By Joey Cresta
May 04, 2012
RYE — Avid bicyclists, including the owner of a North Hampton bike shop, say a sign outside the Public Safety Building is displaying “petty” messages that discriminate against those who ride on public roads.
The electronic sign flashes two messages: “Cyclists ride single file” and “Roads for riding not chatting!”
Rye Police Chief Kevin Walsh said the sign is in response to complaints about a minority of riders who refuse to share the road, force cars completely into the opposite travel lane, and are unruly toward motorists who pass by.
Walsh said he intends for the sign to promote safety for motorists and cyclists as tensions flare between the two.
However, Jeff Latimer, owner of Gus’ Bike Shop in North Hampton, said he and other cyclists took offense to the wording on the sign.
“It comes across as being anti-cycling and seems to send the message that cyclists are second-class citizens and they’re not welcome on the roads,” he said.
Latimer and Walsh met Tuesday to discuss the issue. Latimer said he suggested using the sign to remind motorists that state law requires they give cyclists 3 feet of space. Latimer said he believes cyclists and motorists can coexist, but he acknowledged there are “bad apples” on either side who “think the road is their own.” He said education of both drivers and bikers is key to quashing ongoing conflicts.
Followers of the Gus’ Bike Shop Facebook page have sounded off on the sign. Most have sided with cyclists, saying it is drivers who are not paying attention and speeding on local roads.
“Perhaps they can crack down harder on the people exceeding the speed limit and being oblivious to others on the road,” wrote Kate Biddle of Rye.
Matt Sullivan of Portsmouth, who identified himself as a cyclist, said he thinks criticisms of riders are valid. “The worst is when I have to use my horn to alert them to my car and they flip me off,” he wrote. “Cars absolutely need to share the road with us cyclists, but we need to respect the rules of the road and ride single file.”
According to Latimer, most cyclists ride single file as it reduces wind resistance. He acknowledged that less experienced bikers might ride two abreast on a casual ride, but “with experience they’ll learn there are roads you wouldn’t do that on.”
Walsh said the problem is with cyclists who refuse to make room for cars that attempt to pass by. “Nobody’s against them being here,” he said. “It’s just that we have to come up with some rules.”
Walsh said he plans to change the message that irked so many cyclists, but believes the intent is important. He said response to the sign has been “50/50,” with some supporting his efforts and others taking issue with the tone. He also said the problem goes both ways, and too many cyclists and motorists are distracted while on the road and must pay better attention to their surroundings.
Selectmen are mulling an ordinance that would prohibit bicyclists from traveling two abreast on town roads. The ordinance would also require anyone walking, jogging or running on the pavement of any town road to do so single file. Selectmen unanimously approved a pair of ordinances April 9, but Walsh said town attorney Michael Donovan is reviewing them before they become official.
Walsh said selectmen discussed enacting a “selectmen’s ordinance,” an emergency measure that would allow them to enforce the ordinances right away. The ordinances would ultimately go to the voters at town meeting, Walsh said.
The single-file requirement would go against state law allowing cyclists to travel two abreast. Walsh said the local ordinance would only be enforceable on town roads, not on state-maintained roads such as Ocean Boulevard and Route 1.
This is not the first time tempers have flared between motorists and cyclists in Rye. On Sept. 9, 2009, a cyclist jumped on a Corvette and held a rock over the driver’s head after the driver swerved toward a pack of 20 cyclists in town participating in a coastal ride. Multiple people were charged in the incident, which saw several cyclists swarm around the Corvette. One cyclist took the keys from the ignition and later said in court, “For once, we finally got one.”
Bicycles are vehicles: According to N.H. law, bicyclists have the same rights and duties as drivers. Riding by the same set of rules as motorists makes bicyclists predictable and greatly reduces the risk of a crash.
Speed: A bicyclist traveling at less than normal traffic speed must remain on the right side as far as possible, except when unsafe to do so.
Obeying traffic signs: Stop and yield to cross traffic at a stop sign. Don’t cross the stop line when the traffic signal is red. Don’t pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk.
Where to ride: Ride on the right side of the road with the flow of traffic. Riding against traffic is the single largest cause of collisions with cars. Do not pass the right of cars turning right. Where there is space, leave enough room for faster traffic to pass.
Prevalence: Most crashes involving cars and bicycles occur at intersections. This often happens when a motorist pulls out from a stop sign or driveway without yielding, or turns across the bicyclist’s path.
Tips for motorists: When turning right, make your turn from the right edge of the road. Slow and merge behind a bicyclist ahead of you before turning. When turning left, yield to oncoming bicyclists or any other vehicles. Signal at least 100 feet in advance, so bicyclists and other motorists know your intentions.