Many people will be traveling Maine roads by bicycle this summer. Some people are bicycling to beat high gas prices. Some are efficient multitaskers who ride for exercise during their daily commute. Some are training for a special charity event or competition. Some ride for the sheer fun of it. Some people do all of the above.
As the popularity of bicycling increases, so does the potential for conflict with other road users. Since the majority of our roads do not have wide paved shoulders or dedicated bicycle lanes, it’s important for everyone to obey state laws and observe the rules of the road to ensure a pleasant, safe and convenient travel experience for all.
Responsible drivers and bicyclists help boost Maine’s economy. An increasingly bicycle-friendly transportation system has generated millions of dollars over the past decade for Maine innkeepers, restaurateurs, shop owners, tour organizers, and all facets of the travel industry. This niche market in the tourism sector has produced a positive ripple effect throughout the state, even during recession cycles.
Mainers have a well-deserved reputation for being safe and courteous drivers, and our relatively low-volume road network and scenic landscapes attract bicycle tourists from across the country and abroad. Sharing the road has become an important economic development tool for our state and a tolerant tradition that reflects “the way life should be.”
It’s human nature to grow impatient when you get stuck behind slower-moving traffic, but bicyclists require special consideration because cars and trucks are larger, heavier and usually faster. Any physical contact between a bicycle and a motor vehicle can result in injury or even death for the bicyclist, so please don’t tailgate – and give them a wide berth when you pass.
Many motorists are not aware that Maine law requires at least three feet of clearance from a bicycle during all passing maneuvers, and that you are allowed to cross a solid yellow line — assuming no oncoming traffic — in order to pass a bicyclist safely and legally.
Bicyclists can and should do their part by observing all traffic laws, by riding as far to the right as safety and road conditions permit and by moving into a single-file formation to make it easier for faster-moving vehicles to pass from behind. These principles are not rocket science and if everyone observed them, Maine roads could be safer and more inviting for bicycle travel without creating any significant inconvenience for motorists.
Courtesy, consistency and constant awareness are the hallmarks of all good drivers, whether your vehicle of choice has two wheels or four. Please make a special effort to observe our state’s vehicular laws and treat other road users with respect and tolerance so we can all enjoy a safe, pleasant experience on Maine’s highways and byways this summer. If you would like to learn more about bicycle safety and sharing the road, check out the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s Web site, www.bikemaine.org.
Sandi Duchesne of Hudson is a transportation engineer and a former board member of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.