Letter to the editor: Bicyclists are allowed to use sidewalks

We recognize that some bicyclists feel safest using sidewalks. Sidewalks can be the safest choice when there is fast moving and high volume traffic, like Route 7, no or little shoulder, where shoulders are damaged or contain debris or obstacles or merge into a turning lane, like Middle Road. 
We teach students to use care on sidewalks because it is actually harder for motorists to see and anticipate them when turning into driveways and parking lots, like Kinney’s or the gas stations, than if they’re on roads. We also teach when and how to claim a road lane to make a left turn, enter a rotary, or avoid being “doored” — having someone open their car door into traffic — or choose to dismount their bikes and become pedestrians. 
The “sharrow” stencils on Main Street — arrows with the bike symbol printed in the middle of the road — indicate that bikes can and should claim the road since there is no shoulder. Roads are much smoother than sidewalks and preferred by confident bicyclists. 
Please know that very young children using scoot bikes or kick scooters are never restricted from using any Middlebury sidewalks. All others on bikes are only restricted during the business hours of 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and only on Main Street between Printer’s Alley and Park Street and Merchants Row between Main Street and South Pleasant Street. Children and their older escorts can use any sidewalks to get to school. Bicyclists who feel vulnerable at night can use any sidewalks to get about. 
The new “walk bikes on sidewalks” stencils you see on Main Street between Printer’s Alley and Park Street and Merchant’s Row between South Pleasant and Main Street indicate the greatly condensed zone in which bicyclists are restricted. The town was deliberate in minimizing the geography and time of the restricted zone to the most dense retail area and only business hours in response to retailers and pedestrians who were being clipped by bicyclists on sidewalks — usually adults, sometimes college students. We adopted the same stencil design used in downtown Burlington to indicate the restricted dense merchant zone for continuity. 
The old “bike tire wheel” stencils outside of this zone protested by the bike community as unnecessarily restrictive will be removed. You can disregard them. Their removal has been a challenge because they don’t pressure wash off and have required scraping the sidewalk. This work has needed to be considered with other assignments taken up by our Public Works staff, including water pipe repairs and the rail bridge construction project. We’re getting there, and appreciate your patience and understand the confusing message of the old stencils.
Feel free to contact me [email protected] or 388-9478 if you’d like to take a practice ride through downtown and learn our rules of the road and how to navigate traffic safely and enjoyably. 
Laura Asermily
Middlebury Safe Routes Coordinator
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