published Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

A lethal threat to bicyclists

David Meek, a past president of the Chattanooga Bicycle Club and among the most veteran, experienced riders in the city, was killed while riding his bicycle along Ashland Terrace early Friday morning. He suffered the fate that every bicyclist sadly must recognize is still a lethal possibility in a community whose motorists are notoriously negligent of safely sharing the road with bicyclists. In Mr. Meek’s case, a truck driver passed too close to him — so close that part of his truck apparently hooked a saddle bag on Mr. Meek’s bicycle, throwing the rider off his bicycle and into the path of traffic.

Mr. Meek, 52, a business owner whose survivors include a wife, daughter and son, is not the first bicycle rider to be killed here as the result of being struck or run off the road by the driver of motor vehicle. Drivers who are careless or maliciously reckless of bicyclists’ safety are an all-too-common hazard, as injuries and road deaths of bicycle riders readily attest.

Given the rising number of bicyclists here and the unyielding, sometimes malevolent, carelessness of motorists to the safety of cyclists, it is well past time to counter than trend. Public officials should do so by taking more aggressive steps to promote and protect the safety of bicyclists.

Contrary to the ludicrous notion of some motorists, bicycles are legal vehicles for all roads except restricted Interstate highways. Drivers of motor vehicles are legally and morally bound to give bicyclists the right of way in their lane and to observe safe, wide margins when attempting to pass them. They may legally and safely pass only when they can clearly see that there is no oncoming traffic.

Yet some drivers wrongly profess to believe — as some letters to the editor have shown over the years — that bicyclists have no right to obstruct a driver’s use of roads, and no right at all to expect that they should be passed safely.

Indeed, many of us, as drivers, frequently see other drivers actually passing bicyclists without observing a three-foot-safety margin for the cyclists. Many even attempt to pass in blind curves, virtually assuring that if an oncoming car appears, the passing driver will reflexively steer right, killing the cyclist on the right — or running the cyclist off the road into injurious and possibly fatal hazards.

A remedy for such malicious disregard should hinge on enforcement of the law against such potentially lethal driving, and legal and public education policies. Local and state transportation agencies and governments should consider a range of changes to improve driver awareness and road safety for cyclists, and pedestrians, as well.

A focused public information campaign, particularly in urban areas where bicycling has become a widely popular method of alternative transportation and recreation, should aggressively inform drivers of their legal obligation for safe driving when they encounter bicyclists.

State and municipal governments should consider both tighter driver safety laws and penalties, and also broader efforts to establish designated and more clearly delineated bicycle lanes that contain barriers to vehicular traffic.

Chattanooga and other area municipalities in Hamilton County and North Georgia completed in 2002 an urban area bicycle facilities master plan for 2030 that outlined future bicycle (and pedestrian) routes under three levels of priorities. Some streets with bicycle lanes marked by white paint barely qualify as protected lanes, however. Drivers routinely park in the bicycle lanes in some areas, and cars often squeeze them, frustrating the promise of safety and forcing bicyclists into dangerous circumstances.

In fact, planning and marking bicycle lanes — and pedestrian ways and sidewalks — remains a far cry from developing a comprehensive user-friendly system of bike-and-pedestrian ways on common small streets. It also hasn’t much dented the problem of creating a necessary pattern of safe road-sharing etiquette with motorists who recognize the moral and legal imperative to protect bicycle and pedestrian traffic around them. Until safety is improved, the community may not call itself “bike friendly.”

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rolando said...

Se we are now to be restricted to the speed of the slowest bicyclist. Do you really expect cars/trucks to do that?

Get real. You have concerns for bicycling safety, push for paved shoulders on both sides of all roads with an asphalt curb between it and the road. California and other states have had these for years -- they work!

The alternative is to educate bicyclists on the dangers of riding on narrow roadways. Yes, I am aware it is their road too just as for pedestrians; so they want to argue the point with a two-ton car going 40? Stupid, that.

Riding on Ashland Terrace is perhaps not the wisest it finally finished? Bicyclists have responsibilities, too.

Oh -- I ride a bicycle. I know what it is like here in Tennessee and carefully choose the roads I ride.

March 10, 2009 at 11:10 a.m.
bud said...

