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Mullen: Bike safety a two-way street

Published September 27, 2005 12:36 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A reader who lives in Emigration Canyon e-mailed me on Sunday - nine long paragraphs' worth. He accused me of writing "biased stories about bicycle deaths" and warned that my "yellow journalism only foments more antipathy" between motorists and cyclists.

"Every time a hapless biker gets killed by a car you assume that motorists are out to get them," he wrote. "These unfortunate accidents are just that. . . . ACCIDENTS! . . . [The cyclists] died because they were not seen. The new, inane 3-foot law can't protect cyclists just like white lines can't keep a car from crossing on the shoulder, but by saying cyclists have the same rights as motorists only encourages stupidity."

His response came on the heels of my column about Steve R. Williams, a Salt Lake City man who was hit from behind by a motorist and killed while riding his road bike Sept. 16 in Kane County. I noted that nearly one year earlier, Salt Lake resident Josie Johnson was also hit from behind and killed while pedaling her bike up Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Since then, I've been on a bit of a mission to get drivers to start seeing cyclists. I've begged them in this space to start sharing the road and to simply slow down. For many reasons, the Johnson tragedy struck a chord inside me that keeps reverberating.

For one thing, I ride my own bike regularly with my husband and friends up and down Salt Lake County's canyons. We've been swallowed by that Lance Armstrong/Tour de France craze, dreamers on two wheels who just can't quit. Besides, we've all but given up running because our old knees creak too much.

For another thing, with gasoline prices inching ever higher, more people are riding bicycles. This means more riders on the roads with little experience. They will bear the responsibility, naturally, of wearing helmets and visible clothing, and of obeying the same laws as motorists (because contrary to my correspondent's argument, state law treats cyclists and drivers as equals on the highway).

Motorists can't be nagged enough about that.

And finally, we just bought my 17-year-old daughter a delicious, seven-speed cruiser bike with a big seat, fat tires and rad fenders. She sits straight up on that bike and looks as sweet as Dorothy did while riding with Toto between Kansas and Oz. So my crusade is personal. When you are behind the wheel, I want you to see my kid. Her, and the hordes of other children who ride Utah's roads.

My correspondent was right. It doesn't take Isaac Newton to predict who will still be standing when two tons of reinforced, motorized steel collide with 17 pounds of carbon frame atop a pair of skinny tires.

So I'll leap to the other side of my soapbox, which is reserved for chastising cyclists who exhibit a "$#%* you" attitude toward motorists. I saw a small herd of this breed recently in Emigration Canyon.

Proudly sporting their corporate-logo-emblazoned jerseys and shorts, they formed their own little peloton - which forced two riders outside the designated bike lane and into the road.

When a vehicle gingerly passed them, those two responded with the middle-finger salute. Not one of the pack made any move to ride single file. Thanks, gentlemen, for all you did at that moment to build the public image of cyclists.

It all goes to show there is plenty of education to go around. My e-mail friend closed by urging me to stop bashing motorists and simply go for a ride. "It will be a better use of your time," he wrote.

He's right. The more I ride, the more likely he is to start seeing me. I'm outta here.

hmullen@sltrib.com