Sharing: Motorists And Bike Riders

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Tandem cyclists Randy and Minnie Norman ride nearly every day around Payson. Of the 3,000-plus miles they ride each year, they say they experience a few close calls with motorists who either don’t know or don’t follow Arizona bicycle laws.

Payson cyclists put a lot of wear on their wheels.

From the teacher who rides to work to the retired couple that rides for exercise to the shop owner who rides for fun. While they all have different reasons for why they ride, most will tell you it’s no walk in the park in part due to inconsiderate motorists.

Riding on city streets is dangerous and requires diligence on the part of riders and motorists.

With the start of the school year and kids heading out on their bikes, several local riders remind motorists to slow down, be aware, and give cyclists at least three feet of clearance when passing.

For Hike, Bike and Run owner Mick Wolf, riding as well as risk is a part of life. In the last year since he opened his store, Mick said he knows of seven customers who were hit by a vehicle, including Payson High School chemistry teacher Cynthia Pool who was fatally stuck by a tractor-trailer June 9 as she cycled through Wyoming on a Trans-America trip.

Although Mick has never been hit during one of his afternoon rides through town, he has had plenty of narrow escapes, which most riders can also attest to.

“I have lived in a number of cities, but I have not had as many incidents as the number I have had here,” he said. “I have never seen people run others off the road.”

Retired tandem riders Randy and Minnie Norman said they have also experienced a number of narrow escapes.

“We have had a lot of different experiences; people throwing stuff at us and even police coming within inches,” they said. However, the scariest situations occur when a motorist isn’t aware they almost struck you, they said.

Wolf suspects Rim Country drivers, unlike big city motorists, are not used to sharing the road with cyclists and pedestrians since less people do it on a regular basis.

“People get in their own little zone and don’t see how vulnerable a rider on a bike is,” Wolf said. “For such a small town, people are in such a hurry.”

The Normans said most motorists try to be courteous, but when they aren’t, it’s usually because they don’t know the bicycle laws.

According to Arizona law, motorists are required to give at least three feet of clearance when passing. Several times a week, Wolf said, motorists refuse to slow down to pass him on his bike, even when an oncoming car makes it impossible for them to give him three feet of space.

“Most close calls happen when people drive too close as they pass,” he said.

The Normans added it is amazing motorists can’t wait 10 seconds for a car to pass before going around a bicyclist.

“People see cars coming and they still come and try to squeeze by, forcing the other car to move over. If they just waited ....”

But the blame does not ride solely on motorists shoulders, cyclists are also guilty of bending the rules. For instance, some riders, namely children, often ride on the wrong side of the street. And some ride without a helmet, which is not required by state law.

Julia Randall Elementary School teacher Wayne Gorry said he would like to see more children wear helmets.

“Helmets have definitely saved my life,” he said.

Gorry was struck by a truck from the side while leaving the Payson High School parking lot in November 2001. He broke vertebrae in his back and fractured his collarbone. The reason for the accident, the driver did not see Gorry.

Gorry said the accident was an isolated incident for him because most divers are extremely courteous and give him ample room.

“There are a few that do not move over and some are even aggressive, but I have never been run off the road,” he said. “I try to be hyper-aware.”

Gorry rides 100 to 250 miles a week and encourages his family to ride.

A car hit his 15-year-old son Cypress while he rode to school three years ago. Cypress had crossed over to the other side of the street and was struck by a vehicle exiting a blind driveway. Cypress was knocked over, but not seriously injured. After that, he changed his route to school.

“As a cyclist you have to assume you are not seen,” Gorry said. “I like to make eye contact with a driver.”

With so many close calls, the Normans took it into their hands to educate drivers and bicyclists about Arizona laws. They contacted the Arizona Department of Transportation and received a box of free “Share the Road” pocket guides, which illustrate how bicyclists and motorists can share the road legally and safely.

Copies are available through the parks and recreation department.

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