I have been a long time bicycle commuter to the Burlington area and UVM since 1993. Thus I feel I can offer significant insight and comment. My bicycle commute between UVM is between 17 and 26 miles each way depending on chosen route. Most often I choose the longer routes for safety. I’m also the founding member of “Vermont Bicycle Commuters” on Facebook. I have been a participant in Mountain bike racing over the years and more recently a participant in “Fat Bike” events and snow biking.
For 3 seasons a year between March and December since 1993 I have logged thousands of miles. I have done this for fitness, cost savings, stress relief, and environmental benefits. As an Iraq War Veteran, I have tried hard to contribute efforts toward reducing our dependence on oil. I love cycling and would love to do more bicycle commuting to help the environment and the parking at UVM — but there is a problem. Too many motorists threaten my life and this is allowed and largely ignored by Vermont Police Departments. Adding cameras to my bicycle has not solved the issue either but has highlighted it.
Due to entirely too many close calls from near misses from cars and police choosing to be apathetic about attempts on my life. I have now shifted my focus to off-road cycling. I’m only road riding and commuting to the extent that it feeds into my endurance base for mountain bike training. When I road ride I attempt to choose dirt roads and side routes when possible. My life appears to be worthless when I am astride a bicycle, that is how too many motorists and police have treated the issue.
It is currently okay to threaten and kill with a motor vehicle in the US and you have a good chance to get away with it. Examine the lack of convictions of those who have done so. I will continue to use the cameras and document when I am forced to share the road with cars, but I’m not optimistic. I hope that others are. I also hoping that the technology that has given us the woefully distracted driver will give us new solutions. Motor vehicles are statistically more dangerous to the bystander than firearms in the US, yet our society treats then as toys and intimidation devices.
As a results of the threats and intimidation I am now driving considerably more than I used to; not only for commuting but to haul my off-road bicycles to areas such as Catamount Family Center, and Hinesburg town Forest where I can ride them in more safety. Thus the problem is compounded for me.
On the positive side of the equation the University of Vermont has been very supportive of my bicycle commuting with regard to being allowed to store my expensive bicycles and equipment inside the buildings where I work. Every director I’ve worked under since 1995, (3 different directors). This is a huge help. The CATMA program is helpful and encouraging as well but there is a problem there. An employee who walks 2 blocks to the university receives exactly the same benefit as I do for cycling 21 miles each way between work and home. How is that fair? The bus program with Green Mountain Transit has also been very helpful and an idea that should be sustained. There is also a serious lack of covered bicycle parking at the university as options for those who cannot bring their bicycles inside. Quality bicycles are very expensive.
I have also noted that most senior management members at the University utilize the single occupant motor vehicle to arrive at work. I don’t fault them for this, as this is a function of how Vermont like much of the US has been designed in a car centric manner. This will not change anytime soon.
The University along with other major employers in Vermont could be more proactive and apply pressure on Vermont law makers to improve our roads to increase safety for cyclists and pedestrians and force police to take our safety seriously. With our environmental issues combined with the obesity epidemic and illness from sedentary lifestyle encouraging human powered transport seems like a very logical idea, but our society is anything but logical. I’m not suggesting that we can turn all UVM staff into bicycle commuters, but making it safe for those who want to do so goes a long way for encouragement to include monetary compensation for when they can do so.
Let me give you example, I waited on a list for several years to get my green parking permit, during 2010 I road my bicycle a record of 4800 miles. About 3000 of those miles were miles ridden to work so I was averaging 4 days a week of riding to work. I’d drive one day a week for errands and to rest my legs. Yet I still paid the same parking fee as anyone else with a green permit.
Examples from my cameras of the danger I’ve faced:
In the case below, Williston PD claimed they could not find the driver’s phone number but would not send anyone to talk to him:
South Burlington PD claims that this is NOT a violation.
Having received advanced training in both firearms and vehicles during my military service. I have been struck by how terribly my fellow citizens are allowed to handle their vehicles. In most of Vermont it is perfectly legal to carry a firearm, for example. However, if you’re seen to be belligerently and/or aggressive and threatening while carrying said firearm. The police will very quickly respond seriously and even if you do nothing legally wrong, there will be a heart to heart conversation with an officer and you will receive a caution and a record of the incident will be made. Remove the firearm and replace it with 6000 truck which is used to threaten pedestrians or cyclists and the police could not care less; unless, of course, this is done to a police officer who is directing traffic or making a vehicle stop.
In closing you can see that the matter is pretty complex for us, but with barriers removed we can do more. I look forward to hearing from you if you are interested in discussing the matter in more length.
Roger Bombardier Jr. works as an Enterprise Information Technology Professional at the University of Vermont and was for many years a bike commuter to the University.