As the state’s leading advocacy and education organization for bicyclists and walkers, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine feels compelled to make a few clarifications with respect to Wendy Leighton’s guest column about bicycles on Maine roads (April 21). Leighton argues that the current laws that regulate — and permit — bicycles on Maine roadways are “faulty.”

We must respectfully disagree.

Like most states in the country, Maine’s traffic laws are based on a legal template called the “Uniform Vehicle Code,” which was revised to fit Maine’s needs and approved by the Legislature. The features of Maine’s laws regarding bicyclists’ rights to use travel lanes to make left turns, avoid obstacles and deal with narrow lanes are completely consistent with a majority of other states in the country.

There is nothing unusual about Maine’s laws that would lead one to conclude that they are “faulty,” as Leighton suggests.

Leighton feels bikes on roads make the roads less safe. She described scenarios in which cars pass bikes on blind hills and curves, “setting the stage for a head-on collision,” and she blames bicyclists on the road for these problems. Never for an instant does she draw the obvious conclusion that it is the motorist in these situations who is creating the danger by passing in an unsafe location.

And never does she consider that roadway users — besides bicyclists — might lead to similar bad decisions.


Passing a tractor, or a pair of walkers, or a horse, or a mail delivery vehicle in an unsafe location are all bad ideas. The lesson to take here is not that bicyclists should not be on roadways, but that motorists should slow down and act prudently when passing anything on a public roadway.

Incidentally, we have heard of no instance in which a head-on collision was the result of a driver unsafely passing a bicyclist. As far as we can tell, this has never happened. But it is entirely preventable and, in fact, Leighton provides the answer as to how when she notes that “By law, the operator of the motor vehicle can … apply the brakes and follow [until] the motor vehicle operator can go around … giving him the mandatory 3 feet.”

Think about how you would pass a farm tractor. That is exactly what a driver should do.

Leighton further laments that when a bicyclist occupies a travel lane to make a left turn, as provided for in law, it “impedes” other traffic. It is not clear to us why a bicycle making a left turn from a travel lane impedes traffic any more than, say, a car making a left turn would.

Her assumption that every bicyclist is a recreational rider is also problematic, as many people use bicycles for practical transportation. It would be hugely unfair to tell people who cannot afford cars, or who simply choose not to use cars all the time, that the roads they helped pay for are closed to them.

Essentially, Leighton believes that “roadways are for motor vehicles.”


While she directs most of her concern at bicyclists, according to this kind of thinking, anything else on that road besides speeding cars should be prohibited from access. By that thinking, whether it is a bicycle, a horse and rider, or an elderly couple out walking for exercise, anything that might slow a car down shouldn’t be out there.

We disagree with Leighton’s thinking on these issues. The roads are for people, not just people in cars.

Roadways are public spaces that are open to most users. The majority of roadway funding comes from pooling tax dollars at the federal level — which means we all pay for them. And, given the low impact non-motorized users have on roadways, folks who drive less actually wind up helping to subsidize a roadway system for folks who drive more.

While the financial realities of road construction may mean that not every road gets a shoulder, that is not a reason to ban other users. That is a reason for motorists to drive with extra care and courtesy.

If you ride a bike, ride with traffic, be predictable, and obey traffic signs and signals. If you walk, be visible and walk facing traffic unless a sidewalk is available. And if you drive a car, remember that, under Maine law, bicyclists and walkers have the same legal right to use the roadway as motorists.

James Tasse is education director of the Maine Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Education Program for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

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