Guest Spot: Cyclists, motorists must learn to coexist

06/28/2015 7:00 AM |

Your editorial, Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley and opinion letters against bike riders would suggest bicycles are a major problem on our roads. I’ve respectfully got to ask whether they are kidding.

Have any of you ridden on our roads lately? It’s hardly car drivers whose lives are at risk. I rode this morning and cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles sped by, some within inches. A car pulled out in front of me, a truck towing a large trailer passed me across double yellow lines when I was already passing a truck pulled over to the side of the road. Someone opened a car door in front of me, a car took a turn onto my side of the road right beside me and fewer and fewer vehicles care to use their directionals, so cyclists don’t know which way they’re turning.

Do you wonder why a cyclist might choose to ride near the side line of a road rather than move over toward the curb? Take a ride. The farther one moves over away from the road, the more it is filled with deep potholes, ruts, sand, broken glass (from vehicles, not bikes), nails, screws, car parts, lumber, boxes and other garbage. I get a puncture every week or two — and if I hit one of those hazards, I’m off, possibly in front of vehicles and always injuring myself. Intersections, like where Route 25 meets Route 48 in Greenport and Boisseau Avenue and Route 48 in Southold, are the roughest, with no shoulder at all for cyclists. Highway departments: Could we please get the shoulders cleaned and repaired?

I agree with the writers: Poorly organized bike tours and any cyclist not obeying traffic laws are wrong. But their infringements are comparatively rare. Have you looked at the number of nonprofit events each week involving cars and motorcycles, not counting unofficial group rides and drives? And, let’s face it, every event listed on the calendar — 70 this week, excluding the vineyards — involves cars.

As the Washington Post reported in September 2014, Bicycling Magazine ranked Suffolk County the most dangerous for bicyclists in the U.S. The county has 16.6 percent of all cyclist fatalities in New York, despite having 7.6 percent of the state’s population. There are an average of 398 motor vehicle-bicycle accidents every year in Suffolk, according to a traffic safety data report issued in February by the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research. How many of those resulted in injury or death to a cyclist? If you rode, the answer wouldn’t surprise you: 393. But these national facts might: The average age of a cyclist who is killed is 44 and cyclist fatalities increased by 19 percent between 2010 and 2013.

The law is clear: “Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of a motor vehicle and motorists are required to exercise ‘due care’ to avoid colliding with bicyclists.” So motorists and cyclists, obey traffic laws. Bikes have as much right to the road as motor vehicles. And drivers, take extra caution this summer: Follow traffic laws, move over as much as is safe, slow down, use turn signals, be prepared for a bike to swerve or worse. The state recommends that “as a safety measure, motorists should make scanning for cyclists second nature, giving cyclists plenty of clearance when passing them and the right-of-way when appropriate.”

Let’s get Suffolk County off the “most dangerous” list.

Guest Column Matthew Goldie mgoldie@rider.edu 917-915-5239

Matthew Goldie is an English professor at Rider University. He lives in Southold.

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