Bicyclists now barred from road
Alan Kelleher and Amy Cai have been riding their bicycles along Meadowbrook Road in Weston for the past six years. Usually, the people they encountered have offered a friendly smile and a hello.
Like other bicyclists who frequent the area, the Brighton residents said they never met anyone who told them to stay off the picturesque private road, which is often used as a cut-through.
Until last weekend.
On Saturday morning, Kelleher and Cai were met by two Weston police officers, working on a private detail for the Weston Golf Club, with instructions to make sure only members of the club or residents of the road used Meadowbrook.
“The bottom line is, this is private property,” one of the police officers, Lieutenant Danny Maguire, told the riders. “We’re not here to hassle you, we’re here to inform you.”
Maguire said the club hired the police details following an increase in the number of complaints about bicycle riders along the winding road, which has no-trespassing signs posted at each end that include the warning that “violators will be prosecuted.”
“Are we going to arrest a cyclist for trespassing today? Probably not,” he said. “But can I envision a circumstance where we would? Yes.”
The sudden enforcement action has surprised some members of the local bicycling community. Weston is a popular place for cyclists; last weekend, a fund-raising ride for the National Brain Tumor Society passed through town, though the route did not include Meadowbrook Road.
“We have nice roadways, winding hills,” said another Weston police officer, Sergeant David Tinglof. “They like the terrain and the type of town this is.”
In a letter obtained by the Boston Globe last week, Weston Golf Club general manager Bryan O’Connell informed members that “Meadowbrook Road will have police detail for the purpose of checking automobiles for Meadowbrook Road stickers, and to prevent the groups of cyclists that are using the private road.”
Asked why the club had requested the detail, O’Connell said he had no comment.
But Maguire said the club is concerned with liability issues should a bicyclist get hurt on its property. On weekends, when there are more golfers using the course and more residents driving to and from their homes, the cyclists using the road can create a safety hazard, according to police.
The cyclists pose a problem for golfers in carts trying to cross Meadowbrook, for motorists trying to pass the riders, and for golfers who fear a stray ball will hit someone riding by, police said.
“What would happen if a golf ball going 120 miles per hour hit one of these cyclists?” Maguire asked.
On Saturday, officers turned away several single riders and those in groups, many of whom questioned the sudden change in policy and whether they could legally be kept off the road.
Maguire explained repeatedly — to riders, a couple of people walking dogs, and motorists without a sticker issued to residents and club members — that Meadowbrook Road is private property.
It is owned by a trust that includes residents of houses along the road as well as the golf club, according to Town Manager Donna S. VanderClock. Meadowbrook Road and some small connecting side streets are maintained by the property owners, VanderClock said. “There is access with permission only,” she said.
Police were directing bicyclists to an alternate route, using Newton Street to reach essentially the same location as Meadowbrook Road.
The suggested route takes bicyclists along a more heavily traveled, winding street and past the Pine Brook Country Club, another golf course. “But it’s a public road,” Maguire noted.
Kelleher, who said he rides about 100 miles a week, and Cai, who said she rides twice as much, agreed to take the Newton Street route suggested by Maguire, who described it as a little shorter but steeper. “If we can’t use this anymore, I guess I’ll trade miles for hills,” Kelleher said.
To Mark Pasnik, a recreational bicyclist who said he has regularly ridden along Meadowbrook Road, the new policy to keep outsiders away is “mean spirited.”
“I think they certainly have the right to keep people off their property, but there are a lot of things people can do that are legal, but aren’t necessary positive or helpful to a sense of community, and this is one of them,” he said.
Police and club officials were planning to meet this week to determine a better plan than posting paid details to keep outsiders from riding along Meadowbrook Road, Maguire said. “Maybe better signage and some literature,” he said.
Andrew Steinhouse, who has ridden either alone or in groups along Meadowbrook for the past seven years, wants to be included in the discussion.
“I think we’ll attempt a dialogue with the club,” he wrote in an e-mail. “If we’ve been using the road with their permission for so many years, it would be good to know exactly the number of and type of complaints and issues they have experienced that make them change their mind now. Certainly as a cyclist, I’ve seen no safety issues, and only even encountered warmth and hospitality from people at the club.”
A woman who identified herself to police on the paid detail as a resident of Meadowbrook Road on Saturday said she had no problem with the bicyclists, except “when they ride two at a time it’s a pain.”
Maguire said that is a problem throughout town, where traffic has become the number one issue for police. Big groups of riders can create confrontational situations on the roadways when no one wants to move out of the way.
“It’s difficult for cars and bikes to share the road sometimes, and it gets difficult in Weston,” Maguire said.
According to David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, riders have the same rights to use public roads as motorists.
“State law allows bicyclists to ride two abreast and to ride in the middle of the lane,” he said.
In addition, he said, when bicyclists are riding on narrow roads, it is up to the car driver to wait for a safe opportunity to pass.
“Bicyclists do not have to endanger themselves or move off the road for the convenience of motorists,” Watson wrote in an e-mail.
Pasnik sees the issue as a microcosm of what is happening in many other places, including Boston, where he lives. “More bicycles and bike lanes come at the expense of traffic lanes. I can see the frustration,” he said.
“That, in my estimation, is a problem that arises when drivers do not understand that cyclists have as much right to be on the road as drivers. There is no threshold for the number of bikes that should be allowed into a community,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.