A driver gives a wide berth Tuesday to a group of cyclists on a narrow, winding stretch near Pond Cove in Cape Elizabeth. A dozen Maine law enforcement agencies will be stepping up patrols to ensure motorists are sharing the road with bicyclists, pedestrians and other “vulnerable users.” Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Twelve law enforcement agencies in Maine will crack down Wednesday on people who don’t abide by the laws meant to protect cyclists and pedestrians.

The blitz is meant to raise awareness about behaviors that endanger “vulnerable users” – people on bikes or on foot. Nearly 500 bicyclists and pedestrians are struck in Maine every year, and the number of fatalities has doubled in the past five years.

“There are a lot of different users on the road,” said Jim Tasse, assistant director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. “Everybody has a right to be there, and everybody needs to follow the rules.”

Enforcement efforts will vary based on community. Officers will be on the lookout for drivers who are distracted, speeding or passing too close to cyclists and pedestrians. They also will stop cyclists who do not follow traffic signals like red lights or who ride against the flow of traffic, as well as pedestrians who do not use crosswalks. They will patrol in marked or unmarked cruisers, on foot or even undercover on bicycles.

Last year, five local agencies joined the inaugural event. That day, officers reported 28 citations for motorists and four citations for bicyclists. They also issued 51 educational warnings to drivers and eight to bicyclists.

This year, the participating agencies include the Maine State Police, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, and local departments in Auburn, Falmouth, Houlton, Lewiston, Portland, Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook, Yarmouth and York. The enforcement effort Wednesday is organized by the Bicycle Coalition’s Law Enforcement Collaborative, which includes police, transportation officials, cyclists, attorneys and bicycle safety educators. Each participating department funds the extra detail through grants or its own budget.

“The goal behind this year’s exercise is to really turn the spotlight on the behaviors that put vulnerable users at risk on Maine’s roads,” Tasse said.

‘MARKED INCREASE’ IN DEADLY CRASHES

The initiative comes as fatal bicycle and pedestrian crashes increase.

In 2016, the Maine Department of Transportation reported 455 crashes that involved a cyclist or a pedestrian. Of that number, 208 involved cyclists and 247 involved pedestrians. Those statistics represent less than 2 percent of all crashes annually in Maine, and they are consistent with years past.

In recent years, however, the number of deadly crashes involving a bicycle or a pedestrian has increased. In 2012, one biker and nine walkers were killed by cars. In 2016, that total doubled. Four cyclists and 16 pedestrians died in crashes.

“It was a marked increase,” said Lt. Frank Clark of the South Portland Police Department. “We want to be a part of solving that problem.”

Cyclists ride past road signs Tuesday on Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth. In a coordinated effort, Maine State Police and several local departments are reminding motorists and bicyclists about the rules of the road. “This is the perfect opportunity for us to get out there,” said York Police Sgt. John Lizanecz. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Clark, who sits on the coalition’s Law Enforcement Collaborative, said drivers and cyclists are required to follow many of the same rules – stopping at stop lights or yielding to pedestrians in a crosswalk, for example.

A cyclist himself, Clark has been hit twice by vehicles while riding his bike – once by a side mirror and once by a trailer hitched to the back of a truck. Drivers are required to give cyclists and pedestrians at least a 3-foot buffer when passing them on the road.

“There’s frustration that I have witnessed from both sides of the windshield,” Clark said. “Motorists get frustrated with cyclists when they are riding two or more abreast, for instance. On the other side, on two wheels, I’ve been clipped a couple times.”

‘LOOKING FOR VOLUNTARY COMPLIANCE’

He was lucky, however, and those incidents didn’t cause him to fall off his bike.

He noted more grievous crashes – when an 11-year-old skateboarder was seriously injured by a car in South Portland, or when a pickup truck struck and killed a 13-year-old Lewiston boy on his way to school. Elsewhere in the state, a doctor was hit by a car and killed while bicycling near her home in Windsor in October, and a young man died in November while riding with his sister in Windham.

“We’re just trying to start the discussion, and if we have to turn on the blue lights to do that, we will,” Clark said.

The York Police Department is one of the agencies new to the initiative this year. In addition to stopping motorists and bicyclists, officers will hand out free reflectors and lights for bicycles.

“It’s a seasonal community,” Sgt. John Lizanecz said. “Especially with recreational bike riding, we have a lot of people coming here from out of state that may not be aware of Maine laws. This is a perfect opportunity for us to get out there.”

The department will continue enforcing these laws, Lizanecz said, but he hoped Wednesday’s blitz would prevent crashes during the busy summer months.

“We’re really looking for voluntary compliance,” he said.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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