Be careful out there: Walkers and bicyclists take to the roads

Nicole Muller

When people venture onto Massachusetts roads on foot or bicycle, laws govern how they do so, just like motor vehicle laws direct drivers.

“Road lanes are just 10- to 11-feet wide, so people walking or riding bikes abreast are putting themselves in jeopardy,” said Dennis Police Lt. Peter Benson. Although police understand that people like to chat as they walk or ride bicycles to their destination, officials stress that when people see or hear a motor vehicle approaching, they must fall back to single file until the vehicle passes.

It’s the law.

When out on the roads, whether on foot or pedaling bicycles, a heightened awareness of safe traveling is critical to everyone’s personal safety.

Those traveling on foot must walk against oncoming traffic. “That allows you to see what’s coming at you and get out of the way of vehicles,” said Sgt. Peter DiMatteo, Dennis traffic safety officer. “If you’re on a bike, travel with traffic and obey all traffic signs and lights.” Bikers are also required to use hand signals when turning and stopping.

“No riding in the road, no zig-zagging or fancy tricks are allowed,” DiMatteo warned. “Bike riders are responsible for their own safety and should stay well off to the side of the road.”

Riding single file “on any roadway, except when passing” is first on the state’s list of laws governing bicycle riders. The law also prohibits carrying a child between 1 and 4 years old, or weighing 40 pounds or less, on a bicycle “except in a baby seat attached to the bicycle.” The occupant of the baby seat must be able to sit up and be secured with a harness.

Those 16 or younger operating a bicycle or being carried as a passenger must wear a helmet secured with straps to his or her head. “We’d like everyone to wear a helmet,” DiMatteo said. “Head injuries associated with bicycle accidents can be prevented or reduced in severity by wearing a helmet.”

Bike riders must keep both hands free, carrying any items in a basket or rack designed for that purpose.

Clothing is an important safety feature, whether walking or bike riding. “Wear bright-colored clothing in daytime,” DiMatteo said. “At night, wear light-colored clothing or a reflective vest or jacket. Do whatever you can to be visible, and make sure your bicycle is equipped with plenty of reflectors.”

Bicycles should be checked at a bike shop every spring and at least once during the summer. “Always make sure your tires are in good shape. Bald tires slide more easily on sand,” DiMatteo said. “Have the air pressure in them checked as well as the brakes and handle bars.”

Walkers are urged to use sidewalks whenever possible for optimum safety. “Bikers can use sidewalks, except in business districts, when necessary in the interest of safety, but pedestrians have the right of way,” DiMatteo said. When overtaking a pedestrian on a sidewalk, a bicyclist must give an audible warning.

The Dennisport business district is one exception to the rule governing bicycles on sidewalks. “We allow bikes on the sidewalks there because we don’t want children riding bikes on Route 28,” he said.

Dennis has had just one bike accident this summer, on Aug. 9 at Lower County Road and Northern Avenue. “The driver didn’t see the woman coming at the intersection, and luckily, she was only slightly injured,” Benson said.

Benson and DiMatteo encourage walkers, cyclists and motorists to always look both ways — twice — before proceeding through an intersection. Remember, Massachusetts law grants pedestrians right of way. Walkers are encouraged to cross at marked crosswalks for optimum safety. Motorists are reminded to slow down when approaching marked bike-path crossings and plan to stop to allow bikers, walkers and the occasional rider on horseback to cross safely.

All interested Dennis residents are invited to attend the Road Safety Task Force meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11, at the Department of Public Works, 120 Theophilus Smith Road, South Dennis.

Nicole Muller can be reached

The Register