Bicycles are non-motorized modes of transportation and too many studies to count prove that the people who use them as such are going to outlive and outperform those who do not.
Yes there is an apparent conflict between road users, but reducing that sort of conflict has long been within the purview of public policy makers. The long-term solution to transportation modal conflicts is bicycle pedestrian master planning at the state and community level to ensure that bicycle and pedestrian faculties are connected in ways that allow those who care about their health to use their bicycle for transportation purposes. This must include bicyclist’s use of roadways.
Given that bicyclists and pedestrians have a by-right use of public roads, you can make an argument that they have a better claim to use of the facilities than drivers of licensed vehicles. In any case, using your car to teach cyclists a lesson is called assault and should be punished as such.
Or we can limit our options and stay in our cars and avoid biking and walking all together, or maybe treat bikes as toys to take out when the weather is nice. If we do, we need to understand that the tradeoff is obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cancer, all shown to be reduced by riding bicycles and walking as a routine activity.
The future is as bright for these low carbon forms of personal transport as it is uncertain for our continued reliance on single occupant private automobiles. Isn’t it time to start planning for that future and framing public discourse along those lines? So what if some drivers don’t get it. Mothers Against Drunk Driving faced that same sort of ignorance a few years ago. You can use enforcement to increase understanding, just as they did.
Bud Laumer, AICP Little Rock, AR

March 10, 2009 at 2:48 p.m.
knightmb said...

I think the post from rolando shows a little bit of ignorance on the subject at hand. Motorist do have a real problem with respect to cyclist and it's not about speed. I can ride my bike at traffic speeds (all the way up to 50 MPH) and it's not the speed, it's just the disrespect for cyclist at hand. They still must pass you, even if you are speeding at 15 MPH over the posted speed limit.

I wouldn't expect to see the same argument about a pedestrian being killed by a careless driver. Short of a pedestrian trying to commit suicide, no one blames the pedestrian who is struck by a careless driver as being his/her fault for walking in the first place. For all the safety concerns with cycling, yes it can be dangerous, but far more people are killed in cars than bicycles every month, so the safety angle is really a moot point. The problem is just the same old tired reasons. Careless driver or driver with a grudge to fill. The only difference is, the careless driver who crashes into another car, both parties may walk away. A careless driver who hits a cyclist, pretty much a 1 sided battle.

Maybe cyclist should put an explosive charge at the rear of their bicycle to guarantee any careless motorist is killed in the explosion aftermath of the collision. Sounds extreme, but it reminds of a good saying "Put a large spike in the steering wheel pointed at the driver and see how safe everyone would drive then".

The problem is neither technical nor political. There are laws in place, your car has a gas pedal, a steering wheel and brakes. The problem is social attitudes towards cyclist. Not all cyclist are innocent of course, but no one wants to be hit by a car. To blame those that make an effort to better themselves through exercise or just to cut down on the gas bill as the problem is a sign of poor character.

March 10, 2009 at 4:06 p.m.
olasnah said...

More often than not I’ve found that excessive speed on the part of drivers is the big issue. They’re paying attention for the most part, but as we can all attest (since we all drive cars), any roadway with enough of a straightaway seems to be a license for cars to travel 20mph over whatever speed limit has been posted. Roads that should be safe enough for everyone to use become death traps for cyclists or pedestrians to travel on, even if there's a suitable shoulder, since large trucks will often use this too. And then a few months after this pattern is established, somebody tries to pass a law banning bicycles from using the road. All because people don't understand what a speed limit actually means.

March 10, 2009 at 4:18 p.m.
jhalterman said...

Last year I was nearly pushed off the road by a school bus just south of the Nashville area. I was on a fairly remote road with no other traffic. I confronted the driver and he told me "You just need to get off the road". Granted, I don't think it was intentional, but he misjudged my speed (which really wasn't that fast) and the length his bus.

Drivers don't think cyclists belong. Even school bus drivers who you think would have an extra sense of care are hostile towards cyclists.

March 10, 2009 at 4:52 p.m.
spiegeje said...

Rolando, take a deep breath, slow down a little, pay attention to your surroundings...a cyclist won't make you late if you have to wait to pass, but killing someone or getting in a head on collision will probably ruin your day. Just give it the 3 feet and we'll all be ok.

March 10, 2009 at 5:13 p.m.
coastdownhills said...

