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Hadley bicyclists’ rights case rolls on in federal court

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After two hours of line-by-line examination of those laws, Magistrate Judge Kenneth P. Neiman postponed a ruling on the case of Easthampton resident and bicyclist Eli Damon against the Hadley Police Department. The case has the potential to go to trial, according to Neiman.

Lawyers for Damon and Hadley police have not been able to come to terms on the conditions under which bicyclists share the road with motor vehicles, as well as other alleged civil rights violations outlined in Damon’s lawsuit.

The case centers around three traffic stops in Hadley between August 2009 and March 2010 in which Damon, 36, formerly of Amherst, alleges police harassed him for riding in traffic along Route 9 in Hadley. During one stop, police seized his bicycle and a video camera attached to his helmet, which Damon was using to record his interactions with police to protect himself, according to his complaint.

According to police reports, Damon had been riding in the middle of the right lane in four-lane sections of Route 9 during periods of heavy traffic. One report describes cars traveling slowly behind Damon while he waved for them to pass him in the left lane.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are Hadley Police Chief Dennis Hukowicz, Sgt. Michael Mason and Patrol Officer Mitchell Kuc.

During the first stop, officers told Damon it was dangerous to ride in traffic and ordered him to keep to the breakdown lane. The next month, during a similar episode, officers confiscated his bike and video equipment.

In March 2010, Kuc issued Damon a court summons on a charge of disorderly conduct, and wrote him a ticket for failing to keep right. At the time, Kuc wrote in a police report that Damon’s middle-lane travel “serves no legitimate purpose to him other than for him to exercise his opinion of the law.”

“The problem we have is the defendant wants to ride in the middle of the lane, no matter what,” said Carole Sakowski Lynch, an attorney representing Hadley police in federal court Monday. “He’s just going his merry way down the lane. He’s going to get squashed.”

Kuc had also brought an illegal wiretap charge because Damon used a video camera strapped to his helmet to record their encounter without his consent. An Eastern Hampshire District Court Judge in October, 2010, threw out the disorderly conduct and wiretap charges, but not the ticket.

Andrew Fischer, a Boston lawyer representing Damon, argued Monday that Hadley police were not concerned with Damon’s safety as a bicyclist when they stopped him, but with slowed traffic on Route 9 caused by Damon riding his bike in the right travel lane, which he has a right to do under the law. Fischer argued that asking a bicyclist to move to the side of the road potentially puts that person in more danger when curb and shoulder conditions are unsafe or unfit for bicyclists.

“A bicyclist has a right to be in the roadway,” Fischer said. “These stops were harassment. These stops were ‘Let’s pick on the nerdy bicyclist from Amherst.’ ”

Damon’s complaint also alleges that taking his bike represented an illegal seizure of property by police. In court Monday, he said Hadley police would not similarly seize a motorist’s car and then tell that person to walk to the police station to pick it up.

Neiman said the case, which had earlier gone to mediation without success, seems difficult to resolve and could potentially require a jury trial. On the one hand, Neiman said Damon’s position seems “too hard and fast,” and the judge also expressed concern that the Town of Hadley and its police officers had not fully taken into account the particular conditions involved when Damon was stopped.

Neiman took the case under advisement. It is not clear when a ruling will be issued.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

Here is a link to a case involving a bicyclist who killed a pedestrian and now has pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter. The link is to todays Guardian. If they want to be on the road and treated like a car they should have mandatory insurance. The bicyclist is also being sued by the victims widow. Insurance (and state licensing and registration) should be mandatory if they want to be treated like cars and ride in the same lanes as cars. http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2013/jul/24/san-francisco-cyclist-manslaughter

For another perspective on bicycle safety, go to cyclingsavvy.org FAQ and watch the animated diagram. You will be able to clearly see the relative risk of of riding in the lane as opposed to riding on the shoulder.

If they want to drive like cars then they need to be registered and licensed like cars. Also there has to be mandatory insurance for bycyclists to be on the road to protect not only themselves but damage to other people and their property. This is inevitable if they want to be treated with the same rights as people driving cars.

The main problem I have with bicyclists is that many of them want to pick and choose which laws they will abide. And then they want to kick and scream about having equal right to the roadways with motor vehicles. You had better not squeeze them on the shoulder or door them by accident! But it's fine for them to run stop signs and stop lights whenever they get the itch. I was stopped at a 4-way intersection (stop signs) and began to proceed through when it was my turn. All of a sudden here comes this woman (with a child in a rear bicycle seat, no less), arm up in the air to declare her turning direction (at least she got that part right) rolling right into the intersection. No stopping at all. I continued to drive and she cast me the dirtiest look as if I was at fault!

We really DO need to have better laws defining the use of bicycles on the roads. I see them all the time on sidewalks, which they're not supposed to be on - and I see them ridden across cross walks, in which they are required to get off the bike and walk across. I'm confused - are they a pedestrian or a vehicle?? They will pull up along side you at a stop sign, when they should be behind you, and assume that you will give them the right of way. Each time is an accident waiting to happen! Better laws please, so that we can ALL know what is correct and what is expected of us legally.

Are you serious? And when he gets hit by a car or maybe even a speeding cruiser or ambulance, he'll sue that town! A while back I was driving across the Coolidge Bridge when the traffic was really slow and the cars were weaving around something. It ended being a bicyclist riding in the middle of the left lane. It was a definite hazard because cars were weaving all over the place trying to get into that lane to gain access to 91. You are ridiculous and you are trying to make a point that will lead to injuries or property damage. You have the bike trail, breakdown lane and the sidewalk if need be. Get on with your life!

I agree with all of the above, except, please stay off the sidewalk.

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