Commentary: Dangerous Biking in Amherst

Just plain wrong…

For a few days now local news here in Amherst has been dominated by the report of a killed biker on Montague Road. This tragedy has been exacerbated by the sad fact that the car that hit the two bikers has not yet been found and that the driver has not faced consequences for his or her actions.

While this occurrence is of course tragic, it shines a light on bike safety in Amherst. And although the town has created a beautiful network of bike lanes (and the state has issued stricter bike-protection laws), many bikers appear to me less safe than ever before – mostly due to their own doing!

Here is what I have been observing for a while and particularly since the start of the fall semester:

Many adult bikers do not use a helmet. Although (and incomprehensible to me) not required by law, helmets save lives. Omitting them removes a basic and important safety feature. It is like driving without a seat belt. It is inherently dumb.

The second observation is that occasionally bikers ride on the wrong side of the road (facing traffic). I can only assume that this is due to a misguided extrapolation of the pedestrian rule to biking. This one is in clear violation of all rules of the road. It is a dangerous practice for the biker, other bikers and cars. I can only hope that local police stop these violators, provide education and possibly even issues tickets.

The last observation is maybe the most suicidal of these three. Many bikers ride at night without light and reflectors. Especially on often rather dimly lit country roads around here but also on the UMass campus and in town this is a very dangerous practice.

It has become obvious to me through these observations that these fellow bikers have lost respect for the traffic on the road, other bikers and – most severely – for their own lives. If they cannot take responsibility themselves, then maybe the town of Amherst as well as UMass should step up to protect them from their own bad judgments.

Don’t get me wrong after these lines. I am a biker myself and I very much enjoy biking in Amherst. But I do so with a helmet, a lit bike at night and on the right side of the road.


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