My husband and I used to traverse the many bike routes of Vermont with total peace of mind and pure joy, our senses exploding with all nature has to offer. Now it is with a heavy heart that I write this letter to the Editor and community at large. The recent, tragic deaths of three cyclists on Vermont’s idyllic roads have left me with a wide range of emotions and many sleepless nights.
I cannot imagine coming upon the scene of my husband’s death, with my children in the car, as happened to the family of Dr. Kenneth Najarian last Wednesday night on Greenbush Road. Similarly, weeks before Kelly Boe’s wife witnessed his death as they were biking in Weybridge. Also bearing mention is the loss of life on Rte. 116 of both the driver, Joseph Marshall, and cyclist Richard Tom in a horrendous crash.
My husband and I have cycled on all of these roads and I have, on more than one occasion, had to stop to gather myself as I was so overwhelmed by the beauty and tranquility of surroundings that were literally in our own back yard. We lost valuable and loved members of our community, two from the decision of individuals to drive under the influence and one as the result of excessive speed and reckless driving.
I have thought long and hard about what can be done to make our roads safe for all users. One thing I have never liked is having the traffic behind me as I cycle. The widening and cleaning of bike lanes is not going to protect a biker from a car being driven well over the speed limit with loss of control, a person distracted by cell phone and text usage and the ubiquitous drunk driver. I feel I would have a fighting chance if I saw what was coming at me.
The Hinesburg Chief of Police said it takes bravery to participate in a sport in which the traffic is behind you. Education seems to be the route we have always taken to avoid catastrophes, such as we have experienced in the past weeks. I think we need more. Our roads lend themselves to speeding and are often curvy and poorly patrolled.
When I was a teen-aged driver in Massachusetts, we always knew what towns and what states not to speed in, not because we feared for our lives or that of others, but rather because we did not want to incur huge fines and loss of licenses. In Vermont there are many towns with limited or no police coverage. Even prison escapees saw Vermont as an easier place to not be caught.
Lastly, I am tired of the slap-on-the-wrist attitude for first DUI offenders. If someone took a gun to the Burlington Square Mall and just shot it at the ceiling with no injury or death resulting, leniency would not be extended even for a first offense. When a driver gets behind the wheel drunk he is armed, locked and loaded.
In summary, I would like to see bikers lawfully allowed to ride facing traffic in areas with minimal pedestrian activity, more police presence and ticketing with high fines, especially on high school routes such as 116 and the Shelburne Hinesburg Road (fines would more than pay for increased police salaries) and lastly a zero tolerance for drunk drivers, a law that would have to be carefully constructed. Vermont is one of the healthiest states in the Union, ahead of the game with GMO’s and Smoking Bans. The State is not keeping up with creating laws that protect an ever-increasing population using main and back roads for multiple purposes in multiple ways. I would like to be able to enjoy all that Vermont has to offer, especially while cycling and not, as one contributor to the Free Press stated, wonder every time I go for a bike ride if it will it be my last. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere condolences to the families who recently suffered the excruciating, sudden loss of their loved ones and to let them know that we grieve with them.
Lee Rosenberg, Shelburne