Your Views

Posted: July 9, 2014

Install shoulders  for safety’s sake

I ride my bicycle quite a bit. It’s a joy to be out in the morning before the traffic picks up, tooling around the streets of Winchester. I ride a combination of street, sidewalk, and trail because I am a firm believer in the Law of Sheet Metal: a 5-mph collision between cars barely scratches a bumper, but would send me flying into the bushes, and wreck my bike, to boot.

So I have sympathy for Mr. Pearce’s irritability (Your Views, July 5) with bike riders. Many of them fling about as if the law makes them invulnerable, riding in the middle of a traffic lane and cutting through intersections with impunity and disregard, convinced they have the same rights as an automobile.

They do, but, please observe, bike riders, that all the traffic laws in the U.S. do not prevent a distressing number of collisions between cars, with a subsequent high rate of death and injury. The Law of Sheet Metal means you are always going to get the worst of it, and even if you’re the most militant and self-righteous cyclist out there, you’re still going to end up in traction. So, please, be circumspect, and take Mr. Pearce’s advice to avoid traffic, where you can.

Which is the best advice of all because, if there is one thing I have noticed about recent traffic, it is the utter contempt displayed not only for cyclists, but for other drivers. It looks, more and more, that the majority of drivers out there firmly believe they are the only ones allowed on the road, and all other vehicles are an intrusion.

Tailgating, running red lights, foregoing turn signals, and exceeding speed limits by at least 20 mph seems to be the norm now. I thought that was limited to D.C., where every single driver feels they are in competition with every other driver and must beat all of them to work in order to get a bigger share of the federal budget, but it’s quite evident in Winchester, too. So I’m very cautious when I take my bike out.

Even then, I get looks of utter jaw-dropped amazement from drivers whizzing past me along the parked cars (because I assume you don’t want to hit a parked car, so you’ll probably give me a few inches as you pass), like a person on a bicycle is the most startling of sights. It might as well be 30 years ago, when the only persons on bicycles were 10-year-olds and DUI convicts, and both got well-deserved stares of annoyance from drivers.

And that is the problem with Mr. Pearce’s concerns: they are 30 years out of date. Cyclists don’t ride on sidewalks because those are for pedestrians, who need far more protection from self-centered drivers than cyclists (and, besides, have you seen the condition of Winchester sidewalks?). Riding through neighborhoods is fine, if you live there. And doing loops on school tracks is out of the question because school authorities don’t want you messing up their pristine fields (it’s the same viewpoint that bans bicycles from a lot of the trails at the Third Battle of Winchester because, somehow, pneumatic tires do far more damage to the fragile, precious, and easily destroyed ground than do hobnailed boots).

So, then, bike lanes and trails? Absolutely not. Bike lanes and trails are silly, a tenet of the New Urbanism which has gripped local councils bent on turning Frederick County and Winchester into Fairfax County and Fairfax, respectively. Bike trails do not go where cyclists want to go; they go where weekend grampas on their old cruiser bikes, accompanied by their grandchildren, want to go for about a half hour. All bike lanes do is reduce the cushion between driver and cyclist, and give trial lawyers some income, but that’s about it. Yet, the New Urbanists proclaim the utility of trails and lanes with the same fervor as an apparatchik embracing the five-year plan. Trails and lanes won’t address Mr. Pearce’s concerns, or those of cyclists, either.

Shoulders will.

Yes, shoulders, those wonderful little strips of asphalt alongside a road that can accommodate a broken-down car, a driver wanting to answer a text, and cyclists. I ride a bike quite a bit in New Jersey, and practically all the roads there have wonderfully wide shoulders that keep me well out of traffic, and go everywhere I want to go. Safely. Frederick County, heck, most of Virginia, has a dearth of good shoulders, and taking long bike rides on Va. 7 or U.S. 50 is just asking to get killed. So, Frederick County, instead of wasting tax money on bike trails, why don’t you install shoulders on your roads?

That way, everybody can use them. Even Mr. Pearce.

Dwight O. Allen Jr.

Winchester

Bike routes are  not just for recreation

In response to Chuck Pearce Sr.’s letter (Your Views, July 5):

It is wonderful that Mr. Pearce has the means to afford his golf game, but there are many residents of Winchester who cannot afford a car, and rely on bicycling as their main mode of transportation. These residents deserve a safe environment to get to and from work. Currently many of them do ride on the sidewalk and this is the most dangerous place for them. The sidewalks are often in poor condition in our city and turning vehicles do not see cyclists.

