Opinions in the South Bend Tribune’s Voice of the People.

To submit your own opinion to help keep these issues of bike safety and drunk driving alive, write here:

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That bike rider up ahead could be Michiana’s future


Within hours of the car vs. bicycle deaths of Patrick Sawyer (July 21) and Peter Kaczor (Aug. 28) two different reactions of disbelief lit up Internet blog sites. On the one side were the bike people: fellow commuters, students, workers and athletes who have integrated biking into their lives. People who pedal mile after mile of bad roads and indifferent drivers not to “work out” or to lose weight but to actually travel. Peter’s death, the eighth bicycle death in Michiana since May 2007, fractured the illusion that if bikers are just careful enough, illuminated and helmeted enough, they’re safer. They don’t expect everyone to ride bikes, to care why they do this, or to thank them for freeing up parking spaces, oxygen and oil dependency. They just don’t want people to kill them.

Some drivers were also shaking their heads in disbelief:

-“All you whiners were crying about ‘The (Sawyer) driver needs to turn himself in.’ Now he did and you idiots want more? It was probably the bike rider’s fault, it usually is. Bikes have no business on the streets.” (Reader comment on wndu.com, July 17.)

-“(Sawyer) sure did pick a bad time and the wrong street to go for a bike ride! What was he thinking?” (Reader comments on wsbt.com, July 17.)

For many drivers a bicycle does not belong on the road any more than a skateboard does. The whole point of driving — the freedom, utility, comfort, convenience and power — seem wrongly infringed by … a bicycle ahead.

I have actually felt some of this myself when driving a car, as I have to slow down or change lanes for a biker.

Then I recognize the biker. A teacher. A physician. A neighbor. A student. A homeless guy. My daughter. My wife.

Are Michiana roads safe for bikers? Some are, but none is as safe as it could be.

Do some bikers disobey traffic laws? Yes, they do. Just as some drivers do.

Should bikes even be on the road? Yes, they should.

But a more essential question is, where are we all headed as a community, transportation-wise?

Recently I was talking with a coworker about how to commute by bike. She interrupted me, “Maybe you live close enough to bike to work,” she snapped. “But I live out in (local suburb). It’s too far to bike.” And I sensed in her response a new aspect of driver frustration: resentment.

Drivers are feeling trapped, forced to drive everywhere on precious gasoline even when they don’t want to drive — like on a nice fall afternoon, to the park or store with the kids. Then, you realize: you can’t. There is no safe route for biking.

Not to mention our suburban friends who didn’t read the fine print on their mortgages. The fine print? “P.S. You have just relinquished your right to ever bike or walk or jog or roller skate to any of your important destinations as a family. Because there are no safe routes for bicycles between here and there.”

This is not automotive freedom. This is automotive bondage. It is a one-way road on a dead-end street of expensive, oil-dependent transportation.

The good news? Much bigger cities buzzing with cars, buses and trucks have successfully integrated biking with traffic. Chicago, Seattle, New York City have invested in amazing bike infrastructure, including on-road bike lanes, trails, commuter bike stations and safe routes to schools. These bike-friendly facilities attract new businesses, family-oriented homebuyers and students.

If you’re frustrated at the price of gasoline and the lack of healthy, convenient and safe transportation choices in Michiana, one answer lies just up ahead in that biker you’re about to honk at. Because that biker possesses the very ingredients Michiana needs to change and thrive: vision, adaptability, resilience and endurance. That biker has the capacity to sacrifice personal comfort, even personal safety, for a higher good that no one is paying a dime for: a healthier community, environmental healing and economic strength.

That biker also knows a deep truth: that it is possible to be a little inconvenienced, even a little discomforted by rain or cold or distance … and still be happy.

The Bike Michiana Coalition is hard at work with city and county officials, state legislators and bike advocacy groups ranging from commuters to mountain bikers, bicycle safety instructors, schools, police and neighborhood organizations to create a safe, practical network of bike lanes and off-road trails. See www.BikeMichiana.org.

