There has been a lot of mixed reactions to the latest signage around Westerly regarding bicyclists’ right to use the entire roadway. People are saying that they will honk to get a bicyclist out of their way, or questioning, if they have the right to push them to the side by edging closer, or even “They should just drive on the sidewalks where they belong!”. 😲
Let’s get a few things very clear. Bicycles are NOT allowed to be driven upon sidewalks (honestly they are called sideWALKS, not sideDrives) per Westerly Town Ordinance § 238-6 Bicycles and skateboards or similar device on sidewalks and private property prohibited. Sidewalks are designated for the safe passage of pedestrians. The only “wheeled” vehicles should be baby/child strollers, wheelchairs (manual or electronic), and wheeled walkers. That’s right, skateboards, scooters, rollerblades are not allowed on the sidewalks either. As a matter of fact, skateboarders are not permitted to use the streets at all per paragraph B of the above ordinance. Yes, the ordinance states that this rule applies in the “compact part of the Town (DC-1 and DC-2)”, so surely there are other areas where bikes and the like can be on sidewalks, right? Sure, but realize that DC-1 and DC-2 are the following areas:
This would leave DC-3 and DC-4 areas, which are:
I understand the concern that some people have expressed about the safety of bicyclists on the roads with cars and trucks. It can evoke a very “David vs. Goliath” image, but this is why it’s so important for both motorists and bicyclists to know, understand, AND follow the rules of the road. In a perfect world, every roadway would have a sufficient bike lane for safe passage, but that is NOT reality. Take notice of what the sides of the roads look like around town. This is where the debris, sand, and cars are parked; where the storm drains and their accompanying potholes reside. None of this makes for safe riding, so riders have the right to drive in the lane of traffic. No bicyclists should never be weaving in and out of traffic or crossing in the middle of the street. They must obey the same traffic laws as motorists, this includes stopping at traffic lights and stop signs, yielding when required, using hand signals, etc.
Another argument I heard against bicycles on the roadways is too many distracted drivers! Ummmm, put down the phone, stop fiddling with the stereo and just drive! Rhode Island has a new hands-free law, so the phones should be down already. And let’s just get to the reality of driving a vehicle. These are multi-ton missiles, and those that are driving them must be in control and paying attention at all times. On the other side, bicyclists by law are NOT allowed to wear headphones when riding their bicycles so they can have full awareness of what is going on around them. If everyone would take responsibility for their actions and follow the laws, this will not be an issue.
Of course, people are demanding to know if bicyclists are allowed to ride on the roads, why aren’t they required to have vehicle insurance? What if they cause an accident, who will pay for the damage and/or medical expenses for the driver and their vehicle? AND this is why it’s vital that everyone has a homeowner or renter policy. Yes, damage you are found at fault in a bicycle accident to another person’s property and/or medical expenses are covered under the liability section of a home/renter policy. What if it’s a child that causes the accident? The parents’ policy covers their actions as well. Have questions? Then Mansfield Insurance is always ready to discuss your coverages and options how best to protect you, your property and your family, just give us a call or stop by the office.
So, this hullabaloo over the seemingly “new” shared roadway law is really just a matter of Westerly taking steps to educate and alert residents and visitors of the existing laws. So as drivers, we all need to slow down, pay attention at all times when driving, and be courteous to other drivers and riders. As riders, we need to be cognizant of traffic around us and follow all laws regarding our roadways. There are plenty of countries where vehicles and bicycles live in harmony and there is no reason that Westerly cannot find this peace.