Biking Into 2020

Bicycle safety is not a new topic. 

But we’re entering a new year (and decade). Alert — and worried — “06880” reader Angela Ryan sends these thoughts. As we turn the calendar page, let’s pledge new behaviors on our roads too.

Angela writes:

My husband came home from work today shaking. This has happened several times a year for the past 10 years.

He commutes by bike to the train, for his job in New York.

He is a conscientious rider. He stops at lights and stop signs, and uses hand signals. He is very visible, with lights on the front and back of his bike.

Yet he is repeatedly harassed by drivers. Vehicles speed past him at aggressive speed because he rides between parked cars and the lane of traffic.

Drivers shout obscenities at him, and honk because they have to yield to him on a turn. Vehicles race past him approaching the light in front of Dunkin’ Donuts at the end of the Cribari Bridge, just to be stopped when the light turns read.

He is doing nothing wrong. In fact, he is helping the town and environment by riding his bike. He is freeing up space at the railroad parking lot for another commuter to use.

I wish that commuters (and bikers) would remember basic rules of the road:

1. Bicycles have a right to be on the road.
2. Bikers must be visible to drivers, and use hand signals to communicate their intentions.
3. Bikers must stop at stop signs and stop lights, just like drivers.
4. Drivers must allow 3 feet when passing bikers. They cannot pass a biker and make a right turn unless it is safe for the biker.
5. Bikers must drive on the right side of the road (except for certain circumstances).
6. Bikers are allowed to ride two abreast, but not more.
7. A “vulnerable user law” states that people who drive a car and use reasonable care, but still cause the death or injury of a vulnerable user (like a biker) can be fined.
8. There is no room to pass a biker on the Cribar Bridge. So there is no need to yell obscenities at my husband if he rides in the middle of the lane. He has nowhere else to go.

I know people are passionate about whether or not we should make biking easier in Westport. All I can say is that the gains communities see in expanding biking far outweigh what they lose.

Although I would be happy to see biking expanded in Westport for the greater good of us all, this is not why I am writing. I just ask that drivers be reasonable and patient to riders, especially those who adhere to all the rules of the road.

They have as much right to be on the road as you.

29 responses to “Biking Into 2020

  1. As a occasional cyclist, I endorse this piece, but with a few comments:
    1) Biking “two-abreast” is unwise, regardless of the law. It makes it more difficult for cars to pass, and encourages cyclists to talk to one another, rather than pay attention to the road.
    2) Cyclists should wear high-visibility clothing and have rear blinking lights at all times plus front lights at night. Most of the adult cyclists are pretty smart about this. Unfortunately, many teens are not.
    3) It’s a lost cause to get cyclists to obey every, especially 3-way intersections when the cyclist is going straight on the main road, and there is no car waiting or approaching at the side road. Drivers who honk and startle cyclists in this situation are adding danger to a situation where it otherwise does not exist.

  2. Sorry I meant it is a lost cause to get cyclists to obey every stop sign, especially 3-way…

  3. Dick Lowenstein

    “6. Bikers are allowed to ride two abreast, but not more.” Unwise, of course, but I’d like to see a citation that says it is permitted.

    • Connecticut General Statutes, Section 14-286b(6): “Persons riding bicycles or electric bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles or electric bicycles. Persons riding two abreast, as provided in this subsection, shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.”

    • CT General Statutes 14-286b – Operation of bicycles and electric bicycles on roadways.

      6(b) “Persons riding bicycles or electric bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles or electric bicycles. Persons riding two abreast, as provided in this subsection, shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.”

      https://www.lawserver.com/law/state/connecticut/ct-laws/connecticut_statutes_14-286b

    • You should look at CT General Statute Section 14-286b to answer your request. To reduce your effort to find this, here is the link: https://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/chap_248.htm#sec_14-286b

  4. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    Cycling is a great form of exercise and an eco friendly way to commute but certainly hazardous in any location and can be much worse depending on where you reside.

    Back in the 70’s I rode around Westport (no helmet back then) without a care really. In grad school in Chapel Hill, NC I was in a bike club and we rode all over town and in rural areas and I never felt threatened by auto traffic. When stationed in Alabama, parts of Texas, Phoenix, and upstate NY I definitely did not feel as comfortable riding on the roads.

