Cycling Culture Gaining Ground
Enthusiasts say more bicycles on roads has led to greater acceptance from motorists
by Kevin Murphy
July 27, 2012
A "Share The Road" sign posted along Geyer Road in Kirkwood. Cyclists have all of the same rights to the road as do motorists ... and all of the same responsibilities.photo by Diana Linsley
Det. Steve Urbeck of the Kirkwood Police Department said many cyclists simply don't realize they are subject to the same rules of the road as are motorists.photo by Diana Linsley
There's no shortage these days of cycling commuters eager to pedal the health and environmental benefits of bicycles over long-established combustion technologies.
The popularity of cycling continues to grow, and with that growth comes the call for heightened safety awareness on the part of both motorists and cyclists.
Cyclists have long complained about some drivers who don't respect their rights to be on the roadways. Motorists counter that many cyclists do not play by the rules of the road, such as ignoring stop signs and cycling side-by-side.
Both sides would agree, however, that when accidents occur it's the cyclist who loses -- a 15-pound bike stands zero chance going up against a 4,000-pound SUV.
Tim Mohs will vouch for that. Formerly with the Alpine Shop in Kirkwood and now the manager of Alpine's Chesterfield store, Mohs is an experienced cyclist with a harrowing tale to tell about his recent encounter with a motor vehicle.
On June 29, just before darkness had fallen, he and his fiance were riding their bikes in Forest Park. Cycling just ahead of his fiance, Mohs said he had the green light as he began to cross four lanes of Lindell Boulevard, just north of the Missouri History Museum, when he was struck from the side by a motorist traveling at a fast clip.
"He hit me with so much speed that I popped straight into the air, and found myself going into a barrel roll. I landed 25 to 30 feet from where he hit me. My head and shoulder hit the pavement first," Mohs said.
Mohs suffered "road rash" down the entire length of the right side of his body, and while he did not break any bones, he did have reconstructive plastic surgery performed on his ear. His helmet was cracked from front to back.
"If I had not been wearing my helmet, I definitely would not be here talking with you," Mohs said.
A Right To The Road
"Every person riding a bicycle is granted all of the rights and obligated to follow all of the rules -- yield to pedestrians, stop at lights and signs -- just as all vehicles have to do," said Det. Steve Urbeck of the Kirkwood Police Department.
Cyclists, like motorists, can also be slapped with expensive traffic tickets. Kirkwood has its own, local ordinance that applies to non-motorized vehicles.
"I don't know if we have a problem with cyclists. We don't get a lot of calls about it. But, it's my feeling that a lot of cyclists don't realize that they are subject to the rules of the road just like everyone else," Urbeck said.
Promoters of cycling regularly educate riders about their rights, and about practicing safe-riding habits, through organized rides, cycling websites and a variety of educational campaigns, many of which target school-aged riders.
A national campaign, for example, urges motorists to allow at least three feet of space when passing a cyclist. Three feet protects cyclists from dangers such as a side view mirror collision or wind from a vehicle pushing them over.
Cyclists Ignoring Traffic Laws?
Mary Carver of Kirkwood said she witnesses cyclists ignoring traffic laws on a regular basis. Carver had a recent close call with a cyclist who she said ran a stop sign at Essex and Geyer roads, stopping only when he ran into her vehicle.
"I have talked to a lot of people who live here, and they feel the same way I do. It is getting out of hand. We need to make people aware that a potential tragedy could occur," Carver said.
As more cyclists take to the road, Carver said there seems to be less of a willingness to obey traffic laws.
"To go along with their right to ride on the streets, they have the same responsibility as drivers do to obey the traffic laws," Carver said. "I'm all for the right to cycle in the streets, and I applaud people who want to save energy and help the environment. But, at the same time, I'm for safety."
The cyclist who struck Carver's car brushed himself off, said his brakes had failed, apologized and then pedaled off.
More Bikes The Better
Ron Clipp is co-owner with Alex Bischoff of The Hub Bicycle Company in Webster Groves. The Hub hosts three bike rides a week and sponsors bike safety programs for school-aged riders.
Clipp agrees there are bad cyclists out there, but he compares their numbers to those of bad motorists. A few percent, he said, are at fault for giving the majority of responsible cyclists a bad name.
The Hub's organized bike rides adhere to traffic signs, ride single file on two-lane streets, and are respectful of motorists around them, Clipp said. He said St. Louis area streets are much more biker-friendly than they were when he moved to the area from Dallas in 1996.
The reason for that, he said, is the growing popularity of cycling.
"It's huge. Our shop has enjoyed double-digit growth every year since we opened (in 2003). There are more and more cyclists on the road and that makes it better for everybody. The more cyclists interact with cars, the more it teaches motorists to be aware. At the same time, cyclists learn better habits when moving in traffic," Clipp said.
The Hub owner said his number one problem while cycling comes from inattentive motorists who are talking on cell phones -- a common complaint no matter the mode of transportation.
"Motorists get ticked off whenever cyclists blow through stop signs, as well they should," Clipp said. "Cyclists get ticked off when motorists are held up for a while, become short on patience, then try to pass in some dangerous way. I've had some bad experiences with drivers, but generally my experiences have been good."
Carrie Cash, bike shop manager for the Alpine Shop in Kirkwood, agrees that the relationship between cyclist and motorist has improved as both parties become more accustomed to sharing the road.
"I'd say 90 percent of the time I've had positive experiences sharing the road with motorists," Cash said. "The relationship on the road becomes better once you become knowledgeable about what a motorist sees, or may not see. We don't expect them to watch out for us, we watch out for them."
There are no indications of a slow-down when it comes to the growing popularity of urban cycling. Motorists and cyclists who choose to ignore one another do so at their own peril.
"Awareness needs to be brought to the forefront," Cash said. "Motorists need to be more aware as far as where we come from, and cyclists can't feel like they own the road, either."