2008-09-18 / Letters to the Editor

Banning cyclists from island will not solve problem

I read with dismay a recent Sept. 12 letter entreating the Town Council to stop encouraging cyclists to come to Jamestown "in the name of safety and the restoration of some tranquility that residents have lost." The view that cyclists are somehow the cause of that writer's loss of tranquility here seems unfortunate and constitutes a misguided attack on cyclists.

Despite his desire to the contrary, the operation of bicycles is allowed on all roadways of this state, including Conanicut Island, in accordance with laws that govern motor vehicles and with specific laws that govern bicycles. Hence, motorists and cyclists who believe or act otherwise are warned to "share the road."

Most of us who are cyclists are taxpayers and also motorists who pay through our income, sales, and fuel taxes, penalties, fines and fees for road construction and maintenance out of the state general treasury fund. I believe that road maintenance on the town level comes from unrestricted funds. It is not correct or helpful to the dialog to state that motorists alone exclusively pay for and can claim sole dominion over the roads here by virtue of their paying registration and license fees for their motor vehicles. Also, these being public roads, I am not sure there is any lawful way, nor would we want to, ban nonresidents from using our roads.

Bicyclists have obligations while sharing the roads, the most basic rule of which is to "Ride Right," meaning stay on the right side of the road, riding with the traffic. Beyond that, unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there about the laws.

For example, an Aug. 14 Press article stated that cyclists can ride two abreast provided they are not impeding traffic. That paragraph, attributed to a police officer, also read that "On many Jamestown roads, that is not possible. Consequently, cyclists should follow one another at a safe distance…" Actually, RI General Laws 31-19-7 provides: "Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two (2) abreast except on bicycle trails or paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Persons riding two (2) abreast shall not unduly impede traffic and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane."

So, there is nothing unof lawful about cyclists riding two abreast as long as 1) it does not unduly impede traffic if not on a laned roadway, and also 2) it does not unduly impede traffic and it is in the same lane if on a laned roadway. The last time I checked the definition of "unduly," it meant excessive, improper, or inappropriate. If a motorist has to slow down or pass on the left, that does not constitute unduly impeding traffic. Whereas, if I am riding erratically, going the wrong way, or not staying to the right while two abreast, actually preventing traffic from passing, then I am unduly impeding a motorist.

I ride a lot around here and I am often frustrated by the conduct of motorists, other cyclists and pedestrians on Jamestown roads. A SUV driver with a ton of metal creates unnecessary risk by speeding up, side-swiping a cyclist, or honking loudly as she passes. A non-sanctioned racing cyclist gives all other cyclists a bad name when he will not let a motorist pass when there is heavy traffic going both ways. A parent teaching a child to ride on the left side of the road up a hill into on-coming traffic because it is "safer" creates more danger for both the child and the motorist coming over that hill. Pedestrians put a cyclist at risk by walking three abreast, not on the left side facing traffic, but on the right with traffic behind them, listening to an Ipod, talking on a cell phone or paying attention to the dog. Everyone needs to pay attention while on our roads. I do not see dedicated road shoulders and bike paths being added to all of our state and town roads any time soon.

The Europeans, and most conscientious Jamestown motorists, have this down pat. Cyclists are not going away anytime soon. In fact, they are only going to increase. It is time to make peace with the concept of "sharing" and time to responsibly educate others to do the same for everyone's sake.

Christine W. Ariel


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