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Letter: Drivers Create Fear, Danger for Cyclists

To the Editor,

My name is Joey Schifano, and I’ve been a resident of Tewksbury for the past eleven years. For the past eight years, I have been a runner in town. I generally have felt safe walking and running in the past, but recently I was verbally harassed and felt fearful for my life.

On May 20th, I went for a 50 mile bike ride up towards Newburyport and back. Unprovoked, a man in a truck on East Street slowed down and someone in the passenger seat yelled at the top of their lungs “Get your [expletive] out of the road.” Then, the two men in the truck sped past “rolling coal,” coating me in exhaust. On my way back from Newburyport, I went down Shawsheen Street towards Market Basket. Since there is some construction going on, I had to overtake the middle of the lane. As cars started to pass me, one particular person harassed me again yelling “Move to the sidewalk, [expletive].”

Although being covered in uncombusted diesel or feeling attacked for riding my bike is undesirable, what is more fearful is that residents are not being safe around bikes. Screaming out the window, especially when passing, takes eyes off the road. Deliberately “rolling coal” is unsafe and blinding. Next to a 4000-8000 lb. piece of metal moving at 30 mph is my 19 lb. bike going 15 mph.

As you may know, the marginalization of cyclists is not new. In fact, most motorists believe that bicycles should not be allowed on the road, which is unfair and — quite frankly–illegal. To refamiliarize yourself with Massachusetts state law, cyclists are allowed to take a whole lane of traffic, but “[cyclists] may keep to the right when passing a motor vehicle which is moving in the travel lane of the way” (MGL c.85 § 11B).

As a runner and a cyclist in town for the summer, I am passionate about this issue. It is very important that drivers understand how to safely drive around bicycles. Many drivers in Tewksbury, I fear, do not know of these laws and need to become aware of the potential dangers. Some things I would like to get the word out about:
● Drivers should give at least three feet of space at all times to cyclists
● Cyclists may be exposed to harsh road conditions (bumps in the road)
● Drivers should wait patiently behind a cyclist before passing
● Drivers should not speed up too fast near cyclists (especially in diesel trucks)
● Passing fast can create cross winds for a cyclist
● Yelling at cyclists can cause crashes 
● Cyclists cannot safely operate on sidewalks (i.e. people walking dogs, people with strollers, etc.)
● Drivers must yield to cyclists taking left turns when appropriate
● Drivers must be careful when opening their door

Some things that could easily change the culture of riding with cyclists:
● Painting on the roads: “Cyclists May Use Full Lane,” “Slow When Passing”
● Future integration of bike lanes with dividers
● Education by reaching out to residents at the Tewksbury Annual Bike Rodeo and local driving schools

I hope residents will become more aware of this issue and change our roadway culture to help create a safer space for cyclists on the road. 

Best,
Joseph Schifano

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