I’m not a writer. I’m a rider.
I’ve been riding a bike for about 15 years, much of that time spent riding in Fresno, Clovis and across the Valley. It’s great exercise, a wonderful activity for the whole family and an ideal way to see and experience all corners of our community.
But now it’s time for me to stop pedaling for a few moments and pen a heartfelt letter to my fellow residents. The tension between drivers and cyclists seems to be at a boiling point.
While riding on our shared roads, I’ve been buzzed by countless drivers while riding in the bike lane, hit with water balloons, and narrowly averted a physical confrontation from an angry motorist who exited his vehicle to give me a piece of his mind.
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In the last few years, I’ve attended a funeral for fellow bicyclist and close friend, Jim Healy, who lost his life while riding on Auberry Road. I’ve logged hundreds of miles with Jim on this ride, but was absent that morning celebrating my daughter’s birthday. I’ve officiated a service for another close friend, Nick Bukilica, who also died on his bike after being struck head-on by a careless motorist.
Just last March, while riding on the same road where Jim lost his life, a distracted driver hit me and another rider from behind. We’ll never know for sure what caused the incident, as the driver fled the scene while my friend, who received the brunt of the hit, lay motionless in the road.
Each year in Fresno, two or three cyclists die as a result of collisions. This probably doesn’t seem like a high number, but it is considering the size of Fresno’s cycling community, which is on the small side compared with other cities.
I expect this to change, however, and relatively quickly. Cycling now outranks golf, tennis and skiing as the most popular sporting activity in the country. And in the last 15 years, Fresno has created a bike advisory committee and implemented a bicycle master plan. Meanwhile, in our city, bike lanes and trails have grown by over a third in the last five years.
Now the city is working on a new cycling master plan, and while I hope safety and education are at the top of the list, I also hope there is resident involvement in the process.
A cycling plan deserves the same attention as the Parks Master Plan, especially when central and downtown Fresno, in particular, need more bike lanes, as most of the lanes have been placed in the north part of the city. All voices need to be heard and as Mayor Lee Brand has said, he wants to be the mayor for all of Fresno.
But all the lanes in the world won’t matter if there isn’t a coordinated effort to improve the relationship between motorists and cyclists. Look, I get it. I may ride a bike, but I also drive a car. We cyclists do our fair share to create tension.
I understand how infuriating it is when cyclists blow through stop signs, ride on the sidewalk and cruise two abreast on busy roads. We don’t help our cause, but there has to be a compromise.
As the founder of Off the Front, which is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to using cycling to help children in impoverished areas learn how to set goals and work hard to reach those goals, I’m connected to many parts of the city via social media sites, blogs and other online communities.
I hope I don’t see the vitriol in the computer world spill into the real world. To be fair, the vast majority of the conversations and forums are respectful and engaging, but there are still too many ugly exchanges, and this could become dangerous.
We can’t point fingers, puff our chests and take a side. Vehicles aren’t going anywhere, and neither are cyclists. Off the Front will continue to assist kids and teach respect and the rules of the road.
I encourage city leaders to keep education and safety at the top of the list in the next draft of the master plan. And motorists, please remember you have at least a 3,000-pound advantage; our lives are in your hands.