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I'm a Person on a Bicycle, Not an Idiot: An Open Letter

An open letter to the management of the Shoppes at Farmington Valley in Canton, urging them to revise their policy towards bicycle use on their property.

Dear Management of the Shoppes at Farmington Valley,

“You are a total idiot!”

That’s what I was told by an angry member of your security staff on Thursday, Aug. 9, a little after 5 p.m. I’m not sure how she reached that conclusion.  I’d only said eight words to her: “I already sent a letter to your manager.”  And that was her response.  Followed by, “get off your bike or I will call 9-1-1.” Then she drove away. I had just left Barnes & Noble. We’d passed each other in the parking lot as she honked and yelled at me from her Securitas vehicle. I’d waved at her and continued riding. That’s apparently what had set her off.

She probably hadn’t read the letter I was referring to. I sent it by mail to your offices on July 18. In it, I explained that your handling of bicycles is inconsistent and your expectations are unrealistic. I also asked to stop being harassed by your security staff for the lawful and responsible use of a bicycle.  I even offered to discuss these issues with you so that you could take steps to make your plaza friendlier to the many customers (and employees) I’ve seen arriving by bike.  I haven’t heard back from you.

I usually ride my bike to get anywhere in Canton, and I visit your plaza often.  Aug. 9 wasn’t the first time I refused to get off my bike.  Over the years, I’ve upheld a shaky compromise with your security staff.  I lock my bike only at designated bike racks and I don’t ride on the sidewalk (except to get to the bike racks — an issue we disagree on). This is a verbal understanding I’ve reached with a man identifying himself as the manager, who I’ve encountered twice. I follow the same etiquette as people driving in the plaza and I’m especially courteous to people on foot.

And yet your official policy — as posted on signs — is that cyclists “please refrain.” If you’re going to enforce this policy vehemently, I’ll regretfully go other places. Businesses in Collinsville and Simsbury Center thrive on their two-wheeled visitors. There are also many businesses in Avon and Farmington who don’t seem to mind if I get there by bike.  Nowhere else in the Farmington Valley have I ever been told I wasn’t allowed.

Even if I do stay away from your property, however, many more people will continue to arrive by bike. They may not be your preferred customers, but bikes are becoming more popular each year.  The town of Canton — along with neighboring Avon and Simsbury — is taking steps to embrace this change.  The bike trails leading to your plaza will soon be improved, bringing more potential customers to your doorstep. You may continue to give them a hard time, or you can welcome them and learn ways to handle them safely and respectfully.

My offer still stands to discuss this with you in person. There are many easy-to-fix issues that would make the experience for cyclists better and keep the plaza safe and pleasant for everybody.  This must begin with your decision to welcome those cyclists.  If you don’t, I hope your tenants and the local bicycle community will be vocal in their opposition.

I’ll be happy to hear from you.

