Tuesday, December 17, 2013
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following comments address a recently resolved federal court case about a cyclist’s use of Route 9 in Hadley — starting with a statement from the rider himself.
Cyclist Eli Damon explains his motives
I’ve been the subject of ongoing coverage regarding my lawsuit against the Hadley police. Many misunderstandings have developed despite Dan Crowley’s generally accurate reporting. I want to correct the most egregious of these.
Gazette editorial authors and others have expressed unwarranted assumptions about my motivation for both my driving and my litigation. They didn’t bother to ask me about my motivation and their assumptions are belied by bicycle safety literature, court documents, my writing and facts reported in the Gazette itself.
Cycling safety is a subject of great familiarity and importance to me as a cycling instructor. Driving in the middle of a lane, far from being dangerous, is well recognized among experts and instructors as a crucial safety technique for drivers of narrow vehicles (e.g. bicycles, motorcycles; see cyclingsavvy.org).
I depend on cycling for safe and convenient transportation, which it can only provide if I feel free to exercise lane control when I deem it necessary. I brought the lawsuit to protect myself from arbitrary police action, not to clarify traffic law or affirm cyclists’ right to the road.
If traffic law had been primary, then Officer Mitchell Kuc would merely have ticketed me and the issue could have been settled in traffic court. Instead, he threatened me, seized my property and charged me with crimes. I made every effort to resolve the conflict in the least disruptive manner possible, but my requests for dialogue and intervention were rejected or disregarded by officials at all levels.
Being stonewalled, the only way to have my complaint heard was with a lawsuit. I undertook it without the least enthusiasm and I am relieved it’s over.
Riders need to obey all of the road rules
I had to chuckle at the recent article about the bicycle activist in Hadley, since on a daily basis I see folks on bicycles do any or all of the following — refuse to signal turns, refuse to stop for traffic signals, refuse to keep far right when I can see there is no debris to prevent it, travel against traffic and at night, refuse to use any kind of meaningful light that will give us drivers more than two seconds of warning before making you a hood ornament.
I’m all for sharing the road, but before you cry and whine about cars not giving bicycles their due, try obeying the bicycle laws on the books first.
After all, a 200-pound person and bike versus a 3,500-pound car — it’s not rocket science — you do the math.
Between lines on Damon settlement
Like many in the area, I have followed for several years the conflict between bicyclist Eli Damon and the Police Department of the town of Hadley, and like many I am glad that it has finally been satisfactorily resolved, essentially appropriately. The announcement of the settlement on the front page of the Gazette accompanied by an editorial the same day — a rare occurrence in my memory — was a striking amount of attention to the matter, for which I thank you.
I, too, am a bicycling advocate, and have served for the past six or seven years as the representative of MassBike on the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s Joint Transportation Committee and its Bike-Ped Subcommittee, both of which meet on the second Wednesday of every month at the PVPC and are open to the public. I am a former member of the statewide board of MassBike and of the board of the PV chapter. I am well aware that the law that guarantees the right of bicyclists (and pedestrians, for that matter) to use the roads is unknown to some and misunderstood by many, including, unfortunately, some members of some law enforcement agencies.
One sentence in the editorial suggests that it is not truly completely understood by its author: “if it (the town) accepts the pact, it is agreeing Damon has a right to bicycle in a travel lane if it is unsafe to ride closer to the shoulder or off the road altogether.” This leaves some ambiguity that the law and the ruling do not: a cyclist cannot be required to ride on the shoulder, if that is what the writer had in mind — although many, myself included, choose to do so when it is sufficiently wide and safe and clear of debris, unless it is marked as a bicycle travel lane, or “off the road altogether” unless the road is closed to all traffic.
Drivers who pass a bicyclist shouting “Get off the road!,” as has happened to me more than once, are out of order, and those who, like the infamous woman from Westhampton in the red pickup truck who frequently passed dangerously close to cyclists on rural roads several years ago, as she did to me once, reportedly “in order to teach them a lesson for their own safety,” have a lesson to learn themselves, perhaps more than one.
The law is clear: cyclists have the right to use the road, which comes with the responsibility to share it appropriately by not obstructing faster moving vehicles from passing when appropriate and safe to do so, much like drivers of farm machinery do on rural roads.
Motorists are not always as careful in this passing maneuver as they ought to be, and often make false assumptions about why a bicyclist is not closer to the shoulder, because they don’t necessarily realize that the bicyclist has a much closer view of that shoulder and therefore a better perception of the hazards in it than the motorist does.
Damon’s attorney is correct is stating that the ruling, whose 54 pages I read carefully, is very significant as the first of its kind in the federal court system; it did not change the law, but clearly and emphatically reinforced it.
Too many motorists are unwilling to cut bicyclists some slack and yield some pavement to them. Too many forget that driving is a privilege, not an inalienable right; the one that is inalienable for all is the right to use the roads in safety. Most are also unaware that many of the first roads that were paved, some of them in New England, in Connecticut in particular, were actually done for bicyclists before the advent of automobiles.
Marvin J. Ward