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A cyclist's worst fear - and a hope

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat: GUEST OPINION: A cyclist's worst fear — and a hope

By JERRY McKINLEY
Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A lot of Sonoma County cyclists, including me, cringed while reading that cyclist Steve Norwick was seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver. If you want to know what worries a cyclist the most, this is it: getting hit from behind by a motorized vehicle. For some of us, the thought never completely leaves our minds as we ride.

When I’m on a ride, I sometimes find myself pondering how much trust we, as cyclists, put into our fellow man in the motor vehicle coming up from behind us. Our bicycles weigh from 15 pounds to 30 pounds. The motorist is traveling in a vehicle that weighs anywhere from 1,500 pounds to 40 tons. We are riding at speeds between 12 mph and 25 mph. The motorist is coming from behind at speeds between 25 mph and 65 mph. We trust that the driver will take our lives seriously enough to pay attention and, hopefully, give us a little space. When this is done, we’re able to go home to our families after our ride.

This story got even more chilling with the the suspected hit-and-run driver’s comments to the CHP officer who tracked him down. Robert Cowart “told me he hit somebody and he was late for work. He needed to get to work,” CHP Officer Rich Hill said (“Cyclist struck, gravely injured,” Saturday).

I’ve thought long and hard about that comment. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that, put in a similar situation, 99.9 percent of mankind would stop and call for help. But I keep going back to, “he was late for work,” and I cannot help but think that this a root cause of the problem with motorists and cyclists co-existing on our roads.

On two-lane roads here in Sonoma County, I’ve found that most motorists give me a safe space by moving to the left as they pass. Unfortunately, it seems that this safe space isn’t provided when they are required to slow down to provide it.

If a car is coming in the opposite direction with an inevitable meeting of all three of us at the same time, then the cyclist gets the squeeze. This situation could be made safer for the cyclist by letting off the accelerator and allowing the car coming in the opposite direction to pass first. I need to wonder if this space is not provided to the cyclist because someone is late for work. Maybe it doesn’t end with such tragic results as last Friday, but it is still disturbing and unfortunate.

I am a motorist and a cyclist. I understand how it can be frustrating for motorists to negotiate the roads with cyclists, as it is in turn for cyclists with motor vehicles. But once we lose our trust and mutual respect, whether we’re on bikes, in a crosswalk or in cars, we risk turning our roads into anarchy. I hope to see us give mutual respect and maybe a little space on the road, even if it makes us a tad late.

Jerry McKinley of Petaluma has written for the Bicycling Sonoma blog at pressdemocrat.com.