It is well documented that more and more people want to live and work in walkable and bikeable communities. This paper frequently reports on various agencies’ attempts to woo such workers to our region and the threat the region faces if we are unable to diversify our economy and attract young professionals. The ability to choose to bike to work is a critical draw for such professionals.

Lastly, public expenditures on bike infrastructure are an excellent investment. SmartGrowth America reports that “bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects create significantly more jobs than infrastructure projects for cars alone. According to the study, bicycle projects create 11.4 jobs for every $1 million invested — 46 percent more than car-only road projects.” If Mr. Pearce could think about bike lanes as means of transportation and healthy living, not mere recreation, he would see their value and the opportunities Winchester will miss out on by neglecting to build complete streets.

Taliah Weber  and Mitchell Ohriner

Winchester

No thanks to route restrictions for bikes

Mr. Pearce’s letter (Your Views, July 5) regarding the “need” for bike trails and their associated costs caught my eye. Over my 40 plus years of road riding, it’s been to get to school, to get to a job, to run errands, and, more recently, to maintain fitness levels while enjoying the outdoors. In our local urban areas, some of these could be accomplished by riding sidewalks. However, at speeds in excess of 10 mph and typical walkway widths of four to five feet, that creates safety issues for other sidewalk users. And no thanks to being restricted to a repeated loop of neighborhood streets or using the same route/facility over and over again. I prefer the ability to vary my route.

So, does all this translate into the need for separate facilities — especially considering the cost of acquiring the right of way and construction? As Mr. Pearce points out, there needs to be a discussion about this. It seems, however, that sharing the existing roads is a workable outcome, provided both bicyclists and drivers respect each other’s presence.

In closing, thank you to all those motorists willing to take the time to not pass until there is enough sight distance or road width to do so safely. Bicyclists are not looking to inconvenience you — just trying to utilize a public facility at a lower speed.

Steve Plante

Winchester

We’re light on  recreational options

Not so special, after all, would be my assessment of the treatment given bicycles in our area. Charles Pearce Sr. (Your Views, July 5) sees a massive giveaway to a minor segment of citizens in proposals to add to our modest number of bike trails. He should know that such “special treatment” is also geared to the desires of walkers, joggers, and skaters to have places to exercise safely. In reality, we’re fairly light on these recreational improvements that many people believe enhance quality of life and would make people want to live here.

We don’t have anything significant yet, no W&OD Trail or Western Maryland Rail Trail. Mr. Pearce’s suggestion that bikers ride on “fields and ball fields” can’t be taken very seriously. Nor should we heed his advice to cycle on the sidewalks. Contained in that word is the use to which these amenities should be restricted.

As for bikes sharing roadways with cars, there are valid safety concerns and also some failures by cyclists to follow the rules of the road. But our state DMV gives bicyclists all the rights and responsibilities given to motorists. The best answer is to engineer safety into road design, something that European countries have long done and that is catching on in the U.S. I believe it is enlightened thinking to encourage the use of 30-pound vehicles that emit no pollution, take up little space, don’t degrade the roads, and achieve the equivalent of over 900 miles to the gallon (see howstuffworks.com). The investment needed to do this is of course minuscule compared with that for automobile infrastructure.

I don’t have any numbers for bike commuters in this region. There are more than Mr. Pearce suspects, though, and better conditions would bring more out. I’ve bike-commuted to my job for seven years, using mostly the W&OD Trail, which has shaved about 30,000 miles from my driving. Not that everyone would want or need to go this far, but it’s fully possible to make these necessary daily trips more productive and less stressful. It’s sweet to glance over to the backup on Route 7 near Leesburg and pedal right past it.

So I hope Mr. Pearce might come around a bit on this issue. I chuckled when he said that expecting taxpayers to pay for bike lanes is like asking them to pay for his golf balls. For the record, I’ll be glad to buy him a sleeve of balls if he gets out there and shows us his pedal-power. He might also be interested to know that innovative minds have produced the Golfbike, by means of which golfers propel themselves and their clubs around the links. It could be a good place to start.

Bill Daniels

Berryville