BAR HARBOR — With the first warm hint of spring, bicyclists are taking to the roads on Mount Desert Island while the newly formed MDI Bicycle Association is working to make the bicycling experience a safer one in the region.
Although MDI is often regarded as a haven for bicyclers, those who gathered for the association’s first public meeting this week noted that Acadia National Park’s carriage road system is the safest place for bike riding on the island, straining that resource during the peak summer months and causing some conflicts with other users of the carriage roads.
Paved road conditions on the island are generally ill-suited for bicycles, prompting visitors and local people to turn to the carriage roads. A commute by bicycle between Ellsworth and MDI is only for the most foolhardy, according to several at the meeting.
With education and safety as the primary goals of the association, the group is already connecting with island municipalities, the national park and the state’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator to look for regional solutions that could make bicycling a safe and accepted alternative for transportation in the area.
Jeffrey Desmond-Miller, president of the association, said bicyclists on MDI encounter many problems in addition to unsafe road conditions. There is a paucity of facilities for bicyclers, few parking areas, little information for visiting bicyclers, and lack of education on the part of motorists who don’t consider bicycling a legitimate form of transportation, he said. Some in the public criticize the “erratic” driving by bicyclers, without understanding that gaping potholes and wide street drains lead to sudden directional moves by the bicycler, he said.
Desmond-Miller said bicycling groups who cycle cross country have said the most treacherous part of their journey was the trip from Ellsworth to MDI via Trenton.
The few “lawless” bicyclers who may use the area, he said, give all bicyclers a bad name. Those who bike without a light at night, disregard traffic signals or signs, or tear up national park hiking trails need education about responsible bicycling.
The bicycle association’s goals, Desmond-Miller explained, include working to educate cyclists and the public about bike safety, laws and behavior, as well as advocating for improved policies and facilities for bicyclists and promoting bicycle access on public and private lands.
A former student at College of the Atlantic, Desmond-Miller studied the bicycling conditions on MDI while in college. The winner of a Watson Fellowship, Desmond-Miller and his wife traveled through much of the world to study how bicycling is used as a vital form of transportation in parts of Europe and Asia.
Margaret Vandebroek, the state’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator at DOT in Augusta, encouraged the MDI group to work with her office to promote improvements for bicycling. A state-wide inventory this summer will target areas that need improvement for bicycling, as part of the state’s Sensible Transportation Policy Act.
Vandebroek said federal dollars are available for trail, greenway and bicycle path projects through the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act and encouraged the MDI association to involve their communities to seek funding.
The Hancock County Planning Commission has already drafted a Route 3 Greenway Proposal as part of its Route 3 Corridor study, the major artery between Ellsworth and MDI. The draft recommends new bicycle trails and paths to connect with those in Acadia, as well as better access routes to towns.