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John Coull & Jean Schwartz: ‘Safety’ can be defined differently in Route 9 cyclist case

First, we would not choose to ride any part of Route 9 if there were any reasonable alternative. The Norwottuck Rail Trail does not qualify as a reasonable alternative.

When we must be on Route 9 or a similar road, we are happy to ride in a designated bike lane or paved shoulder. However, in the absence of such a lane, we are reluctant to ride to the far right of the right-hand travel lane for good reason.

If a motorist sees us hugging the far right, it is likely that he will take that as an opportunity to pass us within the lane, possibly leaving us inches of safety (or not). But if I am in the middle of that travel lane, he is compelled to wait for a safe opportunity to use the next lane over and pass as he should.

We are hardly qualified to refute U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Kenneth P. Neiman’s 54-page decision, but we see nothing in the applicable laws saying a bicyclist must use the far right side of the right lane.

Consider this passage of the relevant state law: “The driver of a vehicle passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction shall drive a safe distance to the left of such other vehicle and shall not return to the right until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle; and, if the way is of sufficient width for the two vehicles to pass, the driver of the leading one shall not unnecessarily obstruct the other. If it is not possible to overtake a bicycle or other vehicle at a safe distance in the same lane, the overtaking vehicle shall use all or part of an adjacent lane if it is safe to do so or wait for a safe opportunity to overtake.”

Each use of the word “safe” is subject to judgment and definition. Whose judgment is more relevant? The motorist who has avoided (we hope) a slow-moving object, or the bicyclist who has felt his sleeve flutter from the near brush of a side mirror?

The first sentence of last week’s article reads, “A federal magistrate has ruled that bicyclists must ride to the right of traffic unless safety issues dictate otherwise.”

Who rules that “safety issues dictate otherwise?” Is it a magistrate who rules after a motorist is delayed that “safety issues did not dictate otherwise?”

Or is it ruled after a bicyclist is struck and injured that “safety issues did dictate otherwise?”

What did “safety issues dictate?”

We don’t know because we weren’t there. But we react viscerally to any headline or any judgment that suggests that bicyclists have fewer rights than motorists. Is this ruling truly consistent with Massachusetts law regarding safe cycling?

John Coull and Jean Schwartz live in Amherst.

Related

Judge rules on bicyclists' right to road; long-running Hadley bicycle harassment case moves to trial

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

HADLEY — A federal magistrate has ruled that bicyclists must ride to the right of traffic unless safety issues dictate otherwise. That conclusion was reached in a 54-page decision released last month by U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth P. Neiman in connection with a complaint brought in 2011 by bicyclist Eli Damon of Easthampton against the Hadley Police Department. Hadley police … 1

John Coull states that cyclists are never issued violations, I don't know what his point is, cyclists are rarely if never issued citations when compared to motorized vehicles, although cyclists frequently break the law, running red lights, no reflectors, etc. Otherwise, cyclists should be shown respect on the road as part of our community.

I began to read your editorial but as soon as I hit the second paragraph I stopped reading as I knew that reading any further was useless. Can you please embellish on this statement? "First, we would not choose to ride any part of Route 9 if there were any reasonable alternative. The Norwottuck Rail Trail does not qualify as a reasonable alternative. " Why is the Norwottuck Rail trail not a viable alternative? It runs parallel to Route 9, it is nor more than a few hundred feet to the North or South of Rte 9, and it has numerous access points to Rte 9. The only reason you would make this statement is because using it invalidates the entire argument. You want a dedicated bike lane on major state roadways? Fine, let's implement a registration policy for all riders over the age of 16. Pay a fee and get a plate. The money from annual fee is used to add dedicated bike lanes to numbered highways. Get caught with out a plate? Huge fine and loss of drivers license. I look forward to reading your response as to way a bike trail is not a viable alternative.

You have made very feasible and valid suggestions. But don't be disappointed if you don't get a response from them; they want to be accommodated in their plight for equal access to roads and the laws developed for motorized vehicles. They want the roads and drivers to conform to them, regardless of the safety issues derived not from ignorance as suggested by the writers, but from the mere fact that roads were not built and traffic laws were not developed to treat bicyclists as motorized vehicles. But your suggestions could help make the much needed changes. Though a large amount of money has been spent for bicyclists in accommodating them with the "bike paths", they claim it is not suitable. They will never be happy or safe because it is up to them to change, and they are not willing to do that, and would rather put themselves, drivers, and pedestrians at risk.

I think that a lot of calls for limiting cyclers' access to roads are misguided, but even I have to admit that the unqualified declaration that trail is not a "reasonable alternative" rings a little hollow to me. I use the trail all the time, and now that I have affordable puncture-proof tires to defend against the broken-glass pavement, have had no flats to fix. For me, and I think for a lot of people who bike, the relative safety of the trail far outweighs any inconvenience given the location. It has convenient access to the Hampshire Mall shopping areas. Even now that sections of it are closed, I can manage to get where I want to go by detouring down quieter--and as far as I'm concerned, far more bicycle safe--roads. I think that there are a lot of places where "share the road" bike advocacy makes sense, but it's hard to argue that there isn't a perfectly good alternative to Rt. 9 in Hadley. I'm not sure that this is the best choice of battles for the bike advocates.

