Monday, May 17, 1999


Bicycle commute a test of nerves

        Impatient drivers don't make life easy for bike commuters.

        Shortly after 3 p.m. on a beautiful sunny day last week, I biked down busy William Howard Taft Road as fast as my blue 18-speed would take me.

        Obviously, it wasn't quite as fast as the cars beside and behind me.

        As I stopped for a red light, a car stopped behind me. Its engine sounded like a growling dog. When the light turned green, I pushed off the curb and pedaled as hard as I could to gain speed.

        I hugged that curb so tight, I was afraid I might slam into it.

        But I could tell the driver behind me wasn't impressed.

        For about 30 seconds, traffic stopped him from changing lanes. He revved his engine several times. And once he was able to cut around, he stuck his head out the window and yelled: “Would you get off the road!”

        He sped off in his 3,000 pounds of steel. I continued uphill on my 40-pound bike.

        I was a bike commuter for the afternoon.

        And I quickly learned what regular bike commuters have been telling me through e-mail and phone calls: Drivers need to be accepting of bikes on the road.

        My experience wasn't unusual.

        “It pretty much happens on a daily basis,” says Jeffrey Smith, who let me tag along with him on his daily 21/2-mile commute from his job in Walnut Hills to home in Clifton Heights. “And you don't have to go very long for an incident to happen.”

        Mr. Smith, who doesn't own a car, has been commuting by bike for 13 years. He's had people yell. Honk their horns. Throw things at him. Once, Mr. Smith says, a driver swerved and forced him to crash. The driver then got out of his car and threw Mr. Smith's bike.

        In just 21/2 miles last week, two people yelled out the window. And while we were in a lane that allowed traffic to turn or go straight, a white Neon cut between us to turn as we pedaled straight.

        I know all drivers aren't rude. But impatience leads to crashes.

        People on bikes made up 2 percent of all the people killed in traffic accidents nationwide in 1997. More than 800 people were killed while riding bikes, another 58,000 injured.

        And those are just the reported incidents. Many run-ins go unreported.

        Today, Greater Cincinnati kicks off its annual B-BOPP week: Bike, bus, car pool or walk to work to help relieve traffic and reduce pollution. As part of National Bike Month, B-BOPP is designed to encourage people to get out of their cars and hop on a bike to get to work.

        Let's give them a reason to want to keep riding.

        Be patient.

        Tanya Albert's “Commuting” column appears each Monday in the Metro section. Contact her at


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