2008-08-14 / Front Page

Cyclists or motorists: who rules the road?

By Sam Bari

The question of who has the right of way on Jamestown's roads, cyclists or motorists, appears to have many from both camps confused.

According to state and municipal laws, both cyclists and motorists have the same rights and follow the same regulations. The problem is, "Many motorists and cyclists don't know what the regulations are," said Jamestown Police Sgt. Karen Catlow.

"The only difference between the two is that cyclists are supposed to keep as far to the right as possible to avoid impeding traffic," Catlow said. Cars must use turn signals, and cyclists are required to use hand signals. Motorists can use one or the other or both, as long as a signal is given 100-feet or more before action is taken. The important thing is to make their intentions clear to those around them so they can respond accordingly, Catlow said.

Cyclists can ride two abreast provided they are not impeding traffi c, she said. On many Jamestown streets, this is not possible. Consequently, cyclists should follow one another at a safe distance and stay as close to the right hand side of the road as they can. Riding a bicycle against the traffic is against the law, just as it would be against the law for a car to drive into an oncoming lane.

Bicycles are not permitted on sidewalks unless signs are posted that say otherwise. Cyclists must also stop at stop signs, and give way to pedestrians in crosswalks.

"The state recently posted signs on North Main Road, East Shore Road, Hamilton Avenue and other main thoroughfares that say, "Share the Road," Catlow said.

"If people would do just that, share the road and display a little common courtesy, there would be less confrontation and fewer accidents," said Jamestown Officer Rui Silva. "Most of the complaints come from people who either don't know the rules, or who have a confrontation with someone who is ignorant of the rules of the road."

"Whenever a confrontation between a motorist and a cyclist occurs, we encourage the parties involved to call the police," Catlow said. "It doesn't take long for an argument to escalate into an unmanageable or physical confrontation."

Rachel Wigton, a competitive cyclist and tri-athlete, was recently involved in an accident that landed her in the hospital with a broken jaw and other serious injuries. She said that she feels good and expects to fully recover. However, she said that the accident made her aware of how fragile humans are, and how important it is to not assume that everyone is paying attention.

"I ran into a car that turned in front of me. I'm not saying it was the driver's fault. I didn't see him turning until it was too late, but I don't think he saw me until I hit him," Wigton said. "The point is, drivers and cyclists have to be more aware and pay closer attention to what's happening around them."

Wigton feels that motorists don't look for cyclists and often pass going too fast and too close. "It really makes me nervous when they pass that closely. They leave no room for error. I don't know if it's intentional or if they aren't aware of how dangerous it is, but it's very frightening when you feel like you might be run off the road," she said.

Wigton has never had a confrontation with a motorist. She said that she always stops at stop signs and always gives clear hand signals. She has found that motorists respond courteously as long as cyclists make their intentions known and don't act as if they own the road.

Her advice to other cyclists is to pay attention, and always wear a helmet. She said that wearing a helmet probably saved her life. Everyone under the age of 15 is required to wear one, Wigton said. "But I think anybody who rides without wearing a helmet is foolish," she added.

Abby Anthony, another competitive cyclist, concurred with Wigton. "I've never had a confrontation with a motorist either," she said. "I train early in the morning, around 5:30 a.m., when there is little traffic and it's safer to ride fast. Sometimes we go 25 to 30 miles an hour just like the cars. At those speeds, you can't afford to have an accident."

Anthony said that she strictly follows the rules of the road. If there is traffic in the area, she stays to the right and always gives clear hand signals in plenty of time, so motorists know her intentions.

Dick Rembijas, a Jamestown contractor, said that as a motorist he never has problems with the professional and serious athletes. "It's the groups of bikers that get together and ride in packs. They sometimes ride down Beavertail Road four abreast and get an attitude when you want to pass them," he said. "I can't tell you how many times I've seen these groups at the four corners go through the light in a pack without stopping." He said that he doesn't know what makes them think they are above the law.

"When we see cyclists breaking the law, we will give them a citation the same as if they were a motorist," Catlow said. The problem, according to Catlow, is that cyclists and motorists both behave when police are in the area. The police have to observe them breaking the law before they can do anything about their behavior.

Julie Kallfelz, an avid cyclist and president of "Rolling Agenda," a Jamestown cycling group said that she has never had a confrontation with a motorist because she follows the rules.

"The only time I see problems is when I take my children to school and I see cyclists and motorists coming to intersections or turning corners and not knowing what to do," she said. "I think it's a question of not knowing the rules." She said that the regulations are very clear about who has the right of way and when. She said that most of the time it's just a question of being courteous and taking turns.

Richard Harrington, a visitor from Portsmouth was at Beavertail State Park riding his bicycle with his children. "I'm an avid cyclist," Harrington said. "I come to Jamestown to ride all the time because I find that Jamestown drivers are accustomed to sharing the road with bicycles. As long as you're courteous and obey the rules, you don't have to worry. I just teach my kids to wear helmets and pay attention. They know the rules."

The police said that they have the same complaints about skateboarders from pedestrians and motorists alike. The law says that skateboarding is not permitted where others will be put in danger. This means on the street and on sidewalks. Neither skateboards nor bicycles are permitted to be ridden on sidewalks or on the street in traffic, Catlow said.

"If we see skateboarders riding where they aren't supposed to, we take the skateboards and tell the skateboarders to come in with their parents to pick them up," Catlow said.

According to the police, the rules of the road apply to everybody, motorists, cyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians and if everybody paid more attention to the basic rules of courtesy, there would be fewer accidents, confrontations, and traffic violations.

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