Riding the road to bike safety — together

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Nagel

I am concerned about Douglas Rivard’s sentiment in a letter to the editor on Aug. 14. I grew up in Kootenai County. On bikes. I used to ride my 10 speed to Bryan Elementary from Thomas Lane and occasionally stopped by the Ninth Street bike jumps on my way home. I commuted to my first job (as a Sting soccer referee) on a bike because I was 14 and didn’t yet have my driver’s license.

My first time riding a road bike was on a friend’s 1960-something Raleigh steel frame with the shifters on the downtube. It took some getting used to but I was hooked almost immediately to the speed. I saved up my money and pleaded for my parents to go in on half of a brand new Fuji Finest Al. I bought it on my 17th birthday from Vertical Earth on Third Street.

My first car vs. bike collision was three days later on Third Street and Walnut Avenue when a man heading east ran a stop sign with his Chevy S10 pickup truck. I locked up my brakes, skidding toward him, then thunk, my knee went into his front quarter panel leaving a nice dent, and I rolled on top of his hood, where he finally noticed me and must have been shocked. He slammed on his brakes, flinging me forward onto the street. Presumably scared of a lawsuit, he picked me up, loaded my bike into his truck and drove me to Vertical Earth to buy a new bike before any witnesses could ask if I was OK.

I was OK, but for a little road rash, a sore knee and elbow, and a broken phone. He was lucky I had good instincts.

This didn’t happen around Hayden Lake. In fact, I rode that bike around the lake a lot that summer, 15 years ago. And I’ve ridden it many more times since. Contrary to what Douglas Rivard said about East Hayden Lake Road in his letter, it is a great place for bikes to be ridden. There are no intersections where people can run stop signs, the hills make for a good workout, and the curves in the road ensure cars can’t speed too much. And since it is legal to ride bikes on road, there isn’t much chance that Douglas’s recommendation of limiting bike access will come to fruition.

But the real concern I have with Douglas’s sentiment is that it epitomizes a growing shift in mentality across the nation and certainly here in Kootenai County that bikes don’t belong on the road. Many people think if a bicyclist gets hit by a car, it is the bicyclist’s fault for being there. This sort of victim blaming is very dangerous. It tends to let drivers with bad habits off the hook for distracted driving, speeding, and even aggressive driving. This is really bad news because cars can do much more damage than bikes can, therefore drivers have greater responsibility and should take more care.

The mentality isn’t new. Anyone who has ridden a bike on the road for more than a week is very aware of how drivers feel. We get flipped off, yelled at, honked at, coal rolled, ass slapped and generally harassed more than we care to admit and we should not have to put up with it.

So to all the Douglases out there who believe bikes and cars can’t coexist, here is my solution. Pay attention when you are behind the wheel of a car. Put your phone down. Don’t be in a hurry to get where you’re going. Teach your kids to look for cyclists on the road. And if you find yourself getting frustrated with cyclists just take a deep breath and remember they have the same legal right to be there as you. Because you don’t really want to live in a town that limits bike access to roads. We pay taxes and spend money in the local economy. We alleviate traffic congestion. We are generally a healthy and happy bunch looking to enjoy our community and live an active life.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Take a look at these articles to learn more about the shift in mentality against cyclists, benefits of cycling, the increase in cycling deaths and the local economic impact of bikes: “Legally Speaking with Bob Mionske: Blame-shifting excuses harm all cyclists,” by Bob Mionske, Velo News, Aug. 21, 2019; “Cycling — Health Benefits,” Better Health Channel; “In NYC, Cycling Deaths Increase but Gears Turn Slowly on Safety Measures,” by Aubri Juhasz, NPR, Aug. 14, 2019; “Study Highlights Trail’s Value,” by Brian Walker, Coeur d’Alene Press, June 12, 2019.

• • •

Kyle Nagel is a resident of Coeur d’Alene.

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