By Marla Boone
Last year, over nine hundred bicyclists were killed by motor vehicles in the United States. An alarming 130,000 were injured. Although some of these incidents were caused by cyclists not obeying traffic laws, the vast majority are the result of distracted drivers. As someone who spends a fair amount of time riding public roads, I cannot express to you how distressing it is to see the driver of an on-coming car with his or her eyes not on the road. Will they look up in time? Will they see me? Should I hit the ditch right now just in case? A friend of mine chose option three and it saved his life. Even with his quick response, he was still hit with the truck’s side mirror and ended up tossed off the bike and hurt. This happened over a year ago and he still is traumatized enough to not be able to get back on the bike. (Well, back on his new bike…his old one was irreparably damaged.) The cell phone is a wonderful invention but it has been a source of increasing concern for bicyclists.
This story is less about statistics and more about remembering those whose suffering is manifested by those numbers. I had not heard of the Ride of Silence until Joyce and Dennis Ferguson came to town in 2015. The owners of J&D Bicycles, they are an enormous force of good for our community. They collect, repair, and distribute bikes at no cost to those who cannot afford them. They sponsor free classes on bicycle repair. And they organize the Ride of Silence in Troy. The Ride of Silence is just that: a bicycle ride through a given community conducted in silence to commemorate fellow riders who have been wounded or killed. Forty of our fifty states have scheduled Rides and events also take place internationally. Rides are sedately paced (usually twelve miles per hour) to accommodate and encourage participation of all levels of riders.
The Ohio ride took place May 17. Locally, eighteen riders gathered at Joyce and Dennis’s shop. There was a short safety briefing prior to departure. Also before the ride, Joyce had created a sheet for riders to note the names of those of our acquaintance in whose memory we were assembled. The list was dismayingly long.
We wound our way through town, each centered on our own thoughts. Eighteen riders, zero talking. It’s a somber occasion and we wished to pay homage to those in whose place any one of us easily could have been. Drivers were especially courteous this evening, which was greatly appreciated by the group. We love our sport and enjoy riding with our friends or on solo jaunts. Anxiety over potential injury dampens the joy of being on the open road doing something good for ourselves. Every one of us has experienced ragingly aggressive or bullying drivers and the ill intent therein is frightening.
The Ohio Bicycle Federation (OBF) is the only state-wide bicycle advocacy organization in Ohio. In addition to promoting bicycling as a way to improve health and decrease air pollution, the Federation is responsible for landmark legislation to make bicyclists safer. After eight years of the OBF’s educating and petitioning the Ohio General Assembly, House Bill 389 was enacted. This bill requires motorists to leave three feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist. It also makes it legal for a bicyclist to proceed through an intersection on a red light after stopping when the light-changing device at the intersection does not detect the cyclist.
Are you aware of the three-feet passing clearance law? Do you obey it? Yes, it takes an extra minute or two to follow a bicyclist when there is opposing traffic. Yes, it makes you slow down a little and wait to pass. Yes, you’re in a hurry to get home or get to work or get to wherever you’re going. A few minutes is nothing. The bicyclists killed by motor vehicles would love to have those few minutes back. Instead, they have eternity.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for Miami Valley Today