Hell on Wheels | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News

Hell on Wheels

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The bicyclist was tearing westbound down 400 South, parallel to the University TRAX line. A full two seconds after the light turned red at 900 East, he bolted through the intersection. I watched from a line of idling cars as a Comcast truck with the southbound right of way on 900 East hit his brakes and slid on rain-slicked asphalt, narrowly missing the cyclist.

nn

Did I mention the blockhead wasn’t wearing a helmet? He sped through the early lunch hour traffic on May 21, disappearing before I could catch up with him. Too bad. I had this perfect speech prepared for after I pulled up beside him. It went like this: “Hey dumbass, if you’re going to ride in this city, how ’bout you learn the rules of the road?nn

The motor vehicle-bicycle relationship is on my mind these days, and for a lot of reasons. First, it’s almost officially summer. The numbers of weekend cyclists, wobbling kids and commuters taking to the roads are exploding. With gasoline prices climbing to the stratosphere, the ranks of two-wheelers can only keep growing. Not to mention the increasing number of serious, hard-training cyclists who are claiming more of the highway these days.

nn

Naturally, more people on wheels means more mayhem on the roads, which raises another reason for this column. In just the past 30 days, two Utah men have died in accidents involving bicycles and vehicles. A car hit Terrence William Bigelow from behind on April 25 while the 33-year-old state corrections officer was riding his bike in Sanpete County. Bigelow left behind a wife and three young children.

nn

On May 19, experienced road cyclist Robert Bennett of Brigham City, a 47-year-old chemist and father of six girls, made an abrupt U turn while riding his bike on U.S. Highway 89 at the Box Elder and Cache county lines. That launched him into oncoming traffic, which caused a horrendous accident. Bennett died, along with two passengers in a car traveling to Logan. Trudy Middleton Deschner, 38, died with her only child'son Norrison'born only 12 days earlier.

nn

No one can know what Bennett was thinking when he turned into oncoming traffic. He was in training for his third Logan to Jackson, Wyo., race (a grueling 208 miles along winding roads and over mountain summits). Whatever motivated his split-second decision, after he made it, scores of lives were forever altered.

nn

City Weekly owner John Saltas recently asked when I planned to file my first bicycling rant for this space. He had a glint in his eye when he said it, and I’m pretty sure I saw him smile. Saltas thinks I’m obsessed, a bit of a one-trick pony on the subject. I gained that reputation while writing for another newspaper in town, choosing to make a cause of the cycling death of 25-year-old Josie Johnson in September 2005. Johnson was hit from behind, near the entrance to Solitude Ski Resort, by a 69-year-old woman who'a jury determined at her negligent homicide trial'simply wasn’t paying attention to the road she had driven hundreds of times. At the urging of Johnson family members, who wanted simply to move on, the woman served no jail time.

nn

Saltas is right. I got obsessed with Johnson’s death, but that’s because no one else was going to. I’ve been riding my road bike for years in local canyons. I know how clueless drivers can be. I still believe had I not pressed authorities (with the rest of the media following) for action, the woman responsible for Johnson’s death wouldn’t have even been charged. So, I started calling out the careless drivers who blast along the highways in their nearly soundproof, steel-reinforced, motorized cages, yakking or texting on cell phones and making every bicyclist’s road outing a high-stakes game of chicken.

nn

Some of my ranting'along with heavy grass-roots lobbying from the Johnsons and hundreds of avid cyclists'led to a new state law in 2006. Drivers must now give bicyclists three feet of clearance when passing them on any Utah road. I don’t know how well it’s working. I suspect drivers’ ed teachers will have to drum the law into teenagers’ heads for years before we’ll see any noticeable change.

nn

Then there are the moments when I witness pure idiocy among road cyclists, like the guy barreling through that red light. I want to throttle him and every other rider like him. Every time a careless or arrogant airhead blows through a stop sign or decides to pedal four abreast with his Lance Armstrong wannabe pals, it sets back the “share the road” cause at least a year.

nn

So cyclists, just follow the rules. Get off the sidewalks. Stop riding on the wrong side of the road. Use flashing head and taillights if you must ride at night. Wear bright colors. I wouldn’t think I’d have to mention it, but wear a helmet, too, wouldya? In case you hadn’t heard, the law actually considers you an automobile. Quit thinking you deserve special treatment. It’s dumb. It’s dangerous. And you don’t want to suffer through many more of these editorial ravings, do you?

nn

More Mullen: Mullentown.com