Sharing the road: Cyclists regularly face impatient motorists

Southsider Jim Jensen was on one of his morning bike rides through Johnson County recently when his GoPro camera caught a harrowing close-call.

He rides in a lane of traffic, just as a vehicle would, and one car passed him with plenty of room. But a second driver didn’t want to wait for a next opening to pass and tried to make it.

The driver had to jerk back into his lane at the last second, and an oncoming car had to stop to avoid a head-on collision.

Be it distracted drivers, impatient motorists or commuters who don’t think that bikes should be on the road, cyclists say central Indiana isn’t known for having an overwhelmingly welcoming attitude regarding sharing the road.

Not every motorist is irate, but every ride or every week, cyclists are forced off the road, had bottles or drinks thrown at them or been yelled at, local riders said.

“Most are courteous,” Jensen said. “They slow down, wave us through stop signs, give us plenty of room, are extremely welcoming. It’s the small percentage that are overly abusive.”

He started riding again in 2004 after having a heart attack. Two years later, he was hit by a man driving a truck and talking on the phone. He was hit a second time about five years ago.

Jon Kim tried to get out of the southside of Indianapolis and northern Greenwood as quickly as possible on his rides. He liked to ride at night because fewer cars are on the road.

He was injured in a hit-and-run crash in Greenwood earlier this month and said he won’t ride on the road again. It was the second time he had been hit in as many years.

Kim was one of four cyclists who were injured or killed in recent weeks, and at least two of those incidents involved hit-and-run drivers.

“In many ways, I’m one of the more lucky ones,” Kim said.

On Aug. 19, a 60-year-old man was killed when he was struck on East Street in Indianapolis. Police later arrested a driver on charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death and failure to stop at an accident that caused a death.

Kim, who broke 12 bones in his face as he was thrown from his bike while the truck that hit him sped away, doesn’t want to be a glorified victim. He wants to raise awareness about what cyclists face on the roads and help clear up any confusion about what state law says regarding bikes.

His job now is to work to make the situation better, he said. That’s the challenge for any motorist or cyclist who is dissatisfied, he said.

Because like it or not, cyclists are allowed on the road.

Sidewalks are for pedestrians, and most of the bike paths installed along roadways in central Indiana are either disconnected, not build for speeds upwards of 20 mph that most cyclists are traveling or are littered with glass, rocks or concrete chunks because they aren’t maintained, local cyclists said.

Recently, a group of cyclists left on a women’s ride organized by southside bicycle shop Gray Goat Sports. They were forced off the road by a man in a truck, who then stopped to yell and scream at them that they shouldn’t be on the road, Gray Goat owner Brian Gootee said.

“There’s still a segment of the population that throws things and yells at us,” Gootee said.

Or buzz dangerously close to cyclists while passing, presumably in a huff because of the assumption that waiting behind a cyclist will add more than a few seconds to their drive.

Or diesel truck drivers who “roll coal,” which is dumping fuel into the system to create massive black smoke, in the face of cyclists, for laughs.

“I get that in Johnson County,” Jensen said. “And they are doing it intentionally.”

West of Waverly, near State Road 144 and Mann Road, drivers are most likely to throw cans of drinks at him. In other areas, residents will cover up markers that cyclists paint on the roads before an organized ride. Sometimes they change the markers to try to get cyclists off the route, Jensen said.

Cyclists want motorists to know that they, too, pay taxes and have a right to the road and cause far less wear and tear than vehicles. And when they take up the center of the lane, it’s for safety reasons, Jensen said.

“It’s a problem with patience,” Jensen said. “No one wants to be stuck behind the slow bike, even when I’m riding 25 or 30 mph.”

For example, a section of Berry Road in the Center Grove area is breaking down and not safe for a cyclist. He rides in the middle of the lane in that area north of Smith Valley Road. Further north, as he approaches a hill, he again moves to the center of the lane so that a vehicle won’t pass him and crash into oncoming traffic.

“If they try to pass, and if a car is coming, they will swerve back into me,” Jensen said. “I’m just going to be a casualty of their panic.”

The problem isn’t just in Johnson County.

John Cook, the president of the 1,300-member Central Indiana Bicycling Association, said he gets hassled by motorists on every ride, even in bicycling-friendly Fishers. When motorists honk and yell, he points to the community’s signs about bicycling.

“People honk. They yell to get on the sidewalks,” Cook said. “Even in bike lanes I get people who don’t respect bike lanes and drive in them.”

His group focuses on safety and most rides start or quickly head to rural areas to limit the exposure to motorists.

“People have to understand that we are a vehicle. We belong on the road,” Cook said. “In my mind, ‘share the road’ is kind of a misnomer. That doesn’t mean (vehicles) share when they aren’t on it. What we really need to promote is that a bicycle may use the whole lane.”

Beyond public education that should begin when teens learn to drive, central Indiana communities have much work to do in connecting communities through maintained multi-use thoroughfares, Gootee said.

He knows from the customers at his southside and Franklin stores that southside cyclists have a pent-up demand to be able to commute to downtown on their bikes but no safe way to do it, he said.

Central Indiana has many jewels, but a connected bike system is lacking and holding Indianapolis back when it comes to competing for the best jobs and brightest workers, he said.

Bike paths or multi-use trails must be connected, rather than the city putting money into small segments that start and stop in random places, Gootee said.

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A person riding a bicycle on the road has all the rights and duties as a person who drives a vehicle.

Cyclists may not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.

A bicycle operated on a highway from 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise must be equipped with a lamp on the front exhibiting a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet and a red reflector or lamp on the rear exhibiting a red light visible from a distance of 500 feet.

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Donate online

Gray Goat Sports owner Brian Gootee has set up a Go Fund Me to raise money to help Jon Kim with medical bills, lost earnings from time off work and possibly purchase a new bicycle destroyed when he was injured in a hit-and-run accident earlier this month.

Upcoming ride

Riders can donate to Jon Kim’s recovery and also promote cycling safety and awareness

When: 8 a.m. Sept. 11

Where: Ride leaves from Gray Goat Sports, downtown Franklin

Details: Cyclists can choose from 24-, 41- or 55-mile rides through Johnson and Brown counties. The rides end at Gray Goat with a barbecue.