published Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Seize the day: Make cyclist’s encounter with teens a cause for innovation

Chattanooga has a new culture clash brewing.

Pickup trucks vs. grown-ups in spandex riding expensive bicycles on narrow, twisty, mountainous roads.

And, cyclists: beware. It's not just that you look funny. It's that here in a land unaccustomed to buses, let alone bicyclers, you put yourself and the rest of us at risk when you flaunt what we see as safety concerns against what you see as a challenge. Our mountain roads and many valley roads are barely wide enough for two vehicles -- let alone two vehicles and you with your three-foot passing rule.

So it is unfortunate, but not completely unexpected, that a cyclist on Raccoon Mountain last week reported to police that he was harassed and maced by Lookout Valley teens who first rode by and startled him with an air horn, then returned and maced him.

First the teens confessed when a Chattanooga police investigator went to their homes asking questions. But when the cyclist prepared to press charges in Marion County, where the alleged offenses occurred, the teens changed their stories and claimed the cyclist intimidated them by leaning into their vehicle's window. Now, they say, they sprayed him with pepper spray because they were afraid. Marion police are still sorting it all out.

No one condones the road rage or poor humor. What's more, the incident has the makings of a Chattanooga reputation spoiler. And it comes at a terrible time. In coming months, Chattanooga will host three major extreme cycling events: Ironman Chattanooga, the 3-State 3-Mountain Race and the USA Pro-cycling Championships.

But the city's reputation aside, this culture clash is likely to get worse as Chattanooga tries increasingly to profit from our gorgeous outdoor-friendly geography and as younger, tech-savvy and fitness-minded people move here.

And the fact remains that our geography, and the decades-old -- some century-old -- roads that zigzag up and over and around it are not made to accommodate the newest in-vogue fad of cycling at breakneck speed or excruciating slowness around one blind curve after another.

Less than a year ago, in the 3-State 3-Mountain biking event here, a cyclist rounded a curve too fast in the rain on Lookout Mountain and struck an oncoming car head on. The cyclist was killed.

We don't expect trains and barges to move over for walkers and fishermen. So why it is OK to give carte blanche to cyclists on these narrow roads with no room for error? We wouldn't let our children ride a bike on the W Road, so why is it OK for someone old enough to know better?

Yet there is money in these events, and Chattanooga is cashing in. The Ironman event alone is expected to bring $8 million to the area. So we must make some compromises. Here's a suggestion:

Let's seize the day and build the cyclists their own dream practice and race roads over local mountains. Use TIF funding -- tax increment financing -- for it. Tax increment funds funnel expected tax revenue to be gained from anticipated property value in an area to reimburse developers for commercial improvements over time.

At least one part of that dream course can run up Aetna Mountain and through the planned Black Creek development, since that planned Black Creek road already has $9 million in taxpayer supported TIF funding. The road still isn't built, so there's plenty of time to plan bike lanes.

Plus, atop Aetna is the remains of an old four-wheeling off-road course over state and private land protected by conservation easements. The four-wheelers are not allowed there because they cause erosion. Bicycles ridden by people in spandex don't.

If the planned development on Aetna Mountain deserved TIF funds for its anticipated profits, then surely this region's bet on the future for extreme sports events would further legitimize the use of our money to help developers of a posh new enclave.

Perhaps the unfortunate encounter of those teens and the cyclist really did us all a favor.

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LibDem said...

In my neighborhood, pedestrian don't get three feet. Most Southerners were raised with no mamas to teach them manners.

January 18, 2014 at 8:25 a.m.
matt_from_chatt said...

I have noticed most people getting larger and larger over the years, yet I have never said one word when a person's size forces me to give more room when passing in a stairwell, grocery aisle, airplane seat, etc.

January 18, 2014 at 12:32 p.m.
cooljb said...

What a bunch of crap, a TIF is a taxpayer ripoff. Also, Aetna Mountain Road is a public road and 4 wheel drives or anyone else is allowed to use it, hence, PUBLIC ROAD. Quit your spin and lying. Read about the TIF freak show right here!