Nicole Kidman has survived - spotted last night "wearing a sparkling black pencil skirt and black sleeveless top, with pretty red shoes" at the Calvin Klein Mercedes Benz bash (or was it Calvin spotted in a black pencil dress and pretty red shoes - who cares anymore). Anyway here's the link with all the gorey details enquiring minds want to know. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2419759/Nicole-Kidman-Calvin-Klein-party-following-bike-accident-revealed-press-charges.html

I'm trying to picture a paparazzo cyclist killing someone on route 9. You're right, Gary, we should alter the laws just in case Nicole Kidman stops by. Let's see how many times you post the exact same non sequitors on any bike related thread. For someone whose feelings are so easily hurt, you seem to expend a lot of energy seeking out abuste by making pointless "arguments" about anything from outdoor cats to bikes.

Nicole Kidman nearly killed by a cyclist yesterday. I hope this never happens on Rte.9. Lets not forget she has been spotted locally. We need to require registration for bicycles so we have a way to identify cyclists breaking the laws, licensing of cyclists over 18 with mandatory training and mandatory insurance. If they want to be treated like any other vehicle they should be treated similar to how motorcyclists are. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2419472/Nicole-Kidman-knocked-ground-cyclist-Ambulance-called-scene-New-York-fashion-show.html

Nicole Kidman was knocked down on a sidewalk by a photographer who happened to be on a bicycle. This is not relevant to the "Share the Road" discussion. I agree with Pascual I. You are without a point with that.

Its relevent in the sense that cyclists can be at fault and a bicycle can be a dangerous weapon. Thats all I was tyring to point out using a little light humor. And people using bicycles can use them in a dangerous way. A few weeks ago, I was driving through the center of Williamsburg when I came to a stop because a woman pushing a baby carriage was entering the crosswalk. Along came a racing cyclist, I don't think he was chasing anybody like the papparzzi, who barely missed her by feet. If his timing was off by just a few seconds that baby might have needed to be rushed to the emergency room. I would have called the police on him but had no way to do that because he had no registered identification on his bike like a car has. And then theres the kid who was killed at the intersection across from the future France Crowe commemorative corner in downtown Northampton. People are dying. More people are going to die until the rules are made clear to operators of both types of 'vehicles'. Here are two recent cases of a cyclist killing a pedestrian. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/16/us-usa-bicycle-manslaughter-idUSBRE97F00Y20130816

It's disgusting that you bring up the death of Harry Delmolino as part of your ridiculous anti-bike argument so that you could make a quip about Ms. Crowe is. Even for you. It's a shame, because If you're Delmolino comment wasn't so awful, this would have been one of your funnier posts. "People are dying. More people are going to die." So bicycles are the real weapon of mass destruction? "Cyclists can be at fault and a bicycle can be a dangerous weapon." You can make that argument about so many other things that aren't regulated. The other week, I almost had my eye poked out by someone's umbrella. Had it happend, since the umbrella was not tagged--and with my eyesight already impared by the umbrella poke--I would have had no way to report her to the police. Last month, I saw a man run over an old lady's toe with a shopping cart at Stop and Shop. Again, how on earth was I to find out who the jerk was? There was no tag on the cart. Part of the reason cars are more regulated is that it's pretty easy to hit and run someone with a car, not so much with a bike. Or am I missing something, and the chump that killed poor Mr. Hui is still at large? But let's be honest, you wouldn't care about this at all if most of the people who are bike advocates fall into your "outsider" category, and if the passionate responses you've been getting on these bike threads feed your desire to feel like someone's victim. But again, bringing up Delmolino as part of an argument that is basically representing him as a perpetrator of a pedal-powered crime against humanity takes you to a whole new level of class.

i didn't say he was the perpetrator. I said if we had known rules maybe it wouldn't have happened. The person who made the left turn in his car probably didn't know a bike might race through the intersection. He was only looking for a car. He needs to be educated on that and held accountable if he broke the law. The guy on the bike needed to know not every car is going to stop for him and since a car is more immovable than a bike, its the bikers job to not race through intersections expecting cars are always going to stop for him. I do it when I'm in my car. I look when I'm entering congested intersections even if I have the right of way. You just read everything the wrong way pascual, thats your problem. Every case I gave about a biker beiong at fault I specifically said they were at fault somewhere in the sentence. When I didn't say that you should have read into it that I was attributing no fault to the biker. As for registering umbrellas and shopping carts we don't need to because the persons involved are on foot and can be easily apprehended or identified. Its a bogus arguement. A bike can be a gettaway device too.

Oh! I thought I was on "ignore." But please (puh-lease!), don't pretend that the tone that drips off of your posts can be read any other way. This isn't the first time you've posted on this issue. You're latest "contribution" began with an absurd claim about regulation that would shift the inconvenience to cyclists, and obviously annoy people who identify passionately with cycling (I don't by the way, but I find the anti-cycling arguments more annyoing than even the most annoyingly entitled cyclists). So forgive me if I'm not overwhelmed by the good faith with which you invoke the deceased young man who was himself an avid cycler and part of the community that you you've vilified before. I mean, you just today were talking about rt. 9 as a place where a cyclist would kill Nicole Kidman! Maybe you realize you've crossed the lines of good taste, and are backtracking. I miss the old conservatives with their iron clad convictions. It was easier to offer a grudging respect to them than to their weasly and degenerate desdendants. But it seems like whiny passive agression is now par for the course with you guys. Bad enough you spew this stuff on line, now you don't even want to own your trolling. Also, " A bike can be a gettaway device too" is just a dumb statement. While it's possible that someone on a bike could injure someone and not stop, bikes are much lighter things than cars and a collision is infinitely more likely to injure a cyclist than a motorist. Why is this so hard for some people to get their minds around? Could a cyclist cause a fatal fall and get away in a freak accident? Maybe. But there is such a fundamental difference between the physicality of cars and bikes that the comparison is either very dumb or disingenuous. You take your pick.

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