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Cyclists crowding roads irk motorists

The Orlando Sentinel: Cyclists crowding roads irk motorists

By Martin E. Comas, Orlando Sentinel
January 2, 2010

On Sunday mornings, Joe Goloversic hops in his pickup and drives the back roads from his home in Clermont to his job as a security guard in Windermere. Along the way, he encounters dozens of bicyclists wearing skintight outfits and sleek aerodynamic helmets riding in large packs.

"The road, honest to God, is sometimes covered with bicycles," Goloversic said.

Slowing down and passing the racing cyclists has typically been a minor inconvenience. But now Goloversic and other motorists say the herds of riders are becoming increasingly larger and creating a dangerous situation on the winding, hilly roads in south Lake and west Orange counties. Goloversic said he recently punctured a tire after he was forced off the road while trying to avoid hitting a group.

"I was so mad I could spit," he said. "They’re sharing the road with cars going 40 miles per hour or more, and they are spread four or five across, and they won’t let cars try to pass."

It wasn’t always this way. The ride began as a small group of riders in the early 1980s. Through the years, bicyclists from across the state have been drawn to the area because of its unique rolling terrain. But with the exploding growth in recent years — including in Clermont, Windermere and Groveland — bicyclists are increasingly competing for the same asphalt as motorists.

"We are all using the same stretch of road, and we all have equal rights to the road," said Robert Alfert, an Orlando attorney who regularly rides with a large group of bicyclists on Sunday mornings from Windermere into Lake County. "But as our community becomes more developed and more crowded, some of these inconveniences will get worse."

After a growing number of complaints from residents, Lake County deputy sheriffs have started issuing warnings to bicyclists for not riding in single file as state law requires and rolling through stop signs.

"If people don’t start heeding our warnings, then we’ll have to take it to the next step, which will affect their pocketbooks," Lake sheriff’s Sgt. Tom McKane said. "We hate to do that, because maybe they don’t realize that what they’re doing is wrong. They’re required to stop at stop signs, use hand signals to show they’re turning and to ride in single file closest to the curb."

What’s ’impeding traffic’?

The law states that in most cases bicyclists are allowed to ride two abreast as long as they are not impeding traffic. Otherwise they must form a single lane. But the statute does not define "impeding traffic."

Motorists, on the other hand, are required to give bicyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing.

But racing bicyclists say when a large pack made up of more than 80 riders forms a single file on a two-lane road, it could take a motorist more than half a mile to pass the group, creating a dangerous situation on a winding road.

"Whereas when you’re trying to pass a large pack, grouped together, it’s a pain, but it takes you less time to do it," said Mark Marshall, an avid bicyclist who owns South Lake Bicycles in Minneola. "It’s like passing a semi."

McKane said the Lake Sheriff’s Office plans to ask the state Attorney General’s Office for an interpretation on the state’s bicycling laws because motorists, law-enforcement officials and bicyclists are reading them differently. It also could mean amending the laws.

"I don’t think the laws were written to take into consideration large [racing] groups," McKane said.

The Lake Sheriff’s Office recently assigned a deputy to act as a liaison between law enforcement and the Lake County Bicycle Alliance, a newly formed group of bicyclists that promotes road courtesy among riders and motorists.

Daren Black, a serious racer from Clermont, said it’s not unusual for red-faced motorists to shout, curse, honk or even ease their vehicles close to the bicyclists to nudge them off the road.

"Drivers are getting more and more aggressive, and they’re coming very close to us," said Black, who has ridden with the pack for more than a decade. "The only solution is for both groups to try to work together."

Driver: I’m not ’anti-bike’

According to Black, a majority of the problems are caused by a small group of out-of-town, fast-riding bicyclists coming to Central Florida for the hilly terrain.

But Ken Winters of Winter Garden said the problem is that bicyclists won’t move over for cars and trucks.

"I wouldn’t have a problem if they rode single file, but they’re not doing that," Winters said.

Officials with the Florida Highway Patrol and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said they also have received an increasing number of complaints from Orange and Lake residents.

"The bicyclists have a right to be on the roads, but they are considered vehicles, and they have to abide by the rules," FHP Sgt. Kim Montes said.

Even after having to buy a new tire for his pickup, Goloversic says he’s not "anti-bike."

"I applaud them for keeping themselves in shape. God bless them," he said. "But it would be horrific if I or anyone else were to accidentally clip one of them. That would the last thing anyone would want to happen."

Alfert said he can understand motorists’ frustrations.

"It’s a shame that this has become so adversarial," he said. "We’re all human beings, and we all want to use that stretch of road. … We’re asking for a little bit more understanding and compassion from drivers. And our riding group also has a duty to be good citizens, and that means policing our group so that our rides minimize inconveniences to other drivers. We’ve been doing that, but we still have a way to go."