I expected to write about the new "Better Biking Bill" that flew through the Ohio legislature in June and was signed by Governor Taft at GOBA recently. This bill dramatically improves Ohio law and will make life better for cyclists in Ohio. However, in the past week, the actions of a fellow by the name of Anthony Gerike interrupted my work on that article.
Mr. Gerike was the operator of a motor vehicle which, on Sunday, July 16, 2006, apparently went left of center and drove into a group of ten or so riders. Tragically, two, Amy Gerhing and Terry Walker, were killed. Both were Cincinnati Cycle Club members out for a ride with friends on a gorgeous Sunday morning. Both were avid cyclists who trained and rode for fun and for "causes." Both were just really nice people.
The following week brought television and radio news coverage, Memorial Rides, interviews with the Club President and friends, and heated discussions on the club's Forum. What can "we" do to protect our right to ride when tragedy strikes? What can YOU do? What can your local club do? What can your local police department or local government do? What can be done at the state level?
What "we" can do is continue to ride. We need to continue to use the roads, continue to treat motorists with respect and continue to demand the same respect in return. I was forced to ride one of the C.C.C. Memorial Rides on my motorcycle due to meetings I had to attend before and after the ride. I was very grateful at the respectful way I was treated by the mourning cyclists. Riders would signal me as I slowed to pass, to let me know it was OK ahead. Riders smiled and waved. The hand signals I received were all of the friendly variety with none of the single digit gestures that sometimes crop up.
This behavior reinforced a common theme I've written about for many years. When "we" ride, and by that I mean each and every person who rides a bike on the roadway, "we" become Ambassadors for Cycling. The motoring public's perception of cycling and cyclists is shaped by each encounter with cyclists. Watching cyclists blow through red lights or stop signs causes that perception to tick in a negative direction ever so slightly. Behavior in the nature of what I experienced generates a very positive response - these folks don't want to hold me up, they want me to get by and will help me do so safely. Watching cyclists behave in a predictable, "vehicle-like" manner on the roadway can only enhance our perception. EACH encounter is important and EACH of us has to remember we are an "Ambassador for Cycling" at all times!
What can YOU do when someone is hurt or killed in a tragic crash caused by an errant motorist? Get involved. Talk about the issues raised. Use the crash to advise your non-cycling colleagues about the rules of the road. Use the crash to emphasize the overall SAFETY of road cycling - deaths are NOT commonplace, but an aberration. Use the crash to tell the world that we're on the roads and we're here to stay. Don't let print or radio voices start a "Let's Put Bikes On Bikepaths" campaign. Write letters to the editor. Call into radio shows. In my experience, such tragedies can result in knee-jerk responses by local or state legislators to "take action" in order to "protect" cyclists. This "action" usually results in cyclists being banned from a particular roadway or being ordered to wear helmets or some such thing. Your swift and visible [letters] or audible [call in and talk!] action declaring, not defending, our right to the roadway and supporting strong police and prosecutorial action against those who maim or kill cyclist will assist in protecting our right to the roadway.
What can your CLUB do in response to tragedy? I've often counseled clubs on trying to get a consistent message out through the media when these events happen. Each situation is different, but frequently the club wants to educate the public, show contempt for the wrong doer, support the family of the victims, and take action to insure the event does not occur again. Letters to the editor, letters to police, prosecutor or judge. Memorial rides. A "White Bike" memorial at the scene. Television and radio appearances.
Good Luck & Good Riding