Single File Biking Ordinance Explored In Burke

A group of five bikers ascends East Darling Hill Road in East Burke Village on Friday morning, pedaling past the sign reminding them in both English and French to travel single file. A deputy sheriff has suggested the town might consider a single file ordinance to improve safety. (File Photo by Amy Ash Nixon)

BURKE — The town of Burke may consider a new ordinance to require bicyclists to ride in single-file on town roadways.

A deputy from the Caledonia County Sheriff’s Department approached the town recently about enacting a single-file ordinance, said Town Clerk Priscilla Aldrich.

“Deputy (Joe) Rossi came in and spoke to me about the ordinance and suggested that we create one so that they can ticket any violators and the Town will get the revenue,” Aldrich said. She provided the select board information on Vermont Bicycling Laws for them to review and discuss the issue.

Rossi said the board is in an “exploratory” phase after hearing about the issue “with bikers riding two or three abreast” on Route 114.

Rossi said it would be safer for everyone — including families bike riding with children — to be in single file on roadways.

“Some of the roads, they get pretty narrow,” said Rossi. “They’re pretty twisty going up through Burke Hollow and some of the other roads they use as connectors between trails.”

He said if there are two or three bicyclists riding abreast, vehicles have to either move into the other lane to avoid them when coming around a corner or slam on their brakes to avoid oncoming traffic.

Rossi said he does not know of any other town where a single-file ordinance has been enacted, but he said if one was on the books it would help officers with safety enforcement.

“The behavior will change,” he said, stressing police aren’t looking to give out tickets, but to improve safety for everyone. If an ordinance ends up being passed, he said, “Hopefully the public will respond to it and we won’t have any issue.”

Board Chair Christine Emmons said the present law for bicyclists in Vermont is two abreast, so a change to single-file, as suggested by the deputy, would require the board to consider and adopt an ordinance.

The suggestion was the first time the Burke Select Board had heard about single-use being a possible ordinance, and they intend to get more information and will discuss the proposal at a future date.

Abby Long, the executive director of Kingdom Trail Association, the nonprofit that attracts thousands of mountain bikers and others to use the recreational trail network in the Northeast Kingdom, said Tuesday she had not heard about the suggested ordinance but would support it.

“…This would be extremely helpful,” Long said. “Kingdom Trails has signage everywhere encouraging trail users to stay single file while on roads.”

Emmons and Selectman Ford Hubbard agreed that side-by-side riders on town roads create a safety concern, and said they would see if any other towns have adopted a single file ordinance and what their experience has been.

“I think it’s the first time it’s really come up,” said Emmons. She stressed that Burke needs to strike a balance between the positives and negatives of hosting the highly successful trail network.

Caledonia County Sheriff Dean Shatney said, “It’s a major safety factor when you’re looking at the bicyclists and the motorists,” including cars, trucks and motorcycles.

On Route 114, which runs from East Burke to East Haven, where many mountain bikers ride, Shatney said there are many 18-wheelers and a lot of heavy vehicles.

Having signage alerting cyclists to not overtake the road is critical for everyone’s safety, said Shatney.

In addition to Route 114, other hot spots are Burke Hollow Road and Darling Hill Road, said Shatney.

He said when the sheriff’s department staff talk with citizens, they hear about bicyclists riding right down the middle of the road, and cutting in front of vehicles at times.

“It’s not like we’re going to be ticket Nazis, we’re not going to go out and ticket every bicyclist we see,” said Shatney.

Whether Burke passes a single-file ordinance in the end is up to the town, he said.

“It’s not like our agency is trying to dictate how Burke and other towns have their ordinances,” said Shatney. “It’s up to the Select Board and the people who live in those communities that dictate what enforcement we do.”


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