The growing use of bicycles in Montpelier has provoked parental concern, pedestrian consternation, much discussion, and a likely overdue review of the city ordinance that determines where and how bicycles are ridden.
The current, long-standing ordinance prohibits riding bicycles on sidewalks in the city’s central business district, which is roughly defined as the streets having parking meters
In May, the Montpelier Police Department summarized the rules on its Facebook page:
As temperatures rise: a reminder that riding bicycles or skateboards on sidewalks in the Central Business District of Montpelier is prohibited. An easy way to determine the bounds of the business district is to remember it includes any street in downtown Montpelier with parking meters. Bicycle riders must obey all applicable traffic laws when riding in the roadway. Riders can always dismount and use sidewalks and crosswalks as pedestrians.
Bicycling is allowed on sidewalks outside the business district, but with the requirement that cyclists yield to pedestrians: “When and/or where sidewalks are shared by bicyclists and pedestrians, bicyclists must give right- of-way to pedestrians.”
Or, as River Street resident Colleen Crist put it during the extensive
discussion of bicycling on Front Porch Forum in July: “I’ve always understood—and told my kids—that it is OK to ride your bike on the sidewalk in Montpelier if there are no parking meters. If there are parking meters, you should ride in the street or walk your bike. This means they avoid riding in areas with lots of pedestrians, while accessing sidewalks when it is safe to do so.”
The police department’s approach to cyclists (or skateboarders) riding on sidewalks in the business district has been flexible, with the emphasis on education, explained Capt. Neil Martel, who has observed cyclists of
all ages violating the business district prohibition. “The city is working on a redesign of traffic management to improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and every other mode of locomotion,” he added.
Main Street Middle School has the greatest number of bike-to-school students. The sidewalks in the area around the school are also an essential thoroughfare for many pedestrians, including elderly and disabled persons, underscoring the need for caution and consideration.
While confident adult cyclists are accustomed to making themselves visible to drivers, following traffic rules, and knowing when to take the lane to make a left turn or crest a hill where oncoming traffic cannot be seen, smaller and less experienced children generate genuine parental concern about letting them ride on the streets.
Cyclists riding through the downtown streets need to be vigilant for abruptly opened doors when passing cars that are parallel parked. And with the growing proportion of SUVs and pickups on the roads, the visibility of vehicles backing out of the angled parking spaces on both sides of Main Street and in front of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library is often dangerously limited. Likewise, at the Post Office on State Street.
An option that some cities have used to retain the capacity of angled parking is to reverse the angle, which requires drivers to back into the parking space, providing better visibility for everyone when exiting the space. The backing maneuver would likely require practice for many drivers, although the increasingly standard rearview cameras should be helpful.
The current study for solving vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian, and railroad crossings at the complex Main and Barre streets intersection is an opportunity to consider strategies for making traffic interactions safer throughout the city. The options proposed by the study can be reviewed at montpelier-vt.org/ DocumentCenter/View/6223/Main- Barre-Study
Several resources are available online (and in print on request) that are excellent for teaching children to ride safely and legally. They also remind, or at least reinforce, the rules of the road that adults should follow.
For more information, visit: safestreets.vermont.gov