Salem Mass is often known as The Witch City, but it’s also trying hard to become a bike city. One example of this comes from today’s announcement about a free bike sharing program here in Salem. The city has also made improvements to off-road bike paths and recently completed the striping of on-street bike lanes. The problem, however, I have with biking in Salem is with the North Shore drivers.
I’ve lived and biked in four different cities (and surrounding metro areas): Memphis, St. Louis, New York, and Salem. And of the four I find Salem to be the least bike friendly. The problem isn’t the city and its attention to bicycling as an alternative form of transportation. The problem is with the annoying, and often times, clueless North Shore drivers in Salem.
Many of these drivers ignore the most basic of driving rules. Left hand turns from the right lane. Right hand turns from the left lane. Pulling out into cross traffic to stop traffic. And stopping the flow of traffic to let an oncoming car turn left. These are but a small example of the poor driving I witness almost daily in and around Salem.
When my wife and I moved to Salem, we thought the Boston area had the worse drivers around. As it turns out, the problem drivers seem to be restricted to the North Shore area only. Family and friends who come to visit are oftentimes shocked at what a North Shore driver will do.
So the randomness of poor driving by North Shore drivers makes Salem a bike unfriendly city. But it doesn’t stop there. Some of the drivers who don’t drive like complete idiots think the sidewalk is the place for bicycles. I’ve been yelled at many times from drivers to “get off the road” and “use the sidewalk”.
One particular time I was stuck in traffic on Essex Street. A clueless driver driving a van kept stopping. The driver was apparently lost. The street was narrow because of cars parked on the side, so I had to claim my place in the line of traffic. Now mind you, I was riding with traffic. In other words, I was keeping up with traffic and not slowing anyone down. We were only moving about 10 miles per hour, and that’s when we were moving. Oftentimes we were stopped. The van was making the traffic stop and go. As I said, the driver was lost or even possibly talking on the phone (another rant for another time).
A car squeezes up to me, and the woman driver, apparently nervous to have a bicyclist in front of her, started yelling at me. I told her she should be yelling at the driver of the van ahead of us because it was him causing the traffic problem. And I said it was perfectly legal for me to ride my bike in the lane as long as I obey traffic laws, which I was (and better than she was - she would pull into the oncoming lane just to yell at me). Of course, this woman had to make it her duty to continue harassing me every time the van stopped traffic. I finally had enough of the yelling woman and the crazy van driver, so I rode past the line of traffic and darted down a side street.
This is just one example of the many problems I’ve had with motorist in the witch city.
I hope Salem continues to promote bicycling in and around the city. I, for one, would like to see this city become more bike-friendly. But I think one part missing from Salem’s bike strategy is education. Area drivers need to be better educated about the rules of the road.
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