Sharing the road

PORTLAND — Bicyclist James Riley has pedaled thousands of miles, endured innumerable falls as a mountain bike racer and survived two collisions with cars.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

A cyclist uses the sidewalk during the Martin's Point Bridge construction on Route 1 between Falmouth and Portland on Wednesday. An altercation between a motorist and a cyclist has raised awareness of the hazardous conditions of using the popular commuter route.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

James Riley has been struck by motorists on multiple occasions while riding his bike. He filmed a verbal altercation after almost being struck on Martin's Point Bridge on Route 1 between Falmouth and Portland. Riley says he was hit at this Brunswick intersection when a motorist sped up to turn into the Tontine Mall.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Capt. James Harkins of Portland was involved in a public dispute on Martin's Point Bridge in Portland with cyclist James Riley. Harkins lost all of the sponsors for his public-access TV show, "Atlantic Adventures," after Riley posted a video of the verbal altercation on Facebook.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

A sign at the start of Martin's Point Bridge in Portland warns motorists that cyclists can use the entire lane to cross the busy Route 1 construction area.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

A sign at the start of Martin's Point Bridge in Portland allows cyclists to use the sidewalk on if they feel uncomfortable using the travel lane while the bridge is under construction.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

A sign at the start of Martin's Point Bridge in Portland allows cyclists to use the sidewalk on if they feel uncomfortable using the travel lane while the bridge is under construction.

But he never worried until now.

On June 3, Riley was riding home from work in Brunswick when he was bullied on the narrow Martin's Point Bridge separating Falmouth and Portland with a blaring horn and a looming truck grille that, he says, closed to within inches of hitting him.

"It was close enough that I could actually feel the vehicle," Riley said. "I was looking over the guardrail thinking, 'Geez, I might have to go into the river.'"

He survived unhurt, but only after riding precariously close to a bridge railing and jumping storm drains, he said. Then, he met the truck's driver, James Harkins.

A few minutes after the encounter on the bridge, Riley happened onto Harkins' truck parked on a nearby street, he said. When he took a photo of the license plate, Harkins yelled at him and climbed into his truck.

Riley caught part of it on video and posted it on the Internet. The video shows Harkins profanely insulting the cyclist as Harkins motors past.

"You're probably gay, too, aren't you?" Harkins added as he drove away.

The next morning, Riley left for his morning commute to work 90 minutes early, worried that Harkins or another driver might be waiting.

However, Harkins, a deep-sea fishing captain and boat hauler, in a later interview with the Sun Journal said Riley had nothing to fear from him.

Harkins insisted that he never blared his horn or drove his Ford F-550 to within less than 3 feet of the cyclist, which would have violated the law. He said he safely passed Riley and was later ambushed by the smartphone-wielding cyclist.

"I was intimidated by this cyclist," he said. "He followed me. He approached me. He got in my face."

The gay comment came from anger, Harkins said.

"Anger is the wind that blows out the candle of reason," he said.

Both men say they were trying to share the road.

Changing the law

It's the kind of incident that happens too often in a state with aging, narrow roads, too many erratic bicyclists and impatient drivers.

New legislation aimed at clarifying the rules of Maine's roads was passed earlier this month, explicitly giving cyclists the right to steer into travel lanes if they deem the shoulder unsafe. The law, which takes effect in September, also explicitly requires drivers to wait for nearby cyclists to pass before turning, if turning would interfere with the cyclist's safety or legal passage.

In addition, the law establishes that any collision between a bicycle and a motor vehicle is apparent or "prima facie" evidence of a violation of the law that limits passing vehicles from closing to less than 3 feet of a bicyclist or roller skier. However, law enforcement officials say that provision will have little effect on how such collisions are enforced. An investigation must follow any collision that causes either $1,000 in damage or injury.

"We're going to do an investigation because that's what we're trained to do," said Lt. Brian Scott, the commanding officer of the Maine State Police Traffic Safety Unit. "We're going to try to determine what happened. And if a bicyclist happened to quickly swerve out in front of a car, we're not going to say that is a violation of the 3-foot rule."

One day after the law was enacted, on June 14, a cyclist was killed in Hanover.

David LeClair, 23, of Watertown, Mass., died while participating in the charity Trek Across Maine. He was killed when he fell into the path of a passing truck, said Lt. Walter Grzyb of the Maine State Police.

A police investigation of the accident is ongoing.

"Through our investigation, we discovered that there was, in fact, 3 feet that was given, but because David LeClair lost his balance for whatever reason, he ended up falling and having contact with that truck," Grzyb said. No charges are planned against the driver.

It was the first Maine bicycle fatality in at least six years.

Nationally, bicyclists account for about 2 percent of traffic fatalities. In 2011, there were 32,367 traffic deaths. Of those, 677 were using pedal-powered vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

'A billboard on your back'

Locally, there have been few injuries among cyclists.

