Cyclists v. Cars 

Trials and tribulations of pedaling in the valley

You are on Hill Road and 36th Street stopped at a traffic light and suddenly the passenger in the car beside you spits in your face. Or perhaps while you're out enjoying a beautiful day, a car full of hecklers tailgates you, swerving into your lane and threatening to follow you home. You escape by hiding in some bushes, and fantasize about what could have happened--if only your breasts were filled with pepper spray.

Such is the reality of many bicyclists in the Boise area, who habitually endure aggressive driving and heckling from drivers who refuse to share the streets.

Boise Police Sergeant David Hambleton admits that tempers run high on the road--and the problem is only getting worse.

"We have had an increase in complaints about road rage and discourteous driving, but we don't keep specific track of calls, so it's difficult to gauge the numbers," Hambleton stated, adding that although a majority of calls concerned driver versus driver, cyclists could be more vulnerable to lasting injury.

June 6 marked the one-year anniversary for one such bicyclist who was struck by a motorcyclist in a hit-and-run while riding on Hill Road. Colleen was hospitalized for three weeks with severe head trauma and other injuries, but has not stopped riding since her encounter.

"I don't remember the accident at all due to my head injuries, which has made it much easier to get back on the bike. A lot of riders who are harassed on the road don't have that luxury--if you can call it that," Colleen told me as she geared up for a ride.

Hambleton explained that aggressive drivers could be charged with anything from a misdemeanor for reckless driving or assault, to a felony for aggravated assault in a hit-and-run case such as Colleen's. However, Hambleton added, officers are quick to respond to complaints about problem areas or roads in Boise with more law enforcement and patrol.

"We're committed to taking preventative measures to ensure situations don't escalate to such drastic levels," Hambleton stated.

Nonetheless, they do escalate. Cyclists notice it, but what do drivers think of the problem? Turns out, not much. Out of the 30 drivers I interviewed, none professed hating bikers with the Passion of a Thousand Suns, and yet 10 of them admitted to shouting, honking or even swerving at cyclists from time to time. Many more admitted to periodically having an urge to.

"They ride four abreast and act oblivious to having to share the road," complained Lisa, a woman who loves Jesus and Whirled Peas, in a bumper sticker sort of way.

Only three people had overwhelmingly positive things to say about cyclists, and they are all cyclists themselves. Bill Turner of Nampa was not one of those people.

"Do you ever get mad at cyclists on the road?"

"Yes I do," responded Turner.

"Mad enough to kill?"

He took me seriously.

"Well, maybe sometimes. I've flipped off a few, and shouted some words. These guys don't belong in traffic."

Where cyclists do belong Turner couldn't rightly say. When the congressional Transportation and Treasury Spending Bill passed last year, that question became increasingly difficult to answer. The bill eliminated $600 million in federal funding for bike paths and walkways while simultaneously granting highways $34.1 billion for the 2004 fiscal year--a $2.5 billion increase over the previous year's budget.

In an effort to address concerns of bike enthusiasts, the Ada County Highway District formed a Bicycle Advisory Committee last February. Each year, ACHD adds eight to 10 miles of bike paths in Ada County, and reserves $25,000 to $30,000 for signage and striping for bike lanes. Members of the fledgling committee act as a sounding board for new bike routes and raise concerns about problem areas with existing lanes.

Craig Quintana, public information officer at ACHD and a faithful bike commuter, works closely with the Advisory Committee.

"I get a lot of one-finger salutes while I'm riding--and that's on the far shoulder of the road. Some cyclists are fairly militant about riding in traffic; they want to prove they have the same rights as a 5,000-pound car."

Quintana sees the Bicycle Advisory Committee as a needed starting point for "turning down the thermostat" and improving relations between cyclists and drivers.

Dave Bartle, a member of the junior cycling club Lactic Acid, as well as a committee member, is optimistic about the impact ACHD will have. Bartle feels that motorists aren't always sure how to accommodate for cyclists, and hopes the ACHD will focus on education for drivers. Also, some cyclists disobey traffic laws, which doesn't help improve relations with the driving community.

Bartle explained, "I see people riding against traffic or cutting through parking lots ... Bikes do have their rightful place on the road; however, they need to learn that place before we as a community can have total respect."

Mayor Dave Bieter agrees that more respect needs to be given to people who use alternate forms of transportation.

"If more people rode [bikes] or walked on a regular basis, our city as a whole would be more conscious of their rights."

Mayor Bieter has been biking to work for years and says he's never had a serious altercation with a vehicle, although he admits that, "sometimes, people don't even acknowledge that you're there."

To rectify this, Bieter successfully choreographed May in Motion this year, a month-long event devoted to ditching your car for alternate modes of transportation. This event, he proudly states, saved approximately 200,000 vehicle miles--no small victory considering that new cars and trucks on average are registering the fewest miles per gallon in 20 years.

The road to Hell is a single lane, and as it now stands, everyone is packing heat (or driving a Hummer). Like it or not, cyclists are here to stay--the hard part is learning how to share that lane. ACHD's Bicycle Advisory Committee meets the first Monday of every month at 6 p.m., at 318 E. 37th Street.

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