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September 27, 2012

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Recently, a good friend of mine (and Pulse employee) was practically mowed down by a car as he rode his bicycle home from work downtown in broad daylight. Luckily, he made it out of the ordeal unharmed, but his bike was not so lucky. Then, a couple of days later, I heard a similar story—although this time the victim was severely injured, but is recovering. These stories have me a little gun shy now when inflating my bike’s tires for a downtown ride.

According to countless publications around the country, Chattanooga is becoming one of the most progressive and livable mid-size cities in America. However, it’s citizens and visitors navigating the streets of our award winning city center in their thousand-pound gas-guzzlers might need to catch up with this notion.

Several periodicals tailored to bike enthusiasts site the Noog’s bike lanes, flat surfaces and new Bike Share program as forward-thinking steps towards a metro environment that is very cycle-friendly, as well as “green.” Now we just have to make sure motorists “get it.”

The person who nailed my friend with his car actually told him, “I always look for other cars and pedestrians, but I sometimes forget about cyclists.” This is a little troubling to say the least—especially when most casual cyclists I know forego the accessory of a helmet.

The lack of protective headwear is dangerous, but my thinking is that these cyclists are substituting their two-wheelers for cars as a form of general transportation rather than “balls out” exercising at top speeds. Even the Bike Share program, for example, doesn’t offer the optional accessory of a helmet at their docking stations. Good or bad, helmet disregard is a fact that motorists must take into account when encountering bicycles that share the very lanes their cars neatly fit within.

Personally, I forego the helmet option as well, although I am seriously considering adding one given the recent incidents I mentioned. Then again, I also tend to forego street riding, opting for the sidewalk if it’s absent of pedestrians. I know that sidewalk riding is considered a little faux pas with hardcore enthusiasts, but my distrust of inattentive motorists is hardcore as well.

The “three foot rule” of passing a cyclist in your car is good measure, when it’s observed, but even this standard can have its tribulations. One time I was “pulled over” at a red light by two police officers on bicycles after giving them ample room when passing in my car. My infraction? I crossed the double yellow line dividing the two-way street as I passed. I explained that because they were slowly pedaling uphill, I didn’t want them to experience the added pressure of a possibly impatient motorist hot on their heels. They bought it.

The bottom line is that our downtown streets are becoming less and less about motorized traffic and more and more about cyclists—and pedestrians. Those on foot also pose a new obstacle that can be even more unpredictable than cyclists. I’m speaking, of course, about those on foot who tempt fate by jaywalking across several lanes at not only a tortoise’s pace, but also without looking to see what car or cars might be barreling down on them.

To me, this phenomenon is a blatant disrespect for the dangers of the street. At least cyclists tend to take defensive measures when traveling (likely for fear of getting run over like those I previously mentioned). However, since pedestrians have the right of way, those on foot know that cars will slow down or even stop to let them cross—even if not at red light-protected crosswalks.

Seems we motorists have adapted to the unpredictable nature of the sidewalk stroller. Now we must learn the ins and outs of the comings and goings of two-wheelers as well. It could mean the difference between life and vehicular homicide.

Be careful out there!

Chuck Crowder is a local writer and general man about town. His opinions are his own.

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September 27, 2012

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