As a cyclist, I am sadly accustomed to abuse, including ignorant and aggressive drivers (thankfully rare on the Vineyard), so-called bike paths that are substandard in design and upkeep, and the overall attitude (despite law to the contrary) that I’m a second-class road user. Even here in Edgartown, the town has put up illegal stop signs on the bike paths (and ignored pleas to remove them), and illegally tries to exclude cyclists from a section of Pease’s Point Way (a ham-fisted response to a fatality some years back). But even these moves, while illegal and wrongheaded, are sort of understandable given the large number of visitors on bicycles who are inexperienced cyclists.
But the new bike lanes on Upper Main street in Edgartown are not understandable; they are a bad and dangerous joke. Without going into technical tidbits from AASHTO and MUTCD, they are not bike lanes. They are way too skinny and filled with potholes, storm drains and debris. They are so ridiculously narrow that the bike lane symbol doesn’t even fit in them.
Experienced cyclists will rightfully ignore these lanes. But the inexperienced cyclists who have just wobbled out of the rental shop might be fooled and try to navigate this tiny strip of broken asphalt with cars whizzing by. And drivers will expect that cyclists in them will be safely out of their way, when in fact vehicles are still required to give cyclists “ample room,” usually defined as three or four feet.
Two things are important to remember. First, cyclists are not impediments to traffic. They are traffic, entitled to the road in every situation. And while many inexperienced pedalers do things they should not do (riding against traffic, riding without helmets), a careless cyclist usually hurts only himself. A careless driver, and there are many, many more of them, can injure and kill others.
Second, this embarrassing gaffe could have been avoided with one two-minute phone call to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. I know Edgartown has staked out the position that they are too smart to require advice from the MVC (and no one needs to tell me how aggravating the MVC can be; I worked there). But the truth is that the staff there knows things. Senior planner Bill Veno or transportation planner Mike Mauro could have explained in about 10 seconds exactly why these non-bike lanes are a bad idea. And more importantly, they could have given Edgartown an appropriate solution: A pavement marking called a sharrow that alerts drivers to share the road and indicates to cyclists where they should ride, as far to the right “as is practicable.” The gutter is not practicable; the safest place for any cyclist to ride is where there are no curbs, potholes, storm drains and loose debris to trip them up and send them into the path of a car. The bicycle and pedestrian committee of the MVC has been advocating for these sharrows for years and has been ignored.
I expect that these so-called bike lanes will be removed forthwith. And I hope the Vineyard will begin to take seriously both the law and needs of the thousands of visitors and residents who ride bicycles here.
Jim Miller is a resident of Edgartown, avid cyclist, former MVC transportation planner and member of the bicycle and pedestrian committee.