In the past few weeks, two long-time, experienced bicyclists that I know have been struck by motor vehicles in Parkersburg while riding their bikes.
One of the bicyclists has ridden more than 10,000 miles in the past few years, mostly on streets and highways.
The other, is on the verge of logging 8,000 miles just this year on his bike, something he has done each year for a number of years.
The first bicyclist was struck in South Parkersburg, in broad daylight, near the intersection of Blizzard Drive and Division Street Extension. The motorist was not cited, I am told, but the driver's insurance company had to compensate the bicyclist for the total replacement of his bike. I should also tell you that the motorist was 89 years old.
In the second accident, the bicyclist was struck on Ohio Avenue, also in broad daylight, near the McDonald's in the Traffic Circle. In this case, the motorist improperly merged into the bicyclists' path, knocking him to the pavement. The rider was taken to the hospital for his numerouos cuts, scrapes and bruises. The motorist, I am told, was issued three citations for improper lane change and the like.
Luckily, and even miraculously, neither bicyclist was seriously injured. That is probably due to their quick reflexes and good condition as well as a health dose of luck.
But either or both of them could have been killed in these accidents.
Bicyclists, especially ones as experienced as these two are, know the dangers of riding their bikes around motor vehicles. They do it because they're trying to get from point A to point B and the only way to do so is to take streets and highways. Or they do it because those are the only smooth surfaces on which they can ride any distance. It's illegal for anyone other than small children to bicycle on sidewalks, even though you often see teen-agers and adults doing so. Sometimes they do it to avoid dangerous traffic situations, but they really should NOT do that. Sidewalks are for pedestrians.
The underlying problems are obvious: there's a dramatic difference in the size of a bike vs. a car or truck. Oftentimes, there's a dramatic difference in speed. And then, there's the issue of visibility.
But the last time I checked, bicyclists are NOT invisible. Yes, they're not as easy to see as a car or a truck BUT THEY ARE THERE.
And what's more, they have a RIGHT to be in traffic.
The basic problem is that many motorists don't look hard enough to see bicyclists or even motorcyclists. They under-estimate the space in which those two-wheeled vehicles need to operate and the distance that is required for them to stop safely.
Too many motorists will crowd bicyclists, trying to squeeze past them in the same lane. Or they will pass a bicyclist, only to stop and try to take a right turn right in front of the rider, failing to remember that they just passed him or her a few seconds before.
Some of this is due to a lack of awareness. Some of it is due to the multi-tasking that drivers do with cell phones, food, make-up, etc. This multi-tasking is one thing in accidents between motor vehicles. But when one of the vehicles involved in an accident is a bicycle or a motorcycle, the likelihood of severe injury or death is heightened.
Bicyclists sometimes bring this on themselves. They weave between cars that are stopped at a traffic light. They jump curbs or alternate between streets and sidewalks, making it difficult to predict where they will be next. They ride when it's too dark to ride without appropriate front or rear lighting. We've all witnessed these types of behavior and worse.
But when a bicyclist is following the rules and is riding WITH (not against) traffic, he or she has a RIGHT to be IN THE LANES OF TRAFFIC just like any car or 18-wheeler. If the bicyclist has the space to ride to the right, without having to ride through broken glass, debris, loose gravel or rocks, they will do so. But a WIDE-BERM can sometimes just be a collection for these types of road hazards, leaving the bicyclist no choice but to ride IN THE LANE, again, to which he or she is legally entitled.
On November 1, a "mass ride" is being organized for Parkersburg, as a way of showing children the proper way to ride in traffic and to raise general awareness in the entire community about the existence and rights of bicyclists in traffic. Stay tuned to WTAP-TV, wtap.com and this blog for more detrails as they become available.
The idea is to get as many bicyclists together to ride all at one time, to show the sheer number of people who are out there riding, and to have those folks ride where there is a lot of traffic so that motorists see them in places they might not be normally familiar with seeing them.
If you're a bicyclist, please wear a helmet and follow the laws. Save your life and help send a message to motorists (and youngsters) that bicyclists are responsible and deserve the rights they have to ride in traffic.
If you're a motorist, add two-wheeled vehicles to the list of things you need to watch for when you're driving, in addition to other cars, trucks, children, pets, pedestrians, UFOs and falling power lines. And please remember, bicyclists have just as much of a RIGHT to ride in traffic as you do. Give them the space they need to do so safely.