During the three-year period from 2008 through 2010, 49 car-cyclist crashes occurred in Lewiston, Auburn, Lisbon and Sabattus, according to numbers compiled by the Androscoggin Transportation Resource Center. Of those 49 crashes, two of the collisions resulted in injuries serious enough to incapacitate the cyclist.

Despite the seemingly low number of injuries, many cyclists say they are sometimes nervous, tense or plain-old scared when riding on local roads.

Busy local streets — such as Russell Street in Lewiston or Center Street in Auburn — can be frightening, said John Grenier, a cyclist and the owner of Rainbow Bicycle in Lewiston. For sections of those roads, there is no shoulder and sometimes nowhere to go if car and truck traffic bears down.

"There is no place for bicycles," Grenier said. "None. There's not even a foot. So when you ride there, the car has no choice but to put two tires in the other lane, if they want to not hit you."

Cyclists must choose between doing the legal thing — they have the legal right to use the road, too — or hop onto a sidewalk if one is available. However, cyclists are supposed to stay off the sidewalk, ride with traffic and obey the lights, signs and other rules of the road.

There is little enforcement of the rules as they apply to bicyclists, said Lewiston Police Sgt. Robert Ullrich, one of several officers who patrol the city on bicycles.

"I would bet if you went to the Police Department to look for how many citations were written to bicyclists, if you found one or two you'd be lucky," he said. Part of the reason is staffing. There are too few officers. Another part is allowing cyclists to do what they need to do to feel safe. Like Grenier, he believes some roads in the city can be intimidating for a cyclist.

However, Ullrich said he usually feels safe. After all, he's typically in uniform.

"You have a billboard on your back that says, 'Police,'" he said.

Road power

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine, which spearheaded the recent changes in the law, also is working to share the road.

"For us, it's not about who has power and who has more power or less power," coalition spokesman Brian Allenby said. "It's about how we can all use the roadway together."

Maine law is clear that bicycles have the right to use the roadway, he said. "For the most part, cyclists operate safely. They do follow the rules of the road. The ones who don't, in the same way as motorists who don't follow the rules, are very obvious because they're the ones blowing through stop signs. They're the ones riding in the opposite direction on one-way streets."

The coalition welcomes enforcement for both motorists and cyclists, he said.

"While I certainly don't want to encourage undue scrutiny on cyclists, nor do I want to make police departments feel like they need to devote lots of resources to it, we absolutely want to make sure that cyclists are following the rules," Allenby said.

'Two-wheeled thugs'

A new coalition — created by Harkins following the incident with Riley — is also pledging to call for enforcement and changes in Maine law.

He calls it the Coalition of Motorists for Safe Cycling.

"We need to completely change our thinking as to how we look at cyclists on the road," said Harkins, who says he began the initiative in the days after his confrontation with Riley.

After the video of his outburst circulated, he said he lost all of the sponsors for his public-access TV show, "Atlantic Adventures." Other sponsors have come forward, though, along with new customers, he said.

Harkins said he has received thousands of e-mails and phone calls from people who are angry at cyclists.

Harkins calls them "two-wheeled thugs."

"They're a very organized group of tech-savvy individuals who are poised to attack anyone who dares to speak out or has anything negative to say about the cycling community," Harkins said.

Bicycles are "still vehicles on the road" and deserve to be controlled that way, he said.

He plans to lobby for a list of changes that would include forcing cyclists to register their bikes and undergo annual mechanical inspections. He would also subject cyclists to prosecution for operating under the influence and distracted cycling. Like car owners, they should also be required to buy liability insurance, he said.

Harkins hopes to announce a formal agenda with his partners during a news conference in the next few weeks, he said.

"We want positive change for both cyclists and motorists," he said.

Riley said he is skeptical of Harkins.

"He's a really hot-headed individual," Riley said. "I actually feel really bad for him because I wonder if he's the type who fights something until he's so red in the face that he can never feel like he can find common (ground). We're both guys. We both understand that there are instances where we, you know, make mistakes in life."

Cyclists here to stay

Grenier believes the environment on the road is improving.

"I feel like I had more motorist confrontations 15 years ago than I do now," he said. "I think people are more tolerant now. They've seen more cyclists. I think the tide is turning. I think we just need more and more conversations about it."

The number of cyclists is growing, enthusiasts say. Local groups such as the 180-member Maine Cycling Club are thriving.

"A lot of them are influential in the community, business people and business owners, so they're vocal about it," Grenier said.

Folks have come to realize that a short wait for someone on a bicycle is no sacrifice, he said.

"It happens in foreign countries. If you go to Europe, they share the road. It's not a problem," he said. "You convert some of the motorists to seeing, 'You know what, you're right. I really don't have to wait long.' Where are you going in such a hurry that you can't delay your trip by 10 seconds?

