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Editorial: Increasing safety for bicyclists


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Patrick Bettens was cycling earlier this month on Route 3, a recently repaved road whose driving lanes were narrowed by the city to allow for a wide, well-marked bike lane in each direction. The father of two, a corrections officer at the state prison, was killed when he pulled around a delivery truck parked in the bike lane and was hit by a van that was also trying to pass the truck.

In this age of online shopping and same-day delivery, trucks from UPS, FedEx, the U.S. Post Office and others are on every street at all times of day. More often than not, they park on the shoulder and, where they exist, block bike lanes.

The city and state have no law that specifically makes it illegal to block a bike lane. Some cities and states do, but, recognizing that delivery vehicles often have no alternative, ticketing even in those states is rare. Concord does, however, have an ordinance that makes it illegal to park in a travel lane, and that’s what a bike lane is.

Bicycles and motor vehicles are treated equally under the law, so the vehicle blocking Bettens’s way was in violation.

Concord has been in the process of becoming a much more bicycle-friendly city, adding bike lanes and bike racks, designating safer bike routes, and adding signage and stencils designating bike lanes. That’s made cycling safer.

According to Dick Lemieux, a retired traffic engineer and member of the city’s Bike and Pedestrian Committee, the reported bicycle accident rate has dropped from one every two weeks in 2009 to one every two months last year, no doubt at least in part thanks to the city’s efforts.

The city, aided by cycling organizations, plans to continue to make Concord more bike friendly. When possible, the city will add clearly marked bike lanes when roads are repaved.

Bettens’s death, and an accident two years ago on the same stretch of road that left a rider battered, should make planners consider whether more can be done.

Should delivery vehicles blocking bike lanes be ticketed? If they or any motorist for that matter blocks a bike lane for any significant amount of time, our answer is yes. Can even more be done? Again, the answer is yes, but doing so might not be cheap. The safest bike lanes are those protected by parked cars or bollards – short plastic posts in bright colors that create the semblance of a barricade between bikers, joggers, pedestrians and traffic. The city should consider installing them on routes used regularly by cyclists.

Similarly, ill-kept berms like those along sections of Clinton Street should be converted to bike paths separated from motorists by the existing curbs.

There will be times when blocking a bike lane is unavoidable, but businesses and other regular package recipients along bike paths should do what they can to create an off-road space for delivery vehicles to park.

More must be done to alert drivers and passengers to the importance of looking before opening a car door in the path of a bicyclist. And bicyclists, of course, must do their part by obeying traffic laws and foregoing riding two or more abreast, which is unsafe and needlessly slows motor vehicle traffic.

Bicycling is healthy, economical and environmentally friendly. It should also, to the greatest extent possible, be safe.

(Correction: An earlier version of this editorial misstated the frequency of bicycle crashes in 2009 and last year.)