Greg McGann: Why cyclists deserve a share of the roads


Published: Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 3:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 3:34 p.m.

North of the Gainesville city limits a sign proclaims this a "Bicycle Friendly Community." That clearly does not include a small but noisy group of people incensed that ''their'' money is used for bicycle lanes or bike and walking trails. Concerned that road maintenance in the area is lagging, this crowd has mounted an attack on cyclists as somehow being responsible. An orchestrated campaign, seething with emotion has ensued. One recently equated us to socialists, another resurrected the old '"love it or leave it" option.

This is becoming tiresome. For these folks, a rational response is overdue.

First, people who ride bikes are a diverse group, from the spandex, go-fast crowd to weekend leisure riders with many sub-sets in between. But one common denominator is that virtually all riders also own and drive cars, so we fund and use roads as well. We support your call for better safer roads, but not only for cars.

Having a safe way to use major streets makes it possible for bicyclists to get most anywhere in this community, and, unless you're a Republican operative, efficiently and surprisingly quickly. I'm in my 60's, and far from an elite athlete, yet I often ride 40, 60 or 80 miles a day. I commuted to work for years, do most my errands and much of my shopping on a bicycle. Where there are trails or back streets believe me, I take them, often though major streets are the only real option to get places. We just ask a way to do this safely.

Motorists often motion me towards sidewalks, (at least I think that's what that finger means). But besides multiple sidewalk obstacles unseen from a car, statistics show cycling on sidewalks is extremely dangerous, with 2 to 4 times more accidents per mile, compared to streets with designated bike lanes. Trying to cross a street from the sidewalk on a bike is particularly dangerous. Vigilant about bikes when I drive, on the two occasions I've come c1osest, within inches, of hitting a bike, they were crossing in front of me on the sidewalk where I did not expect them. Most drivers are far from vigilant when it comes to looking out for bicycles.

If they thought about it motorists should welcome bicycles. Bikes are still the most efficient fonn of transportation ever invented, they cause no wear on roads, do not compete for expensive fuel, do not pollute, nor add to traffic congestion, and take up a fraction of the parking space required for a car. Designated bike lanes cost a pittance of what a comparable mile of urban roadway costs. The health benefits and the reduced environmental impact of riding a bike compared to driving are obvious, positive and affordable for most people. What's not to like?

Forty percent of all car trips in town cover less than two miles. So why aren't more people on bikes? The main reasons are the fear of distracted drivers, and the hostility demonstrated by some drivers. Around here another reason might be those chronically ill-informed grumps who write anti-bike letters to The Sun.

Greg McGann,

Gainesville

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