"There's going to be more cycling, plain and simple," he said. "Cyclists aren't going away. Cars certainly aren't going away. So, what do we do? We have some bad actors who drive cars and we have some bad actors who drive bikes. I think the percentages are about the same."

dhartill@sunjournal.com

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

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Comments

 's picture

Harkins loses a lot of

Harkins loses a lot of credibility in that he is clearly unable to articulate anything and putting out ridiculous, knee-jerk statements. He says bicycles are the perfect vehicle for terrorists because they can't be identified. This statement is just laughable.. as if the only other alternative is for a terrorist to be inflicting terror on their registered motor vehicle. Everything he says is "another big thing that a lot of people have said". This guy is clearly not someone we should be looking to.. whether you get frustrated or not with cyclists from time to time, most people would agree shouting slurs at them is no way to respond to that frustration. What about how he came into the public consciousness merits the press giving him any further venue to speak?

Thomas Hamilton's picture

Yes indeed

Yes indeed, I had to smile when I heard him read his prepared statement. How about his offensive and aggressive, intimidating language directed at the cyclist?
It seems to me that as a public figure (and he has drawn more attention to himself by having the interview) he needs to make a clear apology for his language and homophobic slur.

I expect that he wants to be known as successful saltwater captain and a nice guy with whom you would want to go fishing but not be held accountable for his public deportment - can't have it both ways.

I am disappointed that all the fuss and attention seems to be focused on motorvehicle-cycle issues.

John Brooking's picture

Cannot maintain posted speed limits?

"What we're proposing is that the cyclists that can't maintain a posted speed limit should have to yield the right of way to vehicles that are able to maintain the posted speed limit."

He does realize, I hope, the posted speed limit is a maximum, not a minimum. He starts talking about limited access highways having minimum limits, and bicyclists are already barred from using those, but then starts talking about posted limits on local roads as if they were minimums, not maximums, and as if motorists had a right to never have to slow down below the posted MAXIMUM. Hint: School buses, drivers ahead turning left, pedestrians crossing the street, drivers ahead lost or looking for their street, red lights, stop signs, tractors, cars pulling out of driveways... Lots of reasons you may need to slow down. Bicycles in the road are no different.

Edward S Phillips 's picture

Attitudes

Drive about 1000 miles per week delivering to homes.
Try to be very aware of kids and bicycles.
Hove ever some people on bicycles have a very bad attitude. The have the attitude that the rules of the road do not apply to them. They feel that the road is theirs first. Stop signs and yield signs are for autos only.Also kids on bikes ride on the wrong side of the road 2 side by side. Both Adults and kids are very quick to give the middle finger salute. The worst bikers are those training for road races. They are oblivas of any thing else on the road.

John Brooking's picture

Registration, Licensing, and some other responses

More towns and cities used to require bicycle registration and inspection than do now. My understanding is that most have dropped those requirements in the last 50 years because they've concluded there is not enough need to justify the cost of administration. As someone else has pointed out, the reason it's required for motor vehicle drivers is the vast potential for public danger presented by unlicensed motor vehicle operators. That bicyclists do not constitute such public danger argues not only against spending money on such a program, but against a further regulation on the basic human right to travel. There should be a good reason to limit that, and even bad bicyclists do not justify that.

Although I am a bicyclist myself, I have some differences with Mr. Grenier. He says of some roads, "There is no place for bicycles. None. So when you ride there, the car has no choice but to put two tires in the other lane, if they want to not hit you."

What? The car (driver) has no choice? They can and must wait for safe time to pass, slowing down behind the bicyclist if necessary. BTW, if the cyclist is already riding a straight line further into the lane, rather than just "steer[ing] into travel lanes" suddenly, that makes it easier for overtaking motorists to clue in that they may need to slow down and think about it. That would be one good reason for a bicyclist to be in the travel lane in situations where the edge is sketchy or the shoulder non-existent. More reaction time is always better.

Speaking of "steering into travel lanes", the article is inaccurate when it states that the new bike law "explicitly [gives] cyclists the right to steer into travel lanes if they deem the shoulder unsafe." Bicyclists already HAVE the right to ride in the travel lane (NOT just "steer into it") under the old law, and shoulders were already optional too. The new law just clarifies that a bit.

If safe passing is not possible at the moment, it is safer for the cyclist to pull far enough into the middle of the travel lane (assuming there is time to do so) to prevent the motorist squeezing through. The cyclist can move back over when safe passing does become possible.

Also note that crossing a double-yellow to pass a bicycle is absolutely legal, if it is otherwise safe. It *can be* safe to pass a bicycle even in this situation because you don't need as much time and distance to pass a slower bicycle than to pass another car, and also (on a two-lane road) you can see ahead of the bicycle better than if it were another car.

