Down East 2013 ©
A bike ride around one of Maine’s many islands can be a perfect summertime activity. Grab a twelve-speed Schwinn, hop on a ferry to North Haven, and explore its thirty miles of quiet coastal roads. You’ll get exercise, interact intimately with one of Maine’s most beautiful islands, and make it back to the mainland for dinner. Sounds pretty great, no? There’s only one problem. North Haven and other midcoast islands are actively discouraging you from taking this idyllic day trip.
Take a ferry to Vinalhaven, Swans Island, North Haven, Frenchboro, or Islesboro and you’ll notice that the cost of transport doubles if you carry a bike aboard. “The price is really high,” says Brian Kelly, co-owner of Sidecountry Sports, a bike rental outfit in Rockland. “It stops people from going to those islands, and it’s tough on our business.” The price is $17.50 for an adult round-trip ticket to Vinalhaven, but it jumps to $34 if you carry a bike. Traveling to Frenchboro costs $28.50 with a bike, yet only $11.50 without. The tariffs are so prohibitive that at $32.50 it actually costs less to transport a five-ton Ford Super Duty F-450 pickup truck across Penobscot Bay to Frenchboro than two, twenty-pound road bikes.
“The islands have requested their rates be kept fairly high to limit the amount of bike traffic,” says Jim MacLeod, the Maine State Ferry service manager, who notes that while the Department of Transportation has final say, the DOT closely follows the advice of island representatives. MacLeod is open to lowering prices, believing it could increase revenue for the ferry service, but he also agrees with island representatives who argue bicyclists pose a significant safety threat.
Marjorie Stratton, the representative to the Maine State Ferry Service Advisory Board from Vinalhaven supports the current price structure. “We don’t have bike trails and the roads are really narrow and winding, so it’s not conducive to good bicycling,” she says. “On most of the roads on Vinalhaven it’s just not a safe thing to do.” Nancy Grant, the executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, an organization that has pushed to lower these prices, rejects this argument. “We would have very few open roads in Maine if we closed down all the streets too narrow for bikes,” she says, and adds that her organization can stock the ferries with safety information for visiting bicyclists.
Even businesses directly benefitting from the tariff object to the discriminatory price structure. Phil Crossman, owner of the Tidewater Motel, the only place that rents bikes on Vinalhaven, argued for lower rates when he was on the advisory committee. “It probably does help my business, but I think it’s a ridiculous price,” he says.
While the safety concern is certainly valid, there is little to suggest bikes and cars can’t share the road. There is a clear trend towards bicycling, and towns and cities around the world have managed to encourage safe practices. If New York City can launch a public bike-sharing program that pits bikes against manic taxis during rush hour on Fifth Avenue, then North Haven drivers and tourists should be able to coexist just fine. — Will Bleakley
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