For many years as a recreational and touring cyclist my attitude was much like Rolando's. Anything but a quiet back road was the domain of the automobile and only a crazy cyclist would ride the busier roads. About 3 years ago I made the commitment to do as many errand by cycle as possible. My gasoline use halved and I discovered how many barriers exist to non recreational cyclists. Also many of my former quiet winding back roads are becoming straight five laned curbed and guttered roads where cars behave as though they were on an interstate. So now I agree with Bud but still have difficulty making myself take the lane and back up traffic.

As Bud alluded, years ago being drunk was an acceptable excuse for everything from rape to vehicular homicide. Not long ago environmentalism was the realm of the lunatic fringe. Electric cars were laughable. Someday the idea of road equality for cyclists will be a given but it will not come without a fight.

Bruce, that crazy guy on a bike, Day.

March 10, 2009 at 6:33 p.m.
SignalSays said...

The solution to the whole problems lies within the brain. Don't ride a slow moving bike, especially in the dark, on 4 lane roads like Ashland Terrace, Signal Mtn. Road, Dayton Blvd,Brainerd Road, anywhere there is heavy traffic with people trying to get to work, or home from work, or to an appointment on time. That;s asking for it and the driver of the automobile is the one who will pay for your stupidity. Don't ride up narrow mountain roads like Montlake Mtn., w Road, Roberts Mill, Suck Creek Mountain, etc. It's not worth the risk. Go ride at the Riverpark,Greenway, Levee, somewhere it's safe. The loss of this man's life is a tragedy. His family has my condolences. But are you going to walk across a pistol firing range because it's closer, or through a snake pit for the exercise? You put your own lives in danger, but want to blame everyone else instead of accepting the fact you're not real smart and feel like everyone owes you the right to block traffic and we have to like it. Not so!

March 10, 2009 at 7:23 p.m.
rolando said...

As a long time touring cyclist [think CA Rte 1], spiegeje, I give cyclists much more than 3 feet clearance. Air turbulence can be a problem -- I give them at least 3/4 lane's worth, even crossing over a double line [clear vision permitting; without that vision, I the annoyance of those behind me.] Safety always overrides laws.

March 10, 2009 at 11:19 p.m.
olasnah said...


Your assumption that drivers of cars are going anywhere more important than where a cyclist is going is ridiculous. By your logic, someone who is driving to the local gym has more right to the road than a cyclist out for some exercise or who is going to work on a bike because they live only 5 miles from their job. The size of your vehicle does not give you a proportional right to the road.

March 11, 2009 at 9:17 a.m.
theegarten said...

Once, I was at the intersection of Rossville Ave and Main Street, waiting at the stop sign on Rossville to enter Main Street. As I entered the intersection, a truck came very quickly out of a parking lot on the opposite side of Main Street and to the stop sign. He looked at the cars coming on his side of the road, in the lane into which he was turning, and never looked anywhere else - like across the street at the other side of the intersection. If his window had not been open and he had not heard me yell at him, he would likely have plowed into me. That simply was because he was in such a hurry, and was barely stopped, if he stopped really at the stop sign, and because he was NOT following proper driving procedures for entering an intersection.

I have had other instances where people have passed me at the intersection of Main and Market - in the intersection - because they were impatient. There is no lane on Main Street in which to pass someone going straight there. They endangered not only me, but other drivers as well.

I have no sympathy for drivers who disregard others, pedestrians or cyclists. If they want to kill people and break the traffic laws, simply for being impatient or being of the mind to disregard others because they are "inconvenient" they need to count the cost. This sort of mindset is inexcusable and dangerous to us all.

Basically, to drivers who think bicyclists are inconvenient, get over yourselves! You aren't all that much.

March 11, 2009 at 10:23 a.m.
streetsmart said...

If you want to abide by the rules of the road ,please abide by every one of them.Not just the ones you agree with.Next time a traffic light has automobiles stopped at an intersection, stop your bike in the position you are in and do not pass on the right to advance to the front of the line . It's the law. When you are riding on a road such as the "W" road, and 5 or more automobiles are stacked up behind you. Pull over and let them pass. It's the law.I could go on and on but you get the point. Remember , you may be right but dead is dead no matter how you got there. I rode bikes until I severely injured myself and almost lost my leg. It ain't worth it. Only ride where you feel safe in doing so.Until Bike lanes are provided and clearly marked on any given road .It isn't safe.Push the city and county to provide bike lanes.Safety is first and foremost regardless of the law.

March 15, 2009 at 4:04 p.m.
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