Bikers' rally may renew driver-cyclist tension

Staff writerJuly 18, 2009 

  • If you go

    What: North Carolina Bicycle Club Summer Rally.

    When: Registration begins at 7 a.m. Sunday; rides start at 8 a.m. The rally will include several routes, ranging from 7.5 miles to 62 miles, to accommodate cyclists of different endurance levels. Organizers have asked that participants be prepared for a larger-than-average crowd.

    Where: Shearon Harris Visitors Center, 3932 New Hill-Holleman Road, New Hill.

    Cost: $15 for NCBC members, $20 for nonmembers.

    More info: www.ncbikeclub.org.

As the legion of bicycle riders grows across the Triangle, so have roadway tensions between motorists and their two-wheel counterparts.

The conflict recently came to a head in Apex, where the police department started a program to educate bicyclists about the town's traffic laws. The department circulated e-mail to cycling groups, emphasizing that officers would enforce the town ordinance that keeps cyclists from riding more than two abreast.

The effort began after motorists complained of bicyclists running stop signs and skipping to the head of the line at stop lights, among other traffic issues, said Apex Police Capt. Ann Stephens.

The recent death of cycling instructor Bruce Rosar in Apex has only increased attention on the roadway issue. Rosar, who was cycling a week ago in Apex when he collided with a car, was a longtime share-the-road advocate and believed strongly that cyclists needed to obey traffic laws.

As the Triangle's population increases, so does road congestion. When Stephens began working in Apex more than 17 years ago, the town had only about 5,000 people; today that number is more like 35,000.

"I've seen the increase in traffic and cyclists," she said.

Nationally, the bicycle industry has grown as more people leave their cars at home to ride to work or simply to get exercise. Inspired by Lance Armstrong or the idea of saving gas money or the environment, the U.S. bicycle industry grossed $6 billion in 2008, according to the National Bicycle Dealers Association. The figure is just short of the record $6.1 billion grossed in 2005, the year Armstrong won his seventh consecutive Tour de France.

Large groups, sometimes featuring hundreds of cyclists, gather regularly around the Triangle to ride. Drivers complain about getting stuck behind the slower-moving bikes; but in North Carolina, Stephens said, bicycles have just as much right to the road as cars do.

"We're not just singling out cyclists," she said of the department's roadway outreach. "It's a safety concern. That's what it's always been for us."

The driver/cyclist tension will be played out again Sunday during the North Carolina Bicycle Club's annual summer rally. Scheduled before Rosar's death, this year's ride will be more somber than usual.

To honor Rosar's memory, riders will be encouraged to wear black armbands and bring squeaky toys, like the one he used to have on his handlebars to alert others to his presence. The biggest crowd in years past has been 175 cyclists, but more are expected Sunday.

David Cole, who is helping to organize the ride, said he understands the police department's effort, in light of motorists' complaints. His group has recently re-emphasized to its members the importance of following the rules of the road.

"We don't want to detain motorists, nor do we want them to detain us," he said.

At the same time, motorists don't always follow the laws when riding near bicycles. Drivers will angrily honk their horns when behind a group of cyclists, pass closer than the two feet required by law, or swerve in front of cyclists and then hit the brakes.

There have been instances where motorists have deliberately run bicyclists off the road, Cole said.

Stephens encourages cyclists to report motorists who have broken the law. If bicyclists can't immediately report the incident, complaints can be made through the department's Web site.

matt.ehlers@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4889

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