obstacles have included vehicles annoyingly parking in the bike lanes between North Street and the high school.
Sidewalk bicyclists. Not only does this make the sidewalk unsafe for pedestrians, it is unsafe for the bicyclist, because drivers pulling out of side streets and parking lots are not looking for traffic moving faster than a jogger on the sidewalk (nor should they have to!). It is illegal for bicyclists over the age of 16 to ride on the sidewalk.
Invisible bicyclists. A headlight and rear reflector are an absolute must (under State law, no less!) for evening/night cycling.
In general, bicyclists and drivers need to remember that we're all part of the same traffic system, not separate or competing systems. Obey the rules of the road, be courteous, and be patient!
The Vermont Bike and Pedestrian Coalition (802-279-7545 or www.vtbikeped.org) and the Vermont Driver's Manual (see the DMV) both provide a wealth of information on sharing the road.
Lastly, remember that cycling:
is good for your health, both physically and financially (a bike is much less expensive to operate per mile than a car)
is good for the planet's health
is good for our nation's health, by reducing use of foreign oil Alex Reutter, Burlington, VT
A Teachable Moment (266 Words)
On Saturday, as my partner and I were riding our bikes through Bradford village, on our way to the recycling center, a woman in a blue car honked her horn behind us. As she drove past us she rolled down her window and screamed. "Get the f***off the road."
I smiled and waved as she drove by and told myself this was about her not me. Most people that drive by us respect a bicyclist's right to the road but some don't. I suppose this woman might have been angry that she couldn't drive as fast as she wanted but there are many reasons one must slow down in the village: turning cars, pedestrians, school buses or parked cars.
More likely she was angry because she doesn't know that bicyclists have a legal right to the road. Here are some of the rules for sharing the road.
Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles. When you see a bicyclist, reduce your speed and give at least three feet of passing space, just as you would any other slow moving vehicle, and don't pass if oncoming traffic is near. When turning left at an intersection yield to oncoming bicyclists, just as you would to oncoming motorists. When uncertain in any situation, slow down until it's safe to pass.
If people want more information about sharing the road, contact the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition www.vtbikeped.org, P.O. Box 1234, Montpelier VT. 05601 802-279-7545. The Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote bicycling and walking in Vermont.
Kathy Davidow, Bradford
Slow Down for Bicycles (289 words)
I live on Northfield Street in Montpelier, where it seems that many motorists have forgotten the speed limit is 25 mph up to the Econolodge/Indian Restaurant, and only 30 mph until the underpass under I-89.
As you crest the hill, you may see me on my bicycle. I'm often very nervous when cars pass me on the hill, because very few motorists wait until they can see the road is clear. Please slow down and wait until it is safe to pass!
On the way down the hill, you can expect to see me riding in the middle of the lane. I'm usually doing 25-30 mph myself at this point, so please don't try to pass me! The edge of the road is rough, broken pavement so I need to move out to the middle in order to maintain good control of the bicycle.
Don't worry, you'll be able to see me. I dress for visibility, in a bright yellow jacket, and with lights at dusk or at night. A front light is required by state law, but a rear light is smart, too.
I chose to ride my bicycle because it keeps me fit and healthy, and because I feel much happier than sitting in my car. (Did you ever notice how grouchy people when stuck in traffic?) In these days of $2 a gallon gas, I'm also very happy not to be driving my car much.
Maybe you would also like to try bicycling to work, but don't know where to start? If you want tips on clothing or on riding with traffic -- check out the resources on the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition website www.vtbikeped.org or feel free to call me at the office 279-7545.
Becka Roolf, Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition, Montpelier, VT