Northland News

Cyclists, drivers seek truce at gathering


A gathering to improve relations between bicyclists and motorists and improve safety on city streets drew only 16 people last week to the Charity Newsies building on Indianola Avenue -- but those who attended had some strong feelings on both sides of the equation.

One woman, who said she remains traumatized as a result of having struck a bicyclist who rode directly into the path of her car, told of driving her husband to work and back each day, encountering so many scofflaw cyclists that she has come to detest them and feels they should be required to get a license.

A man said that he, his wife and their two children rode their bikes to the meeting.

"We got yelled at by eight cars on the way here today," he said.

Another woman described how she's often pelted with coins tossed at her by passing motorists, adding that a woman driving a Honda consistently harasses her with the vehicle on her daily rides to work.

The meeting, dubbed "For Safety's Sake," was organized by Dana Bagwell, a member of the Clintonville Area Commission who said she decided to bring the two factions together for some face-to-face conversation in light of often-heated exchanges online and recently in letters to the editor of The Columbus Dispatch.

The 16 people who turned out heard from Christopher George, a bikeways engineer with the city of Columbus; police officer Scott Clinger, the liaison to one of the precincts that covers the Northland area and an original instructor for officers who patrol on bicycles; Sgt. Joe Curmode of the police department's motorcycle unit, which enforces pedestrian and bicycle laws; and Catherine Girves, executive director of Yay! Bikes, a nonprofit advocacy and education organization.

"We have to figure out how to peacefully coexist on the roadways, because bicycles aren't going away," Girves said.

George gave a presentation on the various kinds of biking infrastructure on Columbus streets, including bike lanes, bike boulevards, sharrows and, in one instance so far in Clintonville, a bike box. The latter is a green pavement area at Milton Avenue and West North Broadway that allows bicycle riders to move to the front of a line of vehicles.

George said additional details about an overall bicycle campaign instituted by Mayor Michael B. Coleman are available at sharetheroad.

A recent change in the Ohio Revised Code, George said, requires motorists to stay at least three feet away from bike riders when passing. Commercial drivers have to provide six feet of space, he said.

Clinger, who described himself as an avid bicyclist who will have 20 years with the division in November, said only a small percentage of bike riders and drivers are the source of conflict between the two.

"It's 2 percent of the people, not 98 percent," he said.

Bicyclists sometimes "are their own worst enemies," said Curmode, who is approaching his 30th anniversary as a Columbus policeman. They have the same rights as motorists, he added, but also the same responsibilities, and bicyclists who run red lights or blast through stop signs are just as likely to get a citation as people in cars.

"Columbus, unfortunately, or maybe fortunately ... grew out and not up," Curmode said. "We are not a pedestrian- or bicyclist-aware city.

"We are not the same city we were 30 years ago, especially when it comes to traffic. Our percentage of idiots is going to increase, and it's not going to go down. We're going to see aggressive driving on the rise."

"Some people are jerks and there's nothing we can do about those people," Girves conceded. "We know there are bad eggs out there, in the motorist community and in the bicyclist community."

However, she said the majority of motorists bear no ill will toward bike riders, and most cyclists obey the laws and try to be courteous to those in four-wheeled vehicles.

"Columbus motorists are actually pretty respectful," Girves said.