By Muriel Hoffacker
Gordon College News Service
April 19, 2010
(Photo by Muriel Hoffacker)
When Beverly resident, Bill Woolley rides his 12.5 mile roundtrip commute Monday through Friday from Beverly to Salem, he often times gets bullied, but it’s not because he’s vandalizing property or hurting people. He’s merely riding his bike and making sure he stays alive. Woolley thinks of himself as the “awkward, geeky kid in middle school” who is bullied, in this case by cars.
“Some drivers just like to rev their engines in my face, some yell out their windows to try to scare me as they pass,” said Woolley, assistant director of the city of Salem park recreation and community services department. “Some seem to aim for puddles they know will splash me, and some even become aggressive with their vehicles.”
Woolley isn’t the only cyclist who is vulnerable on the streets. Given too many recent accidents (http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/04/menino_to_conve.html) Boston’s Mayor Thomas M. Menino hosted his first ever, “Bicycling Safety Summit” at Boston University’s Morse Auditorium on Wednesday, April 21 at 5:30 p.m. The summit attracted local bicyclists and government officials who will discuss safety improvements. Short speeches along with question and answer sessions helped cyclists understand how to achieve safer roads.
Events for bike safety are happening on the North Shore as well. The Ipswich Police Department’s Community Resource Unit held their fifth annual bike safety event last Saturday, April 17th. Sergeant Justin Daly says the safety event provided a set up of a safety course, which helped teach children the rules of the road and the steps they can take to ensure their safety.
“As the parents watch, it’s kind of a secondary education for them,” said Sergeant Daly. “When the parents are on a bike ride with their kids, they can enforce those safety rules.”
But Mayor Menino’s “Bicycling Safety Summit” idea didn’t just come from an annual event like Ipswich’s bike safety event. He quickly proposed the summit after Boston’s third recent bike accident, which was one of many, and with the Bay State Bike Week approaching just around the corner from May 17-21 (http://bostonbikeweek.kintera.org).
According to bicyclinginfo.org, there were 716 deaths in the United States due to bicycle/car crashes in 2008.
Bike accidents are not rare on the North Shore. Beverly’s Bill Kerr, owner of the bike shop Beverly Cycles, says that many cars have brushed him as he’s riding. Since the 1970’s, Kerr has occasionally commuted to work, but what has always been consistent is the struggle between cars and cyclists.
“Cars have no idea what the [bicycle safety] rules are,” said Kerr. “The rule is that I own the road just as much as the car.”
Kerr is right, at least according to Chapter 85 of the General Laws of Massachusetts, which says that unless otherwise marked, bikes have as much access to roads as do cars: “Every person operating a bicycle upon a way . . . shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted, and shall be subject to the traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the special regulations.”
Although Woolley and Kerr say they don’t always get respect from drivers, they do provide advice for temporary safety on the streets, until mutual respect between cars and cyclists is gained.
“I know there are rules, but you can’t legislate respect. People either treat their neighbors the way they want to be treated themselves, or they're concerned with their own welfare. We're all guided largely, I think, by our social conscience,” said Woolley. “Pay attention. Pay attention. Pay attention,” he insisted.
Kerr adds that lights, helmet and reflective equipment are important as well as frequent bike tune-ups, and staying alert. “Never ever trust a driver, don’t assume a person sees you even though they do, and when passing parked cars, assume people in cars will open doors,” he said.
With spring’s warmer weather, more bicyclists are riding on the streets making safety rules even more significant. “Cars and bikes do not have a right to drive on the street. We have a privilege,” said Kerr.