I hate hearing the statement that a road "has no place for bicycles". Physically, of course, every road has plenty of room for bicycles; they're narrower than cars! It's a matter of the behavior of both motorists and cyclists. Certainly some roads are more difficult for untrained cyclists than others, and therefore more dangerous to cyclists who don't know what they're doing, but it's a function of knowledge and behavior, not of physical space. What this statement really says is that bicyclists must always have separate space, which runs counter to what the law says, and represents a diminishment of cyclists' right to use the road.

Regarding police not enforcing laws against bicyclists, Lewiston officer Sgt. Ullrich states, "Another [reason] is allowing cyclists to do what they need to do to feel safe."

That doesn't explain not ticketing them for running red lights or for operating at night without lights. Wrong-way riding, maybe, because some cyclists do think that is safer, but even then, police should know that it's actually MORE dangerous, and the responsible thing to do would be to advise wrong-way cyclists of that fact, even if they don't issue a ticket.

Thomas Hamilton's picture

But ...

Well Mr. Harkins, it has been said that "the best defense is a good offense" and this is certainly what your carefully prepared statement appears to be.

What about your aggressive, inappropriate language, and gay slur?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

If they're wearing spandex

If they're wearing spandex and a turtle shell helmet; WATCH 'EM!!. Trouble is on the way.

Ken Perry's picture

Laws

I think it is time then that if bikes are becoming or having problems on the roads then it is also time to start having the cyclist carry Liability Insurance, and pay excise tax.
Prob. should make them have a slow moving vehicle placard on the back of the bike also.
Also inspections and possibly even a valid licenses to make sure that they know all the laws and rules of the roads. Should look into age requirements then to operate a bike on certain roads, if not for their safety as well as licensed vehicle operators sharing the roadway. As it is now we could have a 9 year old kid riding thru the center of Portland and not have any clue as to the rules of the road, signs, traffic lights etc. if this is what the cyclist want then have them meet and pay the same requirements as the rest of us.

Really?

So what's next Ken? Liability insurance for pedestrians?
Excise tax? Sure, I'll pay, once all roads have bicycle lanes and the tax rate is based on the weight of my vehicle.
Inspections? Fine, I inspect my bike before each ride anyway.
Licenses? Age Requirements? How much regulation do you want?
9 Year old kids riding alone through downtown Portland? Sounds like a parenting issue.

Cyclists don't have to meet the same requirements as motorists because they aren't driving a 2 ton machine that's powered by a series of controlled explosions. Cyclists push pedals on a machine that weighs about 1% of the average car. These 2 ton machines are putting out a couple hundred horsepower. The bicyclist? Usually, less than 1 Horsepower.

We should all me mindful and do our best to stay safe (cyclists and motorists), but your comments lack perspective.

Ken Perry's picture

Yup

Pedestrians seldom walk three abreast in a travel lane, and are not moving in the travel lane at a quarter the speed limit like cyclist. And it does seem to be a problem at least with the media. Point is if cyclist want all these rights then follow the same rules that a vehicle has to. Cyclist are increasing in numbers and the roads they seem to use are the same ones that are the busiest. How long before some family is on the road with kids with training wheels on? Parenting issues, yes you are correct but that is also a huge problem. Cyclist are asking for enforcement of the laws so they should also be brought up to safer standards when a cyclist is dressed all in black spandex with a helmet and in the crouched position they do not stand out like a motorcycle. Also if a cyclist gets hit he sues the guys insurance co. but if a cyclist hits a car it is a civil suit for damages, just saying. Riding a bike on heavily traveled road is like running with the bulls, same risk.

Good to know that motorists

Good to know that motorists are enraged bulls who will trample everything they can in order to get where they are going.

 's picture

rules of the road

I've biked for many years and I have seen both sides of the coin. From empty bottles being thrown at me from passing cars/trucks to too many near misses. I've also tried driving down the road where there were up to 3 bikes across and not inline like they are supposed to be and I had to completely drive in the opposing lane to allow that 3 foot margin! I stay well behind any cyclist if I can't pass them till it's clear. I've seen too many bikes not follow the rules of the road. When I ride I stop at stop signs/red lights. Yield to oncoming traffic and get in the right lane to turn. Remember those hand signals we were taught before when there wasn't a turning lane? I've seen few to none do those. I've seen more motorcyclist do those! As far as Harkins claim on OUI's on a bike; guess what you can already be prosecuted for it.

DANNY FITZSIMMONS's picture

road laws

the road laws are not being obeyed by the cycle community nor are some of the laws feasible to observe. For instance a 3ft area for bicyclists and the width of many roads and the width of vehicles often times is impossible to maintain. And if a motorist may be ticketed for driving under posted speed limit, yet can also get a ticket for not allowing this distance. And you can get a ticket for speeding or not stopping for red light and so on, however cyclists very, very rarely if at all get ticketed. then there are those who feel they have to ride side by side creating even more danger.

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