    Cyclists need to follow the rules, wear all practical safety gear and high visibility clothing and never assume that motorists see them let alone respect them. When you factor in the size of vehicles today and distracted driving (texting) cycling on public roads is a high risk activity; be careful out there.

  5. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70 BA MA JDE

    It’s really a shame when someone like your husband has to deal with, and worry about, safety issues from motorists on public streets. I’m a “live and let live” person but if you want to root cause most societal problems selfishness is usually what you find. I have a high functioning 30 year old autistic son who is totally self-supporting. But he can’t drive and uses his bike to get around. He uses every safety precaution known to man and yet in the past three years has been run off the road three times, all were hit/run and all required stitches on his beautiful face. Personally, I’d favor a car free town with bringing back the Minnybus. But the answer to achieving universal bike usage is simple and required no government intervention: Rebrand all bikes at the factory with a BMW badge and voila watch what happens.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70 BA MA JDE

      I meant car free downtown. Shuttles/delivery trucks/handicapped drivers with visible permit would be OK. Wouldn’t fix the problems outside of downtown but I think those would abate as bike usage increases. This isn’t a simple issue I realize but it has to start somewhere. As bike ridership increases so would the momentum of the solution.

  6. I was surprised at the two-abreast rule as well and certainly don’t endorse it.
    I am also surprised at the states that permit cycles to yield at stop signs and don’t require them to stop. I feel it just creates confusion all around.

  7. Deb Alderson

    Well said Angela. I would add one thing. Drivers should not pass a bicycle unless they can see through to the other side. In other words – don’t pass on a curve or hill – just like if you were passing a car. And I personally don’t pass with only 3 feet between my car and the cyclist. That’s not very much room and I think it would be scary for the cyclist.

  8. As someone who monitors consumer trends for a living I think the sad truth is that Westport will continue to be a declining town for families (softening home prices, exiting businesses and employers, tangled schools) until we clarify our values and make some courageous decisions. If the trends show that people (especially younger families who are the lifeblood of most thriving communities) want better walkability and bikeability we probably need to listen.

  9. Couple obvious threats to ride bicycles in Westport:

    1. Traffic gets worse during rush hours, drivers tend to be multi-tasking (e.g., actively typing or swiping on the smart devices, cops could help for this).

    2. Some inappropriate road design, e.g., hilliandale road and morning side drive s should have a four-way stops (when its dark, cars or cyclists going east (up the slope) cannot see clearly the traffic situation on morning side drive).

  10. I used to bicycle a ton. I now jog/run. Its scary out there, even when you take all precautions to make yourself visible. I agree with other posters that bicycling two abreast is not the best idea. We don’t run two abreast but curious if that is allowed? Unfortunately, I see bicyclers/runners/joggers/walkers three abreast. It makes it difficult to pass. Many drivers don’t understand they may need to stop before making a safe pass in their vehicle. I can’t tell you how many times another vehicle is passing and veer half way head-on into my lane of travel when I am driving without a care in the world. It would also help if bicyclers and runners/joggers/walkers were on the correct side of the road too.

  11. David J. Loffredo

    Most of these Fairfield County towns just aren’t super “bike-able” and that’s not going to change. We have narrow roads, lots of blind turns and hills, and a lot of really big cars. We’re not widening the roads, we’re not putting in sidewalks where there currently aren’t any. Maybe it’s safe to ride your bike in your driveway or on your cul-de-sac, but outside of that it’s way too scary. As a runner like Josh, I feel like I have complete control and take up minimal space – yet on almost every run there’s at least one “close call”. It is what it is, these are old towns that date to pre-Revolutionary War times, if you want to bike around town move to some generic cookie cutter subdivision out in the sticks somewhere.

    • Peter Barlow

      Well, OK, but I rode a bike from the age of 10, all over Westport all the time – great fun and no problems. But we didn’t have the number of indulgent drivers with their playthings that you have today. And I think the police paid more attention to drivers then.

  12. Being a former neighbor and having seen James ride a number of times on the stretch of Green’s Farms Road and Bridge Street between his home and the station, I can confirm that he is absolutely a conscientious rider. I wouldn’t be surprised though if a sizable percentage of those drivers who harass James are not from Westport. I say that only because I have noticed far worse traffic backups in that stretch of road in recent years and I have to believe it is due to traffic spilling off 95 when there are tremendous tie-ups there.

