At a time when new ways are being incorporated to design roads to accommodate both automobiles and bicycles, Ohio lawmakers are concurring that bicyclists belong on the road with new laws aimed at keeping bicyclists safer.
One such law requiring a three-foot clearance between automobiles and bicycles goes into effect Tuesday. And while it does not have the teeth bicycling advocates want to make it a stronger deterrent, many see it as a step in the right direction.
“The good part about it is it reinforces the bicyclist’s right to be on the road. They belong there,” said Ed Stewart, a founding member of Silver Wheels Cycling Club and Bike Elyria. “But it is still hard to enforce.”
Stewart, also a part of the Elyria Bicycle Advisory Committee, said the issue with enforcement will come down to evidence and witnesses. But the 3-foot law does eliminate the vagueness of the previous law, which only required a vehicle passing “at a safe distance.” The three-foot provision is also a part of the passing laws in more than two dozen other states.
“How is the distance going to be measured and by who?” Stewart said. “And what stops a motorist from saying they were further away than they were? It will come done to the bicyclist being able to prove the violation.”
Marty Martinez, of Beebe Avenue, a bicyclist since the 1990s, said the law will only be as good as the steps taken to educate the public.
“I agree with it,” he said. “It would be nice if it would be enforced and people are educated to know we have just as much right to be on the road,” he said.
Martinez said all avid bicyclists are keenly aware of the dangers on the road.
“I’ve been cut off. I’ve been hit,” he said.
According to the last data available through the Ohio Department of Public Safety, 24 Ohio residents died in bicycle crashes in 2015. There were 1,476 reported crashes that year.
Lorain County has had its share of tragedies in recent years.
In July, Mark Snyder, 58, of Elyria, was riding southbound on Oberlin Road, north of Butternut Ridge Road, when a 1995 Chevy van tried to pass him. The passenger’s side mirror struck Snyder, knocking him from the bicycle and into a ditch on the side of the road. Snyder was wearing a helmet, but authorities said it was likely the fall into the ditch that resulted in his death.
On Oct. 10, 2015, a 77-year-old Oberlin driver struck and killed a bicyclist on Butternut Ridge Road in New Russia Township. Charles Startup, 70, was wearing a helmet, but died from his injuries.
Stewart, an avid bicyclist for about 30 years, said he has never been hit out on the road, but he has had close calls.
“That is the scariest thing when motorist pass intentionally too close,” he said. “Just last year, I was biking and this man came up so close to me I could have grabbed his rearview mirror and gone for a real ride.”
When he is teaching others how to travel safely, Stewart said the advice he gives can sometimes seem counterintuitive. However, bicyclists are safer by riding farther into a lane instead of closer to a curb, he said.
“When faced with that, a driver will just wait until its safe to go around you in the passing lane,” Stewart said. “That way the bicyclist also has the room to maneuver around debris and potholes.”
Motorists will see more bicyclists because more efforts are being made to make the county more accessible to bicyclists. When discussing previous road projects, city Engineer Tim Ujvari has said that bike lanes are incorporated whenever possible. The multimodal concept is being heavily promoted by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating agency in funding road projects.
As a part of a $3.6 million reconstruction project, Middle Avenue in Elyria had a dedicated bike lane added.
In years to come, bikers and walkers will probably be able to cross the county on one mapped-out route, according to Jim Ziemnik, director of the Lorain County Metro Parks. Connectivity, he said, is crucial to the county’s development. The parks district’s master plan includes efforts to connect trails all over the county including the Black River Trail, the most heavily used trail in the Metro Parks system.
And while trails are great as park amenities, many also link up to roadways.
“To get on a machine like that you can go anywhere,” Stewart said. “It may take a little while longer than a car, but I have always been adventurous. You can go anywhere as long as you can get up a hill.”
Bicycling will ramp up this year in Elyria. Bike Elyria is challenging people to ride 200 miles in honor of the city’s bicentennial and staging ward rides to get city officials on the road. The Bicycle Advisory Committee plans to ride every road in the city to help city officials learn how easy it is to traverse the city by bike.