Every time there is a serious incident involving a motorist and a bicycle rider, there is a resulting backlash against cyclists in general. While acknowledging that bike riders indeed have a legal right to the road, many question the notion, if not the sanity, of any rider who exercises that right.
In addition to relegating bike riders to sidewalks or bike paths, a common refrain is to subject cyclists to a special license or tax. The reality, however, is that cyclists are already paying to use the roads. As homeowners, car owners and licensed drivers, the vast majority of cyclists are paying their fair share. Furthermore, bicyclists leave no carbon footprint nor create wear and tear on roadways. It also should be noted that bike riding on sidewalks is illegal, and that the health benefits derived from bicycling help keep medical costs down.
The answer for safe roads does not exist with a tax or an outright ban on road use. It begins with individuals taking responsibility for their actions. By law, cyclists are responsible for following the rules of the road. They are obligated to obey traffic signals, use as little of the road as possible, and must always be mindful of the situations around them. With that comes a degree of using common sense. Whether one has the legal right to use a particular road does not always mean it wise to do so.
Motorists must follow the same rules. But as cyclists raise their voices to hold motorists accountable, they also must hold themselves to the same standard. Both sides can agree that there are cyclists who do not follow the law and take needless chances. I can guarantee with a great deal of certainty they aren’t the people that I ride with. And as a community cyclists shouldn’t stand for them either.
The local cycling community has been proactive in working to educate bike riders and motorists. In 2011 the non-profit bicycle advocacy organization, Wheel Movement of the CSRA, was formed, in part, to promote bicycle rider safety. Funding was provided through a grant from statewide bicycle advocacy group, Georgia Bikes, through the sale of the “Share the Roads” license plates.
The local cycling community has experienced profound loss over the last two years, with an inordinate number of riders being killed as a result of collisions with motor vehicles. In response to these high profile incidents, a committee representing a diverse cross-section of the bike riding community came together to identify common sense solutions to the issues raised by these horrible collisions.
The cycling community is not looking for special favors, but they are asking for consideration – the same care a motorist extends when a school bus pulls up to a stop, or to someone who pulls out at an intersection, or when a driver gets stuck behind a tractor on a rural road – is all bike riders are asking for.
It is understood that not all motorists will be accommodating, or that a significant number will only accept bicyclists begrudgingly. But it should be noted that a motorist’s aversion to cyclists using public roads does not excuse malicious or inattentive driving.
I think that I speak for the entire community when I say how thankful that we all are to not be mourning the loss of Columbia County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Benson, who was struck Monday on Furys Ferry Road while riding his personal bicycle off-duty. But it is a shame that instead of focusing our concern on the well being of someone who has contributed so much to our community, the focus has shifted into a vitriolic debate.
The reality is that safe roads won’t come from charging cyclists a special fee or banning them from the roadways. It begins with responsibility. Local cyclists diligently are trying to do their part. All they are asking from motorists is that they do the same.
If the public is interested in bicycle safety initiatives, they can find more information at www.wheelmovementcsra.org or www.georgiabikes.org. On Saturday, Jan. 19, Wheel Movement will hold the “Ride of Celebration” at Enterprise Mill to remember the cycling friends we have lost in the past two years. The rides begin at 9 a.m., and at 11 a.m. the organization will hold its annual meeting and membership drive.
(Randy DuTeau is president of Wheel Movement of the CSRA and executive director of the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau.)