That biker up ahead is not the enemy. She is part of Michiana’s successful future. So please don’t honk, yell, or throw beverage containers. We’re all on the same road.

Jeff Nixa is president of the Bike Michiana Coalition. He lives in South Bend.

Public Outcry

August 21, 2008

I am writing in response to comments in the wake of the recent death of Patrick Sawyer, who was killed after being hit by a car while riding his bicycle.

I can now understand the public outcry concerning the need for bicycle lanes for riders, but more importantly, for drivers to be more aware of those who do ride bikes.

Recently, I rode my bike to work for the first time. There are no bicycle lanes where I had to ride. I made a point of planning the safest route and rode on the defensive at all times.

I was shocked at the many drivers who appeared not to see me, speeding past so close I could have reached out and touched their cars.

At one point, I rode through a small subdivision in order to avoid the main roads. While I was riding near the curb, a car backed out of a driveway without looking to see if the way was clear. The driver nearly backed into me and if I hadn’t seen him he would have hit me. I politely said he should “look before backing out.” He then promptly flipped me off and sped away.

I, too, want to ask drivers to slow down and pay more attention. Bicycles are everywhere now because of the gasoline prices. Please don’t let another accidental death be the reason you begin to drive carefully.

Meg Mark
South Bend

Be Careful

August 17, 2008

I would like to send my sincere condolences to the families of bicyclist Patrick Sawyer and Keith Coros, who used a wheelchair for mobility. Even though I did not know either man, I was personally moved by their deaths in separate traffic accidents last month.

I am visually impaired and legally blind. Therefore, my primary mode of transportation is walking. I use the assistance of a leader dog and walk extensively, especially along Mishawaka Avenue.

I have had countless near misses, whether alone or with my three children. The drivers of cars either do not notice us at all or arrogantly ignore my right of way, knowing that their car would trump my body, my dog and the wagon I occasionally use for hauling things from the Farmer’s Market.

Please, drivers, remember to be mindful and considerate in your driving and to look out for those of us biking, riding wheelchairs or walking.

Rich Wallace
South Bend

Bike safety

August 03. 2008

With rising gasoline prices, increasing awareness of environmental issues and more people trying to improve and maintain their physical fitness, it should not be surprising that more bicycles are on the roads of Michiana.

Although South Bend has been improving its infrastructure to accommodate cyclists, Pat Sawyer’s accident reminds us that much greater steps are needed.

As has previously been discussed in the Voice of the People and The Tribune’s June 17 editorial, education is needed for both cyclists and motorists.

Unfortunately, Pat’s accident demonstrates the extreme vulnerability of cyclists to the mistakes of motorists. Motorists need to respect bicyclists’ rights on the road, better appreciate their vehicles’ destructive ability and recognize their responsibility to be fully aware while driving.

Motorists should be prepared to interact with pedestrians, slow-moving vehicles and unexpected situations. Distracted drivers risk not only fender-benders, but the lives and well-being of others.

Many motorists are way too cavalier in how they manage such a grave risk.

Henry P. Scott
South Bend

Bike paths

August 03. 2008

When many commuters are considering bicycling for financial, health and environmental reasons, the death of a bicyclist after being hit by a car on Cleveland Road underscores the urgent need for bike paths that are physically separated and protected from cars.

The bicyclist was fit, wore a helmet and had lights and reflective gear. Drivers are too often distracted by radio, phone, coffee, etc. — yet even momentary inattention is potentially fatal for a bicyclist.

Surely we can afford to spend a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions that “Major Moves” costs in order to provide paths, protect bicyclists and improve our communities.

David R. Johnson
South Bend

Safety for all


Last month in this space, we wrote about the need for motorists and bicyclists to share the road in a way that ensures safety for all. In light of the death of bicyclist Patrick Sawyer, we repeat that plea.

Sawyer, 40, died July 21 as a result of injuries suffered after he was involved in a hit-and-run accident on July 16 while riding his bicycle along Cleveland Road.