    In any case, James is a great role model for all of us.

  13. Jonathan Rosenoer

    “Most of these Fairfield County towns just aren’t super “bike-able” and that’s not going to change.”
    Really? Why shouldn’t Westport have bike lanes? (Why should cars auto tear through Westport, on roads like Cross Highway, well over the speed limit and without fear of ever getting a ticket?) It’s a matter of public safety, education, and the will of the community. Even Manhattan has invested in this, not to mention numerous west coast towns like Mill Valley, CA.

    • David J. Loffredo

      I just went for a run on some of the more popular cycling roads.

      Go drive Bayberry Lane from Long Lots to Cross Highway (newly paved btw so cars can drive even faster) and Sturges Hwy back down from Cross Highway to Long Lots.

      You tell me where we’re putting in a bike lane (a half dozen biker passed me). You can barely fit a car going in each direction, I wonder your plan to remove the 4 to 6 feet recommended to create a bike lane. There are trees and stone walls, and probably water meters….

      Go hop in your car, I’ll wait.

  14. “Shared roadway” use is a joke in Westport and Weston. I’ve tried to get the Health District involved in an education campaign, with the argument that greatest risk to my health at present is my twice-weekly 5-mile walk.

  15. I’ve used my bike to get to and from the Westport station for several years, pedaling daily past the line of commuter cars and service trucks on Greens Farms Road, which on many mornings can back up from Cribari Bridge nearly to Hillspoint Road. (I take the pedestrian walkway over the bridge, because sharing that span with vehicles scares the bejesus out of me.) The crawl of traffic gives me a passing glimpse into these vehicles, and I swear virtually every other driver has a cell phone in his or her hand or lap. I quit riding this fall for two reasons: The pedestrian fatality in October on Buckley, and the end of daylight savings time. I could be lit up like a Christmas tree for my short ride home in the dark and still wouldn’t feel safe sharing our inadequate roads with today’s drivers. Shame, as cycling to the station, even on a bracing winter morning, is a great way to start the day. Our community has a woeful attitude and commitment toward encouraging commuting by bike, especially when compared to European cities of similar congestion and clime.

  16. I would like to hear from those aggressive drivers in Westport how the feel they need to be so aggressive.

    • As someone who also cycles I agree with your post – what is with the drivers? Yes I know it’s rush hour and we are all trying to get to work or home but they are way too aggressive. Even when I ride my motorbike in a 25 and I’m doing the speed limit they will sit 3 meters behind your rear wheel – heaven forbid a deer runs out and I brake suddenly and they end up knocking me off…..I just don’t get why they are all so aggressive and for what?…..at the same time I think a lot of them are drivers from other towns who use our train station to commute

  17. Funny! My husband plays hockey.

  18. Bruce Haymes

    Make bike paths an issue and let’s make it reality. We’ve been talking about this for decades. It’s a complex issue but one that if we really cared about could be resolved. There are issues with the width of the roads, rights-of-way, and the state needs to approve bike lanes (bureacracy). But there’s no doubt that the town has an appetite to improve our quality of living and to attract new residents to town we need to take on issues like this. It reflects not only our commitment to promoting the outdoor beauty associated with our town, but also our commitment to try to make a difference with respect to health and climate, two issues that are very important to most westporters.

  19. Amelie Babkie

    Ahmen Sistuh! I was a bike rider in Westport for YEEEEEEARS and in towns all around. Thank you so much for asking that the drivers simply be reasonable towards the riders who are riding within the same rules of the road as drivers. The majority of us are responsible and thoughtful riders because it is in our best interest to be so! The Sound Cyclists Bike Club is such a great bike club to teach and guide new and veteran riders how to work with the community in general. Shout out to all the cyclists in Westport and Fairfield County whom I love and miss so much. Thanks again Angela, for your message, sincerely, Amelie Babkie

  20. Katie Carter

    Well said and a good reminder! I too bike often around town and have experienced all the same you have noted. Of course cyclists need to follow the rules of the road and I hope all drivers feeling impatient will take a breath and make safe decisions for all our benefits!