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Area's motorists and cyclists often at odds on road

Eric Carlson bikes down Charles Street on Tuesday in Sycamore while running a few errands before work.
Eric Carlson bikes down Charles Street on Tuesday in Sycamore while running a few errands before work.

When cyclists and motorists are both on the road, Eric Carlson said, it can be “like a culture clash.”

Carlson, of Sycamore, said there are drivers who believe all cyclists should be on the sidewalk, and they don’t give those on bikes necessary space. And there are cyclists that don’t follow the rules of the road as they’re supposed to when riding in the street.

“There’s a lot of people I see riding bikes that pretty much have a blatant disregard for cars and motorists,” said Carlson, who uses his bike to get to and from work in DeKalb.

DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said the number of bicycle accidents the sheriff’s office has dealt with since the end of September – four, including one fatality – is unusual.

“I don’t recall a year where we’ve had this many bike accidents in one year, let alone a few weeks,” Scott said.

Cyclist John M. McGrath, 38, of Sycamore, was killed the morning of Sept. 27 when a pickup truck struck him in the 16000 block of Mount Hunger Road in Sycamore.

The driver of the truck, who was attempting to pass another car, was cited for improper overtaking on the left. Police said McGrath did not have a light on his bike and was not wearing a helmet.

Other accidents have occurred on rural roads or state highways, including two within 24 hours Oct. 2 and 3.

On Saturday, a pickup truck headed east on Route 64 west of Annie Glidden Road was attempting to pass a cyclist when another car headed west prevented the truck from completing the pass.

The driver, Bruce E. Latimer, 82, of Clare, struck the cyclist with his side mirror and was cited for improper overtaking of a bicycle.

Scott said the price of gas has led a greater number of people to use bicycles as a primary means of transportation. Sycamore police Lt. Darrell Johnson also said more are using bikes with fitness in mind, or convenience if making a quick trip in town.

Drivers need to be aware of cyclists on the road and give them necessary space when passing, Scott said, and those riding in streets need to remember to observe the rules of the road, which he said are often disregarded by bicyclists.

DeKalb police Lt. Carl Leoni said they’ve dealt with 24 accidents involving bicycles so far this year. In 2011, the total was 22.

Many bike accidents occur at crosswalk intersections where drivers are making right turns, Leoni said. About half the time, motorists are at fault; the rest of the time, it’s cyclists.

“Regardless of who’s at fault, the cyclist always ends up with the bad end of the deal,” he said.

Leoni said he rides his bike often and encouraged cyclists to practice defensive biking. When riding around the city, he said, he makes eye contact with drivers before crossing their paths.

“It does you no good having the right-of-way if [motorists] don’t give it to you,” he said.

On rural roads and where possible, drivers who pass bicyclists should do so as if passing a car, going all the way into the oncoming lane to give proper space, Scott said. Cars are required to give bikes at least 3 feet of space.

“The law is 3 feet,” Leoni said. “I can tell you from experience I don’t get 3 feet.”

Cyclist Eric Sterling of DeKalb, who said he’d like to see more designated bike lanes in the area, finds biking on sidewalks to be dangerous, too, if people using headphones don’t hear his bike bell as he approaches.

Kevin McNary, vice president of the Northern Illinois Cycling group at Northern Illinois University, said there’s plenty of room on the road for both cyclists and motorists, and cyclists need to be smart when biking around DeKalb.

“If you follow the rules of the road, and you use hand signals most motorists recognize, I think it’s safe,” he said.

Cyclists should use proper lighting on bikes at night, remain visible during the day and ride with traffic, not against it, Scott said. On rural roads, shoulders can be narrow and uneven, but cyclists might want to ride on the shoulder if it’s safe to do so.

Scott said cyclists approaching intersections often think they have a clear view of it and roll through stop signs, but it’s essential that they come to a complete stop.

“They’re required to obey all the laws, just like cars,” he said.

Safety tips

• Cyclists should wear properly fitted helmets in case of an accident.

• Bicycles should be equipped with a front light visible from at least 500 feet, to be used whenever cars must have lights on, and reflectors on the front and back. Bikes should also have horns or bells, working brakes, wheel-mounted side reflectors and properly adjusted gears and seats.

• Cyclists riding in the road should ride in the same direction as traffic and obey all traffic laws that apply to motorists.

• Drivers need to give cyclists 3 feet of space when passing.

• Cyclists should use hand signals to indicate which way they are turning at an intersection: A left turn is indicated with an extended left arm, a right turn can be indicated with an extended right arm or left arm at a 90-degree angle pointing up, and coming to stop is indicated with a left arm at a 90-degree angle pointing down.

• Cyclists riding on sidewalks need to obey all pedestrian signs and signals and must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in sidewalks and crosswalks.

• Cyclists should not ride on sidewalks in downtown business districts.

Source: Police and Bicycle Rules of the Road by the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office

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