The Journal Gazette
Friday, May 17, 2019 1:00 am

Safety of bicyclists more than passing concern

Karl W. Einolf

Please don't drive into a bicyclist next time you see one. As a bicyclist who was recently hit by a car, I can tell you from personal experience that it hurts. A lot.

On a recent Saturday, I was riding my bicycle in the farm country east of Fort Wayne. Nearing home, I passed a road sign with the image of a bicycle and a reminder to motorists to “Share the Road” on North River Road near Kreager Park. I imagine the driver who hit me didn't see the sign. Incredibly, I later learned that he did, in fact, see me.

According to the police report, the driver noticed me and attempted to pass me. The report indicates that the driver saw a box truck coming in the opposite direction, so he didn't have room to get around me. Instead of slowing down further to allow the truck to pass before he went around me, he drove his car's front passenger side into me. And I went down hard.

I always wear a helmet when I ride, but when my head and face struck the pavement I lost consciousness. My first memory after the crash is wondering why I was on the ground with a police cruiser in front of me. Most of what I remember the rest of the morning is extremely cloudy. I know I was treated well by the first responders, and I got a first-class ambulance ride to the emergency room. I am grateful for their timely response and the quality of care they gave me.

I know I am lucky to be alive, and that is usually what someone tells me when they hear this story for the first time. However, I don't feel lucky.

I will be dealing with my injuries from being struck by this driver for a long time.

I have been riding a bike competitively for more than 20 years. After I turned 30, my sister convinced me to try a triathlon, and I began training for Olympic-distance races. I was a solid swimmer and a decent runner, but I was new to road cycling. I fell in love with the sport and made it a regular part of my exercise routine. Since then, for three weeks every July, the sounds of the Tour de France broadcast drive my family crazy each day.

I lived in Pennsylvania for most of these years, and I enjoyed the peace of riding on my own on the open road. Pennsylvania certainly had its share of aggressive drivers but, thankfully, none of them ever hit me. On one occasion  I was riding with a group of friends when a Ford Mustang sped past us, dangerously close. We caught up to the car at an intersection, and I am sure we looked ridiculous – a group of skinny guys in spandex yelling at a muscular guy in a Mustang. Thankfully, he stayed in his car and admitted he hadn't realized he had put us in danger.

But the fear of being hit is not at all ridiculous when your body is out in the open on a bike.

My wife and I moved two years ago for a wonderful job opportunity, and the city of Fort Wayne was a major influence in our decision to relocate from Pennsylvania. The ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown and to transform northeast Indiana into a globally recognized economy attracted us here.

Part of this transformation has been the development of an impressive and growing trails system. Yet the trails are limited in scope and not always a replacement for road cycling, so bicyclists and motorists will continue to share the roads. Planning our roads accordingly, so they are wider and feature bicycle lanes, can help. But we all need to do our part as well. As my experience makes clear, we can't simply put up “Share the Road” signs and expect them to work on their own.

Building the infrastructure to make bicycling on our roads safe will take years, but in the meantime, all we need are patient drivers. Slow down and pass with care when you see a bicycle on the road. Please.

Karl W. Einolf is president of the Indiana Institute of Technology (Indiana Tech).

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