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home : letters : letters September 15, 2014

7/24/2014 12:58:00 PM
'Let's be careful out there'

To the Editor:

Summer in the Northwoods means a tremendous influx of visitors, God bless ’em. They’re here to have fun and contribute to the economy. As residents, it is with amusement that we all see the traffic increase, lines at businesses extend, and generally excited folks all around as we know it’s “that season,” the return of the tourist. Of course, along with the good, comes the bad, and the ugly.

I read the July 7 edition of The Lakeland Times, enjoying the 4th of July pictures showing all the fun activities and happy faces, and found on the inside of the back page an article detailing a snowmobile trailer sideswiping a bicyclist on Highway 47. My eyes got wide as the story detailed how the 71 year old New Brighton, Minn., woman was hit by the front of the trailer’s air deflector as the driver “barely, just barely clipped her” at the legal speed of 55 mph.

In talking with Woodruff Police Chief Lenny Drewsen, a ticket was issued to the driver for “coming too close to a bicyclist.” The current law states a minimum of three feet, and suggests a greater distance at greater speeds.

Bicycling is a wonderful asset to anyone’s list of fitness activities and comes in two basic forms: road and mountain bike. Of course there are various configurations of those basic formulas, with the typical family using a hybrid on the local bike paths.

Speaking of bike paths, it’s good to see the news about the Bearskin and the Hiawatha bike trails being joined up, another positive addition to our areas, and an encouragement for everyone to pick a form of recreation or transportation that supports fitness and increases calories utilized, perhaps a small token in our efforts against obesity. Who could ask for more? Road cyclists could.

We have a wonderful area for the road cyclist to explore. Having ridden for many years, in many different states, and around Wisconsin, I truly feel blessed to call the Northwoods home and to have a wide range of routes that dip and dive through our wonderful woods and waters.  But, for better or worse, to get to the paved, less traveled and trafficked town roads, some major highways have to be traveled, and therein lies the rub.

How drivers approach and deal with bicyclists may mean the difference between life and death, and in the case of two ton vehicles and two wheels, you know who’s at risk. So while the law sets some parameters, common driving sense means more safety and less drama, perhaps deadly. 

The basic message is “Slow down!” When approaching a bicyclist on the road, begin to anticipate the speed deferential. Driving 55 miles per her versus 15-20 mph on a bike means that slowing before decision-making is required. Too often I’ve seen drivers approach from the rear and decide to accelerate when they see oncoming traffic, thinking they can squeeze in a gap safely. Wrong. When I see oncoming traffic start to hit the gravel shoulder on the other side, I know something ugly is happening behind me, and a cyclist hitting the gravel at typical biking speed is not an option.

While any driver has to make decisions about speed, passing situations, and vehicle capability; drivers with trailers have a special obligation. Experience shows that longer braking distance, driving awareness, and general caution are in order when hauling something off the back end. Acceleration with a trailer is typically decreased, and yet some of these same drivers seem to think they are capable of fitting in the same space as if un-trailored and that is obviously flawed logic.

While biking, I’ve given some consideration to safety and visibility. I wear a helmet. In my opinion, anyone, even on the bike paths should be in a helmet. Getting “barely, just barely” nipped will probably not save me from injury, but perhaps with a helmet I won’t end up in long-term care and give some driver a lifetime of guilt.

I’ve got some pretty colorful bike wear that I favor with bright and in some cases fluorescent hues being worn. I’d like to stand out as much as those road workers that we all want to avoid as they labor close to traffic. Maybe we need the same type of safety mantra for bikers as for road workers, with similar fines and jail time.

In recent years I’ve taken to riding with my “blinky” on, a red, rear-facing strobe light that even in the daytime can be seen from a distance. While it may not save me, at least drivers will be alerted that I’ve got my safety in mind and perhaps take precautions as they approach.

There’s a lot of summer left and a lot of bicycle time. I urge local and visiting road cyclist to get out and enjoy. Research the roads locally, and become aware of traffic patterns, hopefully choosing wisely when and where to ride. And as Sgt. Phil Esterhaus used to say on the old TV program, Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”

Ken Schoville

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