Sincerely,

Chris McCahill

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Andrew Ziemba August 13, 2012 at 06:24 PM
I praise you for being a reasonable man in an unreasonable world. I'd sooner organize a flash bicycle mob than to attempt to reason with stupidity. There's certainly nothing to lose by trying though.
Audrey Scanlan August 13, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Dear Folks in Management at the Shoppes- I certainly hope that you take Mr. McCahill up on his offer to discuss ways to creatively enhance the experience of shopping at your lifestyle mall for those on bicycles. Seems like there's nowhere but up from being shouted at and called an idiot. I know Chris to be an intelligent and energetic problem solver who could bring a lot to this conversation. I hope that you will engage him. Audrey Scanlan Dyer Avenue Collinsville
Mike August 14, 2012 at 12:44 PM
The Shoppes was not designed for bike traffic. With only one entrance/exit to the entire site, at times it is difficult with an automobile. One possible help would be to open the two blockaded, emergency entry points only for bicycles or folks on foot.
The Shoppes has asked that bicyclists refrain from riding their bicycles on the sidewalks for safety reasons – these rules are for the safety of our customers, vendors and, yes the cyclists. We have many bike racks available throughout the center to park the bikes while shopping. For the most part we have no problem with those that we have asked once to refrain from riding on the sidewalks, it is those that continue to disregard our policies that we have had a problem with and they are few and far between. Although this can be frustrating at times to our security, it is not proper for them to use a derogatory reference to a patron, and for that we apologize.
Steve August 14, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Chris I have to agree with you. It is in the best interest of both the Shoppes and residents of the surrounding communities to make cycling a safer more viable means of transportation. By designing safer, more bike friendly roads and shopping centers we can create more desirable places to live which positively impacts property values, quality of life and can spur economic growth. It will take time to change people's attitudes and opinions towards bicyclists but progress is being made and your actions are helping to raise awareness and promote change.
Chris McCahill August 14, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Denise, Thank you for addressing this. I wish it was this simple. But you're repeating what I've been told many times and it is simply a red herring. When this incident occurred, I was not on the sidewalk. I've tried to meet your staff's requests and it has not paid off. I can be reached at christopher.mccahill@engr.uconn.edu
Heather Munro Prescott August 14, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Thanks for sharing this, Chris. Perhaps the staff at the Shoppes needs some education on cyclists rights? Also, didn't the Shoppes want the bike path extended so that people could ride their bikes there? If so, the problems you have encountered seem counter-productive.
Betty August 17, 2012 at 02:40 PM
I think the first priority should be to make it safe for the foot and bike traffic on RT 44. There is a great deal of daily use and a very narrow margin for a bike to travel safely. Please, what rights do cyclists have on privately owned property? Doesn't the property owner set the rules? My concern with bikes riding freely through shopping center parking lots is safety, not everyone uses good judgement. I have had bikes cross in front of my moving car, I don't want anyone to be hit or hurt. Seems The Shoppes main concern is that everyone enjoy their visit safely.
Chris McCahill August 17, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Betty, I agree with you completely. If the Shoppes want to prohibit bike use, of course they can do that. I just think it would be a big mistake on their part. The bigger point, which you touched on, is that many more people are using bikes to get around. I'm happy to see people acknowledge this and I'm hoping to give it just a little more momentum. Many folks in town have approached me telling me they were happy to see my letter, so I'm optimistic and encouraged. As side note, the biggest safety issue the Shoppes face, in my mind, is the intersection at the entrance. Cars speed through there endlessly while families literally run across, fearing they'll be run over. Everybody needs to be careful, but drivers especially. Focusing on bikes is a distraction.
Betty August 17, 2012 at 04:24 PM
I don't think The Shoppes wants to prohibit bike use. I think they want everyone to be safe. I have worked with Denise for many year and have always found her to be wonderful to work with and The Shoppes to be generous and good corporate citizens. I have taken many photos of people walking and biking on RT44 because so many people insist that no one walks or rides on RT 44 I document it whenever I can. I have asked about that intersection and I believe there are plans for a crosswalk there, I don't remember the details of what it is linked to. There should be an entrance to The Shoppes from Lovely Street across from Sunrise, it would help tremendously. We could have asked Lowe's to for a trail to the Simsbury town line. From Secret Lake Road a connection to Old Albany Turnpike could have been made so people on foot and bike could use that leg of Old Albany Turnpike, a much safer place than RT 44 and then a trail could be made along the edge of RT 44 to the town line. Simsbury is the first bike friendly town in CT, so I think they would be willing to talk about extending it somehow. It is unfortunate that the last leg of Old Albany Turnpike was abandoned it would have made it easier and less costly to make a trail to the end of town. Steve Mitchell has made great efforts to make it safe for bike traffic, he is a board member on The East Coast Greenway. We are lucky to have people in the business community that want to make it safe for everyone on the road. Stay safe!
Kelly P August 17, 2012 at 08:11 PM
s anyone else confused by the presence of a sign that says "Please Refrain from ...Bicycling", while the property seems to be providing bike racks? Should the signage be more clear if the issue is sidewalk behavior? How far are these rack from the roadway anyhow. Better yet, shouldn't the entrance identify permitted/prohibited activities so you know before you are in the property? Without maligning a particular individual, it's also quite possible that the caliber of, ahem, thinking being employed is a little subpar. If I visit here, I have to say this is now going to be the first thought I have... where's the scary security person and how can I avoid that person?
Chris McCahill August 17, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Kelly, The staff can actually be very nice. But every time there's a new employee, I go through the same routine of explaining that I'm not getting off my bike (while in the parking lot). As you can tell, it's not always a pleasant way to meet. I'm hoping enough pressure can be put on the Shoppes that they'll take a clear position in favor of bikes so that we can all get along and other people don't have the same problems I've had.
Becky Snyder August 17, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Then the employee should be reprimanded and fired.
Sylvia August 19, 2012 at 10:19 PM
I hope you train your staff to treat cyclists with courtesy. This treatment of cyclists is inconsistent with the economic plan of the towns and communities in the Farmington Valley. I hope that the shoppes will understand and actively encourage this. A great first step is training your staff.
Betty August 20, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Some skate boarders, bikers, and rollerbladers use the parking lots at Simsbury Commons and Avon Market Place as their playground. A boy on a bike continued to zigzagging in front of my moving car at Avon Market Place one evening, they have no security there. Luckily, I could stop in time, each time. I feared their luck would tragically run out. Once a man complained to me that his child could not freely ride around the parking lots at The Shoppes. I explained to him that it was for everyone's safety, that no one wanted to see kids on bikes hit by cars or old ladies knocked down. His response was the old ladies probably deserved it. Unfortunately poor judgement and entitlement seems to run rampant in our society. I looked around The Shoppes, they offer many bike racks throughout their property, one is not far from the entrance by the traffic light at Secret Lake Road, right off of RT 44. Spots on RT 44 have a margin/shoulder of only a few inches, people bike and walk on RT 44 daily. Again, it should be the town's next biggest priority for the safety of people on foot or bike.
Renee Rossi August 21, 2012 at 11:39 AM
Denise, what I don't understand is that you seem to have the time to write a generic post here on Simsbury Patch, but you can't pick up a phone and sit down face-to-face and have a LIVE conversation about this with Chris. Seems to me in this "let's all sit and hide behind technology" world, Chris offered a very generous gift: his valuable personal time to help solve an issue. What are you offering?
Chris McCahill August 23, 2012 at 06:59 PM
UPDATE: I just had a very nice meeting with Denise, the General Manager. We got along well and agreed that we want the same thing - a safe, pleasant environment for everyone at the Shoppes. Denise reiterated that they do welcome bikes on the property as long as they are behaving appropriately: staying off sidewalks, obeying traffic regulations, etc. She will be taking steps to make sure her staff understands this. She also encourages cyclists to avoid heavily trafficked areas with lots of parking maneuvers, whenever it's reasonable. Finally, as with cyclists, the staff holds drivers responsible for their behavior on the property. They will approach any driver who behaves recklessly or ignores stop signs. This is good for everyone. I'm very happy we were able to meet and find common ground.

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