Bikes vs. cars

By Jasmine Rogers

The Marietta Times

On a nice day, it is not uncommon for Marietta resident Hilda Goodman, 71, to load up her pooch Little One on the front basket of her Schwinn for one, maybe two bicycle rides a day.

Though the law allows cyclists the same rights on public roadways as motorist, Goodman prefers to stick to the sidewalks and trails.

“Not with all the traffic,” she said of road cycling. “The cars speed too much….it’s safer to stay on the sidewalk or bike path.”

Despite Goodman’s reservations, statewide statistics say it is actually getting safer for bicyclists and motorists to share the road, and many local cyclists and drivers report being at ease with one another.

Marietta resident Rick Terrell, 45, said he rarely notices bicyclists on the road, but when he does there are no issues.

“I don’t have any problem with them. I have more of a problem with idiot drivers,” he said.

Slightly more than 1,500 bicyclist injuries were reported to the Ohio Department of Public Safety last year, down from around 1,900 in 2012.

At the same time, the number of bikes on the road appears to be growing. Bicycle advocates told The Columbus Dispatch they are gaining strength in numbers, and local biking enthusiast agreed that their ranks have increased in recent years.

Newport resident Travis Wells, an avid biker, said he has noticed more riders along Ohio 7 lately.

“I live right on State Route 7, and I probably saw six bicyclists out this weekend that I didn’t recognize as someone I’d seen before. Driving along State Route 7, biking along State Route 7, and living on State Route 7, I have seen this year and in the past couple of years an increase in the number of cyclists, ” said Wells, 44.

He said one of the biggest concerns for bicyclists is that motorists sometimes misunderstand bicyclists’ rights and are not often not vigilant enough.

“I don’t know it it’s a matter of not seeing bicycles, but I’ve had a number of vehicles turn in front of me when they should have yielded the right-of-way,” he said.

Cyclists themselves can make themselves safer by increasing their visibility, offered Dan Jones, president of the Marietta Rowing and Cycling Club.

“The bicyclists who are wearing really bright reflective gear are the ones who are safest,” he said.

Though drivers in downtown Marietta are generally courteous, Jones says downtown road riding presents its own set of safety issues.

“When you’re on the streets, there’s just a lot of distraction,” he said. “Plus there are a lot of cars parked on the edge of streets. You’re worried not only about a car hitting you, but someone opening a door.”

The most recent bicycle fatality to happen in Washington County happened within city limits.

In 2011, 34-year-old Michael Babcock was struck by a pickup truck after apparently running through a red light near Interstate 77 and Ohio 7 on his bike.

Though bicyclists have the same rights as motorists, they are also required to follow the same laws, noted Marietta Policeman and Bike Patrolman Bob Ellenwood.

“Where I feel like the accidents occur is where the bikers feel like they can manipulate the rules. They go on the road and then they get to a red light and they jump on the sidewalk to try to maintain continuous travel,” said Ellenwood.

Maintaining safe practices is a two-way street between cyclists and motorists, he said.

While Tom Sears, president of the Blennerhasset Bicycle Club, has had generally positive experiences with drivers, there are still the occasional rude or aggressive ones, he said.

“I have been yelled at along the side of the road. I have, in the past, been passed very closely. But as a general rule, I would say that people seem to be courteous,” he said.

That is not to say more can not be done.

Sears would like to see a law recently passed in West Virginia enacted in Ohio as well. The law requires that drivers give bicyclists a 3-foot berth when passing.

“When I have been on the road within the last two or three weeks-I don’t know if it’s a result of the law-I do seem to notice that drivers seem to be passing with a wider berth around me on the highway,” he said.

Marietta resident Teresa Wise, 52, agreed that there should be a law requiring a buffer zone for passing cyclists.

“I think the (River) Trail is a good thing, but people can’t ride it everywhere,” she said.

Though they rarely ride anymore, Marietta resident Dean Shepherd, 79, and his wife, Mary, have been avid cyclists most of their lives.

Shepherd used to bike on roadways decades ago, but began avoiding them as drivers’ behaviors changed.

“A lot of it’s the drivers. They harass you,” he said.

Shepherd said biking on the roadways died down for a while but seems to be seeing a resurgence now.

Marietta resident Ben Smith, 30, said he just uses common sense when approaching bicyclists on the road.

“Just be patient. Stay out of the way,” he said.