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Archive for Sunday, September 20, 1998

THE CITY IS TAKING STEPS TO INCREASE ROAD SAFETY AWARENESS FOR BICYCLISTS, MOTORISTS AND PEDESTRIANS ALIKE. THREE BICYCLISTS HAVE SUFFERED SERIOUS INJURIES SINCE JUNE.

September 20, 1998

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Nine-year-old Taylor Worthington was on his way to school one recent morning when he turned from Rockfence Place to go west on Longhorn Drive in northwest Lawrence.

The fourth-grader at Deerfield School was gaining speed down a hill on his bicycle when he hit a bump in the street and flew over the handlebars.

He hit the street head-first.

Luckily for Taylor it was his bicycle helmet that cracked, not his skull.

``Had he not had his helmet on, he would have been in critical to serious condition,'' said Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical Battalion Chief Rob Kort. ``You can see where it actually impacted on the pavement.''

Taylor, who was one of hundreds of local children who attended a bike safety rodeo earlier this year, returned his helmet to the Fire & Medical department, which replaced it for free.

He received the helmet free from the department. Fire & Medical gave out more than 900 helmets to grade school children this year through the program.

While Taylor still received a nasty scrape on his chin, he fared relatively well compared with other cyclists who've been seriously injured while riding in Lawrence in recent months.

Collisions raise awareness

Taylor's accident was the result of normal hazards that many bicyclists face without traffic. With traffic added, the potential for accidents increases.

Bicycle safety has been at the forefront of local concerns for some time, but concerns escalated with the death last year of Jon Hermes, whose bike collided with a dump truck. Several serious collisions this summer have inspired the city to take measures to improve public awareness.

In June, 14-year-old David Yoe, Lawrence, was critically injured after he rode from a gravel road in the Baker Wetlands onto 31st Street and was struck by a minivan.

In August, Dustin Barnes, 22, Lawrence, was critically injured when he ran into a car at Florida Street while traveling on Seventh.

And earlier this month, Kansas University graduate student Andrei Marusov, 26, Ukraine, was seriously injured when he collided with a minivan at 13th and Kentucky.

Of the three, only David Yoe was wearing a helmet.

Just Friday, a university student was injured when he rode into the side of a car. He was treated and released from the hospital, though he was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.

``Regretfully, I'm afraid that what the (city's) bicycle commission has identified in the future -- that there will be more bicycle accidents -- has come to pass,'' said Jim Turner, president of the Lawrence Bicycle Club.

``But I believe more effort has been put into bicycle safety by the city in the last six months than what has happened in the last several years,'' he said.

Those measures include installation of ``Share the Road'' signs around town, the hiring of a transportation planner and spending $24,495 on a consultant to study bicycle improvements on streets east of the KU campus.

``We are making more gains and recognizing that there are more bicycles in town than we have in the last 30 years,'' said Mike Combest, owner of Terraplane Bicycles, 925 Iowa.

``I think the city is aware of it. There are a lot more bike riders now.''

Education also will be the focus of a city effort to raise awareness for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists.

Within 30 days, the city will be placing fliers in utility bills outlining how motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians can all be safer.

The city also is updating its bicycle route map, which will contain existing and future bike paths. The map should be completed by the end of the year, said Gayle Martin, the city's communications coordinator.

The current map was done about four years ago and does not contain many bike trails that have been constructed since, she said.

In addition, plans call for bicycle education packages to eventually be distributed to Lawrence fourth-graders, when funding becomes available, said Clay Comfort, chair of the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee.

``We've started to formulate a series of steps that we think will really help bicycling in Lawrence,'' he said.

Awareness better than blame

According to the American Automobile Assn., ``statistics suggest that the cyclist may be at fault in approximately 75 percent'' of all car-bicycle collisions.

``The only problem I have with that is that it's automobile association, and that there might be a bit of bias involved,'' Turner said. ``In bicycle-car collisions, especially fatalities, who's left to tell the tale?''

Turner, Combest and members of the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee said both individual motorists and bicyclists can be blamed for bad driving.

But Combest suggested a deeper problem -- an ``us and them'' mentality, rather than an attitude of taking individual responsibility.

``This is a time period where people don't take consequences to their actions and the consequences of riding a bicycle can be pretty grave,'' he said.

``We're living in a very selfish and self-centered time, and people have a very hard time seeing beyond their narrow view,'' Combest said.

``There are no sides -- it's just people. There are many car drivers who ride bicycles, and there are no bike riders, or very few, that don't drive cars. Cut out the vehicle part, it's only people just making bad decisions.''

Problem areas for bicycle riders, Combest said, include Sixth, Massachusetts, 23rd, Iowa and Ninth streets. Hermes' fatal accident was at Ninth and Mass.

``Those are the cars' domain,'' he said. ``It's interesting to me that bikers use all the same car routes. The best way to get anywhere in Lawrence is where the crow flies.

``When you're riding a bike to get somewhere, there's an understanding that it's going to take a little bit longer, so why not go on some of the side streets? There's a lot of nice houses and other things to see in Lawrence.''

In addition, Combest said, ``There's a disconnect between getting a bicycle for all the aspects of freedom and enjoyment, and at the same time riding them in areas where it's dangerous and not enjoyable.''

Advice from the coach

Mark Hodges, a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee and former coach of the U.S. Olympic cycling team, also said both motorists and bicyclists should be more aware.

``As a cyclist, if there's a problem with a car, you're going to lose,'' he said. ``And as a motorist, you just need to be aware of cyclists and think of them as another motorist ... with the same rights as a car.''

``A lot of accidents can be solved if a cyclist truly knows how to stop their bike,'' he said. ``You need to adopt a very defensive driving attitude.

``Forty to 50 mph is not unattainable on a bike,'' he said. ``As a cyclist, as your speed goes up, your ability to dodge things and brake properly goes down.''

Likewise, he said, motorists ``have to realize what a bicycle is capable of.''

``People in cars will see a bicycle and pull out in front of it, not realizing that that bicycle can be traveling as fast as another car.''

Both motorists and bicyclists must have ``absolutely mutual respect for the laws,'' Hodges said. ``If everybody would follow the letter of the law there wouldn't be too many issues.''

According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, bicycles must obey the same rules of the road as motor vehicles.

It is legal for bicyclists to ride two abreast in a road lane, as long as it does not impede the flow of traffic, Combest said.

Kansas law states that bicyclists ``shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable'' except when passing another vehicle, making a left turn or to avoid other obstacles in the lane near the right side.

``The really big thing is to try to get people who live in Lawrence to have an attitude change of how people drive their cars and bicycles, and how people get along with each other,'' Comfort said.

Measures such as ``Share the Road Signs,'' he said, ``can't do anything by itself, but just by getting motorists to change their attitudes about cyclists and other motorists is a big deal.

``I think it's having an effect already,'' he said.

-- Michael Dekker's phone message number is 832-7187. His e-mail address is mdekker@ljworld.com.

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