• Tue August 25 2009
  • Posted Aug 24, 2009
Statewide By MARC HANSEN August 25, 2009 Say what you will about unpredictable, self-absorbed bicycle riders. At least they aren't text messaging as they dart in front of you. And when it comes to accidents with cars, trucks, SUVs and other armored vehicles, cyclists are almost always the big losers. So what's the problem, motorists? You have something against colorfully attired, physically fit friends of the environment? Yes, cyclists can be arrogant and superior and careless. Too many zip through stop signs and stray too close to the center line and think they own the road. But get used to them. In 20 years, everyone will be wearing stretchy, tight-fitting outfits and football-shaped headgear (or the 2029 equivalent) and sharing the street with smart cars not much bigger than the bikes they're trying to avoid. OK, time out. I'd like to keep fanning the car-vs.-bike flames and banging the war drums. It's fun and easy. Too easy, in fact. This long-running cyclist-motorist feud has gone too far and grown too ugly for no good reason. It must stop. You'd think everyone was screaming about a public health care option or gays in committed relationships becoming Lutheran pastors. This isn't the end of the world like that. But groups of people don't just have honest disagreements anymore. Their similarities must be minimized and their differences overemphasized and exaggerated until extremists on both sides drown everyone else out. So why should something as innocent as bicycle safety be any different from a raucous town hall meeting? Neither cars nor bicycles are going away. It doesn't have to be like this. Last spring in rural Cumming, a truck hauling anhydrous ammonia hit a bicyclist while trying to pass. The rider suffered critical injuries but survived. The driver, a farmer who'll turn 78 in a few days, suffered emotional trauma. The cyclists held a rally at the Statehouse, pushing for a change in the law. The friends of the farmer held a meeting in support of their friend. He's a good and compassionate man, they said, who didn't deserve the harsh criticism he received. It was a terrible, regrettable accident, but he isn't a terrible man. Just the opposite. Timothy McCoy, a cyclist from Des Moines who was riding nearby at the time of the incident, had a strange reaction. He wanted to get the victim, Doug Smith, and the driver, John Lynch, together when both were feeling better. It never happened. Neither was ready to meet, but McCoy was on the right track. When the noise gets too loud, it might help to remember that most drivers don't hate cyclists and most cyclists don't believe all drivers are out to get them. So take the noise with a ton of road salt. Though relatively peaceful coexistence is the norm, you'd never know it. There's a petition circulating that would allow Iowans to vote on banning bicycles from rural highways. There's a counter-petition asking lawmakers to support a ballot initiative prohibiting all motor vehicles from using farm-to-market roads. On Monday afternoon the Des Moines City Council met to further consider painting bike lanes on Ingersoll Avenue. Business owners in the neighborhood against the plan worry about losing money and gaining congestion. At least this time the debate hasn't been overly contentious. Not like the aftermath of the Cumming accident when some people accused Lynch of intentionally hurting Smith. "I've been with cyclists who have the us-vs.-them mentality," McCoy said. "It's a form of tribalism. We have our colors. You have yours. We're different from everyone else. And that just contributes to more of the same." At least one person called Smith names and said he got what he deserved. McCoy wanted to meet that guy. "He'd never say that if he knew Doug," McCoy said. "I wanted to talk to him because, when he gets to know me and those like me, that helps create a place where we can coexist and even help one another be safe. "I don't know where the anger comes from. But if we could sit down over a beer, that kind of stuff would go away." Sitting down over a beer wasn't a cure-all for the black Harvard professor and the white cop, but it's a start.

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