According to reports, Sawyer was wearing a helmet and a reflective vest and had lights on his bicycle. He was riding with traffic. In short, Sawyer was following the rules and taking the safety precautions that are strongly recommended.

It is important for all to remember that while bicyclists and motorists are equally entitled to share the road, they are not equal in the sense that bicyclists are much more vulnerable and unprotected than are those who are behind the wheel of vehicles that weigh approximately 4,000 pounds. That imbalance calls for an even greater sense of caution.

While we have seen drivers react with inappropriate anger towards bicyclists, we know that many are nervous and almost fearful about sharing the road with bicycles. They are nervous about passing them and fear losing sight of them in a blind spot. While this reaction may be somewhat understandable, it must be overcome. The number of bicyclists exercising their right to share the road is sure to increase. They must be treated with respect by motorists who are accustomed to their presence.

Since the accident that claimed Patrick Sawyer’s life, Voice of the People has received letters emphasizing the need for responsible and attentive driving. We urge everyone who takes to the road to consider the huge responsibility they assume — regarding their own safety and the safety of their fellow travelers.

We extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Patrick Sawyer.
South Bend Tribune

We all need a little space — on the road

COMMENTARY, July 27, 2008

Tribune Columnist

I count cars. When I am out on my bike by myself, I usually keep a running total in my head of the cars that pass me by.

Just a habit.

I like to count a lot of things — even the number of pine cones I pick up in our yard during the course of a year.

But with my car counting, I guess there is more of a reason. It gives me an idea of the amount of traffic I face at certain times of the day and on the particular routes that I take.

I live where I can pretty much be on less-traveled country roads in a mile or so and usually ride either early in the morning or after supper. So there are times when I will be passed by only a handful of cars.

I can sometimes ride 30 miles and only be overtaken by a dozen cars.

I prefer it that way.

Most drivers — actually almost all drivers — give me plenty of room out on the open road and I appreciate that. But every so often, some jerk acts as if he wants to stick his side-view mirror in my ear.

I don’t react very well to that.

So I try to choose times and routes to keep me away from as many cars as possible.

Maybe I’m feeling my mortality a little more as I grow older. I’ve ridden a bike from coast to coast and had a hillbilly try to knock me off my seat with his pickup’s door during my Little 500 days at IU. I’ve also ended up on the hood of a car after I ran into it — my fault. So I’ve been around the block a few times.

Over the years, biking has replaced running as my primary means of exercise … and escaping.

I love it.

But it comes with some worries.

And those worries hit home even harder when someone such as Patrick Sawyer, a magnificent athlete and — by all accounts — a great guy, dies from injuries suffered on his bicycle. Sawyer passed away last week after a collision with a car on Cleveland Road while he was riding to the YMCA about 5:40 a.m.

According to reports, he was doing everything right — helmet, reflective vest, lights on his bike.

His loss has hit a lot of people hard. Our condolences to his family.

When cars and bicycles collide, we all know who loses.

I know people are trying to make it better with more bike paths and designated routes.

And I admire (and say a little prayer for) people who commute to work on a bike. But I won’t do it — not down the busy road I would have to take during the morning rush.

Too many motorists are in a hurry at that time of day and crowd bikers instead of waiting for oncoming traffic to clear. Too many roads make it difficult for riders and drivers to share. And, yes, too many cyclists don’t observe traffic signals and signs as they should.

My own answer is to avoid heavy traffic and busy roads as much as possible. I usually can do that.

I also make sure I ride with other cyclists — I’m a member of the Michiana Bicycle Association — who bike in a safe manner.

It still can be a little scary out there, and some riders don’t always have the same kind of time and route options that I have.

So I am using this column to appeal to all drivers to respect a bike rider’s right to share the road with them — and for all cyclists to obey the rules of the road.

We all need a little space, especially out on the road.

If you go by me, I’m counting — and counting on — you.

Bill Moor’s column appears on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Contact him at bmoor@sbtinfo.com, or write him at the South Bend Tribune, 225 W. Colfax Ave., South Bend, IN 46626; (574) 235-6072.