Cyclists use caution on highways
WASHINGTON, Iowa (GTNS) – Of the 16 bicyclists who gathered in Central Park Tuesday for a summer evening ride out to Lake Trio and back, more than half reported having had either an accident or a close call with a motor vehicle at some point in their riding careers.
All of the bicyclists were decked out for safety. All wore bright shirts or vests designed to make them stand out to motorists. All wore helmets. The bikes they rode included many safety features including rear-view mirrors and flashers. The bicyclists all stressed that 99 percent of the motorists on the roadways were equally careful around bicycles to guard against an accident. Biking is a hobby that usually runs from early spring to late fall, but with the annual RAGBRAI event coming up, and many cyclists being out on the road training for the event, enthusiasts feel this is a prime time to remind people of the need to be safe.
Shawna Shettler of Wayland has been riding for a hobby since 1998, when she was asked to participate in the annual RAGBRAI across Iowa. She said that she trains on county roads in Henry and Washington counties. She also joined the Spokebusters on the 10-mile ride Tuesday. She distinctly remembers a bad experience she had with a motorist.
“About a week or so ago my husband and I were riding on Highway 92 into Washington and a car came up beside us and a man began screaming at us and cursing,” she said. “We were on the white line. I got his license number, called the dispatch center and asked them if they could have an officer talk to this man. It was really frightening. We got threatened, even though we had a right to be on the road.”
She said that this was an isolated situation, saying most people are aware of bicyclists and are polite enough to go around them. Still, she said, there are some times when bad situations occur.
Dani Kane of Washington was out to see the bicyclists off. She said within the last year both she and her husband had been struck by motorists — her husband was on a bike and she was on foot during the incidents.
“There were no serious injuries, but it does bring concern to my family — having four girls who do bike around town,” Kane said.
Mark Wyatt, executive director for the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, traveled to Washington to join the bike ride and to stress the message of motorists and bicyclists safely sharing the roads.
“Everybody needs to pay attention,” he said. “I think traffic safety is a society-wide problem. Everybody has a role to play in traffic safety.”
He said three bicyclists have been killed this year in accidents with vehicles and over 130 motorists’ deaths. Wyatt said the coalition and the Iowa Department of Transportation have a “Vision Zero” policy where they want to see that number reduced to none.
Wyatt said distracted and drowsy driving has played a big role in accidents. He also advised motorists to slow down if they see something happening in front of them. He said motorists should pass bicyclists using the full opposite lane. Bicyclists need to work to be
visible to motorists and also need to follow the rules of the road, he said.
He also said problems aren’t isolated to bicyclists. He said that most motorists and motorcyclists can recall bad incidents on the roads.
Jane Davis of Washington, who was also going on the ride, said, “Paying attention is huge. If people are aware and follow the law, it helps keep people safe.”
Washington Police Chief Greg Goodman said that once when he was road biking on Coppock Road, a truck ahead of him on a hill lost a piece of playground equipment off of a trailer. He said that the playground equipment had not come at him or his friends, but he said if it did, he would have had to go into the ditch.
“It really comes down to rules of the road,” he said. “That applies to bicycles too. Bicycles have a duty to obey the laws and obey the rules and really watch where they are going and what they are doing. They have to realize they are not as visible as vehicles.”
Goodman said there aren’t too many incidents involving bikes and cars, but they do happen once in a while. He said there have been incidents where bicycles have run into cars. He said there are a lot of bicyclists and a lot of motorists. Any time there is a lot of traffic, the potential is there for accidents.
He said that bicyclists, like all other vehicles, have the right to be on the road and have a responsibility to follow the laws. He also said people have to think about safety no matter what they are doing.
Goodman said there are some times when bicyclists ride side by side when cars have to pass. He thinks that a better way to handle that would be if bicyclists fall back into a single file line when cars are coming.
“Everyone needs to be aware of the other, be respectful of the other and be careful of the other,” he said. ‘There are a lot of things when you get into a lot of traffic that can happen.”
Washington County Sheriff’s deputy Zach Rozmus said that he has done some bike patrols in the county. He said that he has never had a close call while patrolling, but that he feels the need for everyone on the roadway to pay attention and be safe.
“Part of living in Iowa is that we have a lot of expansive highways across the state that are great destinations for bikers,” he said. ‘The one thing we need to remember is bicyclists have to abide by motor vehicle laws as much as anyone does.”
He stressed the need for motorists safely passing bicycles on the roadway. He said that motorists are required to get into another lane to pass bicyclists or slow down when they can’t.