Bike safety advocates: Cyclists, motorists share responsibility

Annual Ride of Silence canceled due to weather, but campaign to build awareness continues

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Too many too-close-for-comfort brushes with motor vehicles has Nikki Northrop Davidson looking over her shoulder when she bikes.

“I’ve almost been hit several times,” said Northrup Davidson, 57, of Cedar Rapids. “The problem is the close calls because the next time might not be a close call. ... No one knows when their last days are, but it shouldn’t be because someone was inattentive — texting and driving — or just decided to come close. It could happen to anyone.”

As more bike lanes and bike trails are installed around Cedar Rapids and elsewhere and the number of people cycling grows, opportunities for collisions are increasing. Both motorists and cyclists bear responsibility to keep the roads safe, she said.

Northrup Davidson, who has been a bike advocate in Cedar Rapids since 2006, organized a Ride of Silence in Marion on Wednesday. The ride was canceled due to severe weather concerns, but she hopes to build awareness for the cause nonetheless.

Ride of Silence is an international initiative started in Texas to pay tribute to cyclists who’ve lost their lives while riding and also to emphasize cyclists have a right to use roadways. The concept is for cyclists to pedal in silence and “let their silence roar,” she said.

“We want people to be aware cyclists are out there,” she said. “We are trying our best to be safe and we want vehicle drivers to do their best to be safe. We are trying to share the road.”

Motorists need to be more aware and watchful for cyclists on the road and give a clear berth when passing, she said. Cyclists need to better understand and obey the rules of the road, which apply in the same manner as vehicles. They should make themselves visible by wearing bright colors and using front and rear lights at night, wearing helmets and ride responsibly, she said.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who was active in Bike to Work Week events this week, agreed both drivers and bicyclists need to pay attention.

“It’s not just informing motorists to watch out, but encouraging the biking public to obey the laws, stopping at traffic lights and stop signs.”

In Iowa, 11 cyclists died on roadways in 2016, including nine involving a motor vehicle.

Among those, Daniel Lehn, 58, was killed on July 19 after being struck by a pickup truck on Highway 965 in North Liberty. Authorities investigated but no charges were filed. In another case, Ryan McKillip has been charged with homicide by vehicle-reckless driving, a Class C felony, and leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death, a Class D felony, in a fatal collision with cyclist Lisa Kuhn, 40, in West Liberty in June.

Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, tracks fatal bike crash cases, and said the number in Iowa has increased from three in 2014 to five in 2015 to 11 in 2016. It’s concerning, he said.

He’s been watching the McKillip case closely because often charges are lenient in fatal bike-vehicle collisions. Reckless driving is a hard charge to prove, which is a factor in why prosecutors are reluctant to bring the charge forward, he said.

“I think there’s a lot of forgiveness in the traffic justice system that seems misplaced when vulnerable users are involved, such as bikers or pedestrians,” Wyatt said.

Efforts to create a law to require motorists give cyclists room when passing has fallen short in the state house, but Wyatt applauded the passage of stiffer penalties for texting and driving earlier this year.

City officials in Cedar Rapids have encouraged cycling, including establishing bike lanes through the downtown area and other parts of town to create a dedicated spot on the road for cyclists. The city is also considering a “dooring” ordinance, which aims to create awareness of parked motorists opening doors into passing cyclists, said Ron Griffith, a city traffic engineer.

Griffith worked with Cedar Rapids police to create a “bicycle safety reminders” checklist to make it easier for cyclists and motorists to understand the rules.

Among the key points is that cyclists are encouraged to stay to the right side of the lane — 3 or 4 feet from the curb — but they have the right to take up the entire lane if the side of the road is not safe due to cracks, debris or sand. Cyclists should also ride hard and maintain a straight line when riding in traffic, Griffith said.

Griffith said one of the biggest questions is biking on sidewalks, which is not allowed in the downtown business district but is allowed elsewhere in the city.

Griffith said he believes attitudes are shifting to where motorists are becoming more accepting of cyclists on the road, but animosity remains.

“We still have a mixed bag of people that feel it’s not the right direction, but I feel we are seeing it’s becoming more acceptable for bikes to be out there and people are more aware of them.”

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