January 18, 2014 at 6:20 p.m.
Hunter_Bluff said...

The biker in the incident says he posted his cell phone video of the event on Facebook and is now being told by the Marion County cops that he has committed a felony by doing so but if he removes the video, there won't be be charges against him. Somebody important is protecting these kids and there must be reason. Otherwise, they should be busting large rocks with heavy hammers in the sun until they learn their lesson. Don't let sleazy behavior out of Marion County smear Chattanooga. Act!

January 18, 2014 at 9:57 p.m.
Larry_Burton said...

I'm disappointed in the overall tone of this editorial. I get that it really isn't about bicycles but about the idiocy of TIF funding for private projects but most people are going to read it as being about bicycling and not just bicycling but a rant against cyclist riding on the road. Now that in itself isn't what disappoints me. What disappoints me is that the way your little satire was written it comes across more as justification or rationalization for someone macing cyclists. I can see how someone not use to satire could read this and feel really justified in buzzing a cyclist on the road or even following them to a parking area and assaulting them. I really think an apology is in order here.

January 20, 2014 at 10:36 a.m.
Islander828 said...

I ride my bicycle for fitness and for entertainment. In addition to riding around my home area in South Carolina, I ride longer distances and in areas to tour and see the local sights. I often stay in hotels, purchase meals and supplies, visit local attractions, and so on - generally spending between $100 and $200 a day. I also set up trips, and influence local clubs and groups that set up trips for groups. Given the treatment of this bicycle rider, and the nonsensical tone of this editorial "response", I have no problem taking my bicycle trips and money elsewhere.

January 21, 2014 at 7:43 p.m.
RShultz210 said...

I would advise cyclists to simply obtain CCW permits and carry a holstered VISIBLE large caliber handgun. You have every right to defend yourselves, and being attacked by hydrocephalic rednecks in pickup trucks constitutes assault. Also a Tupperware container full of 12mm steel ball bearings will do grevious damage to a windshield. In fact one good sized spider break in it, and the thing has to be repaired proffesionally or replaced. Just toss a cupful of these babies over your shoulder as they go by buzzing you and honking their silly assed airhorns, then point out your handgun to them and I can just about assure you they'll leave you alone. If they don't, well truck tires cost a fortune. Of course before you do ANY of these things make sure you get a good quality video that includes a really good shot of their license plate and go straight to the cops with it. Ands just so you know, the Marion County Police are full of sh&t. It is NOT a felony to take a video of some one assaulting you. It's called gathering evidence.

January 21, 2014 at 8:43 p.m.
RShultz210 said...

A few words to David Cook: Sorry David, but I'm coming down HEAVILY on the side of the cyclists on this one. For one thing bicycles have been around a LOT longer than cars, and are a still a viable and LEGAL mode of transportation. And I think if you look at Tennessee Code Annotated you will find that they are (a) classified as vehicles, and (b) they are actually technically entitled to one-half of the roadway. I really think that we should be glad that they only ask for 3 FEET of it, and they bring in a good sized chunk of change every year. Money that otherwise would be going elsewhere and doing nada for us. I, for one, don't mind cyclists and am happy to share the road with them. I realize not everyone feels this way but you know it's about time that we as a society started to civilize ourselves instead of having to be forced to be civil by a cyclist who is packing a .40 caliber Smith&Wesson which happens incidently, to be the very first point & click interface! When you get down to it we are really a lot better off now than when the first automobiles began taking to the roads in this country. At THAT time, and I'm NOT making this up, motorists were required in some states to stop, DISASSEMBLE their vehicles and HIDE THE PIECES to allow a horsedrawn conveyance to pass. Which just goes to show that things could always be worse. BTW however I do LIKE your suggestion that we build the cyclists their own courses. THAT is a GOOD one!

January 21, 2014 at 9:54 p.m.
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