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By Stan Morris | NEA Report
JONESBORO, Ark. – While he was riding his bicycle Wednesday on Woodsprings Road in Jonesboro, Wade Carpenter was run off the road by a red car.
Carpenter had a camera mounted in the forward position which captured the entire incident. In the video, he first is seen riding his bicycle off the road. As he comes out of a grassy area back onto a paved surface, the red car becomes visible. This would not be the only close call for Carpenter during his ride.
Unimaginably, two more motorists nearly caused accidents while passing Carpenter on a double-yellow line (no passing) road, with one coming tensely close to a head-on collision with a dump truck.
“Jonesboro has the potential to be a great place to ride a bike,” Carpenter said. “There is a variety of terrain: most people think it’s flat until they get on a bike! The scenery is really nice too as you get to the outskirts of town and the county. But as far as being in-town, it is not bike friendly. The majority of people are polite, but many suffer from a lack of general driving education, and not just in relation to bikes.”
One of the biggest problems Carpenter said he notices is with people who drive while using their cell phones.
“I see people all of the time with their faces buried in their phones while driving,” Carpenter said. “If you bike here, vigilance is all you can think about, all the time. As a cyclist one must be proactive at all times. Of course this is true whether you have a bike lane or not. It’s equally important for cyclists to obey the laws.”
As someone who is well traveled, Jonesboro bicyclist Bill Smith also loves to traverse the terrain of Crowley’s Ridge and Craighead County on his bike. However, like other cyclists, he rides knowing he is likely to encounter an abnormally large amount of brushes with unsafe drivers.
“Safety is something I am concerned about in Jonesboro,” Smith said. “As a community we need to work together to improve the climate for all – drivers, riders and walkers. I believe there is a general lack of awareness, and in turn, acceptance of state law.”
Smith rides with a camera, too, and has uploaded several videos showing drivers putting themselves, Smith, and others in danger just to pass by.
In the above video, Smith is passed by an SUV, on a bridge, and the SUV crosses back into the lane just in time to avoid a head-on collision. This regular type of daring-driving is something Smith, Carpenter, and others have to deal with in the region.
“Probably the oddest thing I observe, over general lack of attentiveness, is when you are going the same speed as traffic people still feel obligated to pass you,” Carpenter said.
The problem is not just in a lack of awareness, though. Smith, as well as others, have noted a seemingly-targeted hostility toward cyclists in the area.
“The problem is this,” Smith said. “I’ve ridden in New York City and Hanoi this year. Either side of the world, no one deliberately targeted me as a cyclist. We know of drivers who have made repeated brushes with people on bicycles in Jonesboro. That kind of behavior is accepted and we are blamed for wanting the same basic rights to the road.”
Unfortunately, the struggle between motorists and bicyclists in the area took a tragic turn on June 8. Jason McDonald, 42, of Jonesboro, was riding his bike west down Craighead 766 when he was struck from behind by truck driven by Jessica Miller, 28, of Jonesboro. McDonald died from injuries, leaving behind a wife, two young sons, and a daughter.
No charges have been filed against the driver, although Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd said Friday it was still an “open investigation.” According to the crash report, a blood test was performed and results are still pending but officers at the scene did not suspect the woman of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
While tragic, the situation shows the vulnerability cyclists have to motorists. In a community where cyclists almost unanimously seem to feel less safe than in other areas, it has made cyclists take extra measures to stay safe.
One cyclist who used to ride alone was Lisa Trevathan. She said it has been as much as four years since she dared do that because of safety worries.
“I have been with couple of groups riding and someone in a car tried to beat the red light and turned right into our group,” Trevathan said. “You can see people and they are on their phone or looking around messing with something in the car. They just don’t pay attention.”
Trevathan bikes with groups who make efforts to get drivers attention together to avoid dangers of distracted motorists. The group still rides single or double-file to give room to drivers to pass but she said it isn’t enough.
“We have to do something,” Trevathan said. “We need bike lanes and lots of education for drivers. People need to know to give cyclists three feet to pass and please don’t honk at us. It could startle us and cause a wreck. They also need to.put their phones down and pay attention to the road.”
Arkansas State University and Jonesboro Police Department are currently promoting safety through the “Howl Yes! Share the Road” campaign. As the banner in front of JPD on Caraway Road in Jonesboro says, three feet is the minimum a passing motorist should give cyclists when passing.
JPD Information Specialist Paul Holmes said motorists could face a fine if the cyclists were to catch the violation on camera. The fine could range from $100 to $1,000, if an injury or worse was caused during the incident.
“Motorists should understand the three-foot zone, be courteous and realize that bikes have as much right to the road as vehicles do,” Holmes said.
Hopes among many cyclists are for bike lanes to be constructed across Jonesboro but until more safe areas can be made, efforts will continue to raise awareness and compassion for cyclists on the road.
A 2010 ordinance addresses cyclists, vehicles and the roadway in Jonesboro. Read the ordinance here.
Arkansas State Police have produced a booklet on Bike Safety
(Feature photo source: Northeast Arkansas Bicyclist Coalition Facebook page. Other photos taken by NEA Report)