The Long and Winding Road
by Tad Staley
Winding, narrow and tree-lined roads are certainly a delight for cycling, but they can pose serious safety concerns when it comes to sharing scarce roadway real estate with motorists. This article addresses one such road that is very popular with CRW riders, but the issues can be applied to many similar scenic roads.
Every week, scores of CRW cyclists head out to Nahanton Park in Newton, to join others for a 19, 28 or 42 mile Saturday Morning Fitness Ride (SMFR). These riders are treated to some of the prettiest, leafiest roads in the western suburbs, though Dover, Medfield and Sherborn. These routes have become popular for many cyclists in large part because of the influence of the SMFR.
But, before getting to Dover and beyond, riders pass through Needham. After two miles on the wide and accommodating Greendale Avenue, most riders take a route that jogs right then left onto South Street, which they follow for three miles to the Dover border. For most of its length, South Street is a lovely road—actually designated as a "Scenic Route", one of only three in Needham. So it's a natural route between Newton/Needham and the country environs of Dover and beyond.
As everyone who has ever followed that route knows, South Street is narrow and winding. This is part of its charm, of course, but it poses serious safety concerns when motorists and cyclists—either single riders or large groups—need to share that road.
Recently, perhaps due to several reported "close calls", the danger of the shared roadway of South Street has once again become an active news item in Needham. Town Selectmen, the department of public works, and the traffic management advisory committee have all become more focused on the issue. And Needham Bikes (needhambikes.org), the local bicycle advocacy group, is actively working with these groups to address the safety issue on South Street.
Unfortunately there is no obvious solution. With private property often extending all the way to the pavement, the town cannot widen the road, which in some places is barely 20 feet wide, scarcely enough for two passing vehicles.
The primary safety concern arises when motorists cross the center line to pass cyclists. There are very few segments along South Street that are safe for passing, and most of the near-misses of late have been the result of motorists passing without seeing cars—or bicyclists—coming in the other direction.
One solution is to prohibit motorists from crossing the center line anywhere on South Street. Faster cyclists traveling down South Street at speeds up to 30 miles per hour may not pose a major hindrance to motorists, but slower cyclists might test the patience of many motorists.
Needham Bikes is working to make cycling safer and more popular in town. Early successes include a series of signs, some along the SMFR, to raise motorists' awareness of cyclists on Needham roads. The organization is also working with the town to improve the safety on South Street. The first priority is installing additional signage for motorists. Specifically, the town has agreed in principle to add signs recommending lower speeds at dangerous corners. Also under consideration are no-passing signs, and more enforcement by Needham Police—applying to both motorists and cyclists.
In the meantime, we encourage cyclists to be sensitive to the issue. As with any winding and narrow road, we suggest:
• Ride in small groups, and get single file when traffic approaches.
• If it's unsafe for motorists to pass within the travel lane, take control of the lane (i.e., ride in the center of the lane to more effectively occupy the lane)
• On roads having long stretches where motorists cannot pass safely, look for opportunities to pull off the roadway and let motorists proceed.
Above all, please exercise civility, even when motorists are less than gracious. Motorists notice courtesy, and it helps make the roads safer for all cyclists.
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