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Can 't We All Just Get Along?
Can ''t We All Just Get Along?By John Boel
Until recently, I thought abortion, the new bridge location and the new arena site were the most divisive topics you could tackle in a conversation. I''ve heard some pretty persuasive arguments, but I have never seen someone change his or her opinion on any of those issues. There seems to be no middle ground. And there''s no negotiating.
Now it''s time to add bicycling to those topics.
Everywhere I go, I hear motorists griping about cyclists or cyclists complaining about drivers. Then I come into work at WLKY-TV and read stories about bike accidents. It''s a book lobbed at a cyclist''s head, or it''s a bike vs. car crash, and you know who loses every time.
I''ve basically stopped riding outdoors anymore. I pedal for hours at a time in my basement on a stationary bike because I''ve nearly been killed more times than I can count on the roads. Right before a race, I''ll hit the road to get the feel, like the rehearsal dinner before a wedding ceremony, but that''s about it.
But I also have a job to do. And when someone suggested I go out and show people what bicyclists have to put up with, I saw it as a great opportunity to educate the public. I work with smart people, but I often hear someone say, "Why don''t people on bicycles stay on the sidewalk where they belong?" Or when I talk about training, I''ll hear a comment like, "What are you doing on River Road ? You shouldn''t be allowed on that road because it''s too dangerous."
Yes, I should be allowed on that road. So I brought my bike to work. We strapped cameras on the front and back of it, and with the chopper hovering above; I headed down River Road .
While state law says drivers have to wait to pass me until it''s safe, only 1 in 10 actually did so.
While state law says drivers have to give me at least three feet when they pass, I often got less. And when they''re flying by me at 45 to 55 mph, a foot or two away, it ratcheted up my road rage.
From the chopper, we counted numerous near head-on crashes. Drivers are so enraged or obsessed with the bike, they lose sight of oncoming traffic, or misjudge it when they punch the accelerator.
And the people who were pulling boat trailers almost always cut back in front of me before the trailer was clear.
That''s all enough to form a really good story. But I''m a journalist as well as a cyclist, so I have to be fair. I''ve also taken a lot of complaints that I thought were unfounded about cyclists'' behavior. When we put the chopper up over an organized weeknight group ride, I couldn''t believe what we were recording.
State law says cyclists must obey traffic control devices, use hand signals and can''t ride more than two abreast. But this group blew off 12 of the first 14 stoplights or signs, didn''t use hand signals, rode four or five wide, and sometimes even covered two lanes instead of one.
But to really get a feeling for what''s going on out there, I requested open-records accident reports for every bike vs. car crash in Metro Louisville last year and so far this year. In 18 months, I counted 213 accidents. That''s an average of one every three days. I carefully read every report and kept track of who was at fault in each one. The answer astounded me.
I would have guessed, beforehand, that motorists cause about 70 percent of the crashes. Truth is, bicyclists caused 60 percent of them. Cyclists doing just what my uninformed friends thought they were supposed to be doing - cycling on the sidewalk - caused many of the accidents. It causes crashes in driveways and parking lots, as well as in intersections when the bike comes out into traffic in the crosswalk.
I also saw a proclivity for officers to blame the bicyclist even when the circumstances sounded more like a motorist''s fault. In one case, a driver admitted traveling 65 or 70 in a 35-mile per hour zone, but the cyclist was ruled at fault because of a mistake he made in a merge.
I noticed that Madison , Wisconsin ''s newspaper had done a similar analysis of bike vs. car crashes. It found the bicyclist was at fault less than 20 percent of the time. Hmm . what''s the deal? Do we just have a bunch of bad cyclists pedaling around here in Louisville ?
Not at all. The difference is something called a bike lane. Madison is covered with them. Outside of a couple of parks, Louisville doesn''t have any. It doesn''t take a rocket scientist to figure out that cyclists do a much better job, when it comes to safety, if they have a bike lane to follow. When I was in Madison last year to do Ironman Wisconsin , I felt like I was in cycling heaven. I couldn''t find a street that didn''t have a bike lane.
But Louisville now has a plan. Starting with the repaving of Main and Market streets, they''re going to cut the width of the driving lanes from 13 feet to 10 feet. That leaves 3 feet for a marked biking lane. City planners tell me Chicago has done this with great success.
If it works, I may even come up out of my basement and give the streets a try again. Until then, drivers, please be patient and safe when passing bicycles. And cyclists, please stop trying to turn Louisville into stage 15 of the Tour de France.
John Boel is a 41-time Emmy winning news anchor at WLKY-TV. He''s married, has two daughters and is an avid runner and triathlete.
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