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James Lowenthal: Judge’s decision in Route 9 bicycling case nuanced

The Gazette said in an editorial that U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth P. Neiman’s ruling on the case of bicyclist Eli Damon vs. the Hadley Police Department and its chief and two officers “seems closer to what Hadley police were arguing,” i.e. that Damon was wrong, and unsafe, to be riding in the middle of the right-most travel lane of Route 9 in Hadley.

I disagree. Judge Neiman’s ruling — which is based on an exceptionally careful and thorough consideration of Massachusetts law as well as the details of the case — makes it clear that there are “reciprocal obligations on the part of both motorists and bicyclists to ensure that passing would occur only at a time when it is safe to do so and in a safe manner.”

He also points out that “one person’s idea of ‘safety’ may differ greatly from another’s.” This sounds like a nuanced and even-handed assessment, and does not seem biased towards either Damon’s or the Hadley Police Department’s claims.

The paper also implies that Damon was intentionally provoking the police to “prove a point” by exercising his legal right to bike in the middle of the travel lane on Route 9 in Hadley. But I see nothing in Judge Neiman’s 57-page ruling to support that claim, and I know of no evidence to support it either. Rather, I take Damon’s actions and claims at face value: that, like most of us bicyclists, he was just riding his bike to get from A to B in the way he felt was safest as well as legal.

Do bicyclists need the help of police officers to enforce the law in the name of safety? Certainly, especially when it comes to aggressive or distracted motorists. But stopping bicyclists for riding legally on public roads — even if they do delay some motorists for a few seconds — is a misguided use of resources.

Let’s focus instead on the illegal behavior that has actually been shown by numerous studies to be dangerous, such as motorists passing or turning unsafely and bicyclists riding the wrong way, running red lights or riding at night without lights.

You conclude that “roads are for sharing. And to share, everyone has to give a little ground.” Agreed!

James Lowenthal is president of MassBike/Pioneer Valley.

Related

Editorial: A wise ruling on bicyclist’s use of Route 9 in Hadley

Monday, September 9, 2013

This just in: When pedaling along a public road, bicyclists should ride as close to the right as they can safely, allowing vehicles to pass. Common sense? Yes. Agreed to by all? Unfortunately, no. It took U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth P. Neiman 54 pages in a recent decision to sort through complaints and counter-claims related to an Easthampton man’s decision …

Legacy Comments1

I've been thinking about this hot-button issue for a good long while...this is too big to just copy and paste but exactly what you're talking about... http://mymorningprologue.com/2012/09/07/knucklehead-on-a-bicycle-part-1/ I think there's more to the bike/auto issue than not following traffic rules, that's for sure, and there is a certain "fighting for my rights as a road user" that courses through my veins when I'm behind the handlebars. http://mymorningprologue.com/2012/09/07/knucklehead-on-a-bike-part-2/

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