Letter: In response to call for safer bike path

Posted 8/17/23

To the editor:

Judith Byrnes’ Letter to the Editor (A safer bike path should be everyone’s goal, Aug. 10, 2023) sounds reasonable enough. But within its logic are several assumptions …

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Letter: In response to call for safer bike path

Posted

To the editor:

Judith Byrnes’ Letter to the Editor (A safer bike path should be everyone’s goal, Aug. 10, 2023) sounds reasonable enough. But within its logic are several assumptions and omissions that cannot be left unchallenged.

Full disclosure: I am an e-bike rider. Like so many other riders of a certain age, I probably wouldn’t be riding at all were it not for my battery-powered pedal assist, which enables me to pedal more efficiently, ride farther, and climb hills I haven’t been able to negotiate in years. My average speed is 10 mph; I stop at stop signs; and I signal other bike path users when I am passing.

I agree with Ms. Byrnes that some e-bike riders are reckless. I have seen some ride for miles without pedaling – it infuriates me – and watched some weave among other bike path users at high speeds. This can be easily regulated, and should be. But let’s all agree that some road bikes on the path are reckless, as are some in-line skaters. And even some pedestrians, especially those texting while they walk, are a hazard to my safety on the bike path.

In response to the behaviors she observes, Ms. Byrnes proposes rules that seem to apply only to cyclists. This is where her logic fails. Virtually every close call I have had on the bike path has been caused not by cyclists, but by pedestrians. Walkers, including those pushing strollers and walking dogs, often walk three or four abreast, blocking the entire path. When I signal with my voice or my bell, they are often oblivious, engaged as they are in conversation. When I get their attention, they frequently scatter, leaving me to wonder where to point my bike. Will the single file rule Ms. Byrnes proposes apply to walkers too?

The no smoking rule, while not personally objectionable, leads Ms. Byrnes into a very thorny discussion. With no evidence whatsoever, she asserts that a 2008 fire along the bike path must have been caused by an e-bike rider because (a) no regular bike rider could possibly smoke while riding, and (b) an unidentified e-bike rider was observed at some unreported time by some undisclosed person tossing a cigarette butt in the same area. Never mind that there were few if any e-bikes on the path in 2008, or that the path is used by walkers, workers, skaters, and others. Never mind, even, that the fire was thought (but not determined) to have been caused by a discarded cigarette. Ms. Byrnes, like so many before her in these pages, apparently felt a need to demonize e-bikers by blaming the fire on e-bikes. That is reckless and insulting.

The proposed dusk to dawn rule sounds reasonable on its face but makes no sense in the real world. The State of RI has been offering substantial rebates to e-bike purchasers in order to foster commuting by bike. If people are to ride bikes to work, they will necessarily be on the bike path pre-dawn and after dusk, especially on short winter days. The rule is simply unworkable.

Finally, I note the irony in Ms. Byrnes’s suggestion that the proposed rules appear on signs along the bike path. Earlier this summer, Bristol erected signs along High and Wood Streets in order to inform drivers that cyclists were now sharing those roads. Apparently, some people found the signs offensive or intrusive, and they came down as quickly as they went up, throwing cyclists to the mercy of painted markings on the streets themselves. The notion that Bristolians cannot tolerate signs designed to keep cyclists safe, but would embrace signs to keep people safe from cyclists, is a sad commentary indeed.

Safety should, indeed, be everyone’s goal. But the rules designed to foster safety need to spring from the real-world use of our beloved bike path, not come at the expense of one group that is an easy target. Any restrictions, rules, and enforcement need to hold all stakeholders responsible: the various groups using the bike path every day. Shared resources carry shared responsibility.

Elizabeth Vorro
535 High Meadow Court

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