The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 26, 2002


It's bicyclists vs. motorists on Carlisle's narrow roads
Knowledge + awareness + tolerance = safety

Spring is here and with it the annual rites of the season ­ flowers bloom, mosquitoes flock to our yards, peepers provide evening serenades and bicyclists again take to the roads of Carlisle and surrounding communities. As with man and the mosquito, there is tension between bicyclist and motorist as they share the winding and often narrow roads of our community.

What are they doing wrong? (Photo by Lois d'Annunzio)
Why this tension? Most who drive have taken drivers' ed and passed a road test to obtain a driver's license. Therefore, almost everyone who drives knows the rules that automobiles are supposed to follow. However, there is no similar test for bicyclists. Even automobile drivers who cycle are rarely taught the bicycle "rules of the road." In the end, it is this lack of information that is the root cause of the conflicts between bicyclists and motorists. If most bicyclists and the majority of motorists do not know the rules of the road as they pertain to bicycling, how can they follow them?

What are the bicycling rules of the road?

Briefly, in Massachusetts, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of motor vehicles (MGL Ch.85 Sec. 11B; BTD Art. 1), with a few minor exceptions. Bicyclists must obey and follow all the same traffic laws and regulations that cars do. This means that, like it or not, we all must learn to share the roads of the Commonwealth. Tolerance of each other and understanding that we all are allowed on the road will go a long way to improving relations between motorists and bicyclists.

Practically speaking, this means slow down and pay attention! According to a study done in 1996, 80 percent of car versus bike accidents occurred at intersections. A number of other studies have repeated the same findings. There are two main reasons: first, either the motorist or the bicyclist failed to see the other person and a collision resulted. Second, either the motorist or the bicyclist pulled out from a stop sign or driveway without yielding or turned across the other's path. By paying attention and observing all traffic laws, the likelihood of such an encounter is markedly decreased.

Road rules for the motorist

A motorist should treat a bicycle in the road as another car. This "car standard" is helpful in determining what is safe and/or legal. The information below can be found in expanded form at and was published by Mayor Menino and the Boston Transportation Department. Here are some rules to keep in mind as a motorist when encountering a bicyclist:

· When turning right, slow and merge behind a bicyclist ahead of you to make your turn from the right edge of the road (MGL Ch. 90, Sec. 14), rather than passing, slowing and turning directly in front of them, which is exceedingly dangerous;

· When turning left, yield to an on-coming bicyclists (just as you would on-coming cars), even those at the far side of the road (MGL Ch. 90 Sec. 14). Do not underestimate the speed of a bicyclist. It is better to exercise caution than experience regret following a moment of carelessness;

· A yield sign means you must wait for traffic, and this may require you to stop (MGL Ch. 89 Sec. 9);

· Remember to use your turn signal well in advance of a turn so that bicyclists know your intentions (MGL Ch. 90 Sec. 14B);

· When passing a bicyclist, be sure that it is safe to do so. The road should be clear for 400 feet in order to pass safely. Never pass a cyclist by crossing the yellow line, especially on Carlisle's narrow and winding roads where it is impossible to see around all the bends and turns.

· If you parallel park along a roadway, check your rear view mirror for oncoming bicyclists before opening your door.

Road rules for the bicyclist

Bicyclists can be just as guilty as motorists of not obeying traffic laws. When cycling on the road, view all cyclists as you would motorists. Generally, if you know something is illegal or unsafe in a car, it is also illegal or unsafe on a bike. With that in mind, below are some rules to remember when riding in traffic:

· Always yield to oncoming traffic when entering a roadway (BTD Art. 6 Sec. 22).

· Do not run traffic lights or cross the stop line when the traffic light is red (BTD Art. 6 Sec. 15).

· Stop and yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk and do not pass vehicles stopped at crosswalks that are letting pedestrians cross (MGL Ch. 89 Sec. 11).

· Stop and yield to cross traffic at a stop sign or rotary (MGL Ch. 89 Sec. 9).

· When turning left, look behind and merge to the center lane or left turn lane as traffic allows. Always signal to let motorists know your intentions (MGL Ch. 89 Sec. 4B; MGL Ch. 90 Sec. 14).

· Always ride on the right side of the road, following the flow of traffic (BTD Art. 6 Sec. 2). Besides being the legal way to ride it is also where cars expect to see you. Riding in the opposite direction of traffic is an invitation for disaster and, in fact, is the single largest cause of bike collisions with cars.

Safety tips for bicyclists

1. Always wear a helmet ­ While Massachusetts state law only requires that children under the age of 12 wear a helmet, it is critical that all bicyclists wear a helmet regardless of age. In 1999, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 98 percent of bicyclists killed in accidents were not wearing helmets. Additionally, kids often follow the leads set by adults and once out of sight of their parents will likely mimic parents' non-helmet-wearing behavior.

2. Ride single file ­ According to Carlisle Police Chief David Galvin, the number one complaint made by motorists about bicyclists is riding two or more abreast. Massachusetts State Law requires that you ride single file, unless passing. This means that while it may be tempting to ride alongside your buddy and chat, it is illegal and you can be fined for doing so, as well as giving motorists just cause to report you to the town. This applies to group rides as well. If a group reaches a point where all the riders are bunched up, all riders must make adjustments to return to a single file line as soon as possible.

3. Ride predictably ­ Riding in a predictable manner ­ in a straight line, not swerving and keeping an eye open for road hazards ­ will greatly increase your safety. If you don't surprise motorists, they won't surprise you.

4. Make sure your equipment is in good working order ­ Before taking to the road, check your bike over carefully. Make sure the tires are inflated properly and that all nuts and bolts are tightened. Several years ago a bicyclist from my bike club was sent to the hospital after her front wheel came off as she was riding down the road. She ended up going face first into the pavement.

If you attach anything to your bike (such as a child seat, baby trailer or trail-a-bike) make sure it is securely attached to your bike. The point cannot be overstated. Last year my husband and I saw a family out riding together. The husband had a trail-a-bike attached to the back of his bike with a small child happily pedaling behind. Just as we were passing them, the trail-a-bike detached from the back of the husband's bike and the child fell over into the road. Happily, in this instance, no one was injured but it underscores the important of regular maintenance to your bike and its accessories.

Safety tips for motorists

1. Drive predictably ­ It is very scary, from the point of view of a bicyclist, to encounter an erratically driven car. Erratic behavior includes speeding, swerving, entering intersections at high rates of speed, giving the impression that you aren't going to stop, and driving too close to cyclists when passing.

2. Avoid yelling or honking your horn at cyclists ­ While it may be tempting to make your point of view known, yelling at a bicyclist accomplishes little. It may even be dangerous if you scare the cyclist into crashing.

3. Pass bicyclists safely ­ According to the Carlisle Police, this is the complaint heard most often from bicyclists ­ that cars do not leave enough room when passing. It is important not to be so close as to threaten or force the person you are passing off the road. Remember, it is illegal to exceed the speed limit or cross into an oncoming lane to pass a bicyclist and you can be ticketed for doing so.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito