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Brian Hamilton: Common sense, respect for riders will aid safety

As our soon-to-be 6-year-old made her first real attempts at shedding the training wheels over at the county fairgrounds last Sunday, I couldn’t help but think of our community’s cyclists celebrating the life of Jim Rogers just across the hills in Nevada City.

Rogers, who played such a huge role in the area cycling scene as a founding father of the Tour of Nevada Bike Shop and the Sierra Express Racing Team, died Jan. 31 when he was struck by a car while riding his bike on Highway 174.

While reading coverage of the case at http://www.TheUnion.com, I’ve been taken back a bit by some of the statements made in the reader comments section below the stories, including these two gems:



“So because someone did something reckless for recreation now another person’s life is ruined. There’s no good reason to be on HIGHWAY 174. I don’t care what the law allows. If you’re going to play in the street you need to get out of the way when a car is coming.” (from “walkerboah)

“I feel awful for this poor woman and her involvement in this situation. He should not have been riding his bike on 174. I am tired of ‘cyclist rights.’ STAY OFF THE ROAD WITH YOUR DAMN BIKES! I hope she gets 0 jail time. She is not to blame in this situation.” (from “Judo”)




Of course, this week we learned CHP investigators have, in fact, placed the Chicago Park woman driving the car at fault, but were still looking into whether she was using her cell phone at the time of the collision.

But whether or not the driver does face jail time, the best thing that can come out of the tragic crash is folks opening their eyes – and minds – to the fact that bicycles and cars will continue to share our roadways.

In case folks like “walkerboah” and “Judo” haven’t noticed, western Nevada County has grown to become one serious cycling community.

Along with the upcoming Amgen Tour of California, which stands to celebrate our cycling culture with the entire world, we also host the longest-running bicycle race west of the Mississippi, as the 50th Nevada City Classic hits Broad Street June 20. And, also, the nearby Downieville Classic, along with our vast stretches of singletrack trails, have made this area a real mountain-biking mecca.

In short, there are going to be bikes on our roads.

A lot of them. So let’s get used to it.

First, let’s all slow down. Late last year, I realized that I, too, am often among the herd in such a hurry. Admittedly, it took my first speeding ticket in 18 years to learn that lesson (and let me tell you, those fines have climbed quite a bit higher since I was 18 years old). But, all the same, I’m doing just fine now with things back in the “slow” lane.

Perhaps it’s just another example of how selfish of a society we’ve become, but there’s no doubt we’re all in a hurry out there. More often than not, however, when driving in western Nevada County, you’re pretty much in a hurry to get nowhere.

Seriously, how many times have I been driving through one of the bottleneck stretches of Highway 49 and had to hit the brakes to allow that last driver to pass before we’re back down to two lanes?

With my kids in the backseat, I bite my tongue as I wonder why it’s so important to pass at that moment. After all, by the time we reach town, that same car is still immediately in front of me.

Sorry, but the two seconds you gained is not worth a life. And neither is that call, e-mail or text message begging for your attention from your phone.

Five years ago, in the course of 12 months our community lost 11 lives on Highway 49. The Union dug into the issue, reminding readers of each person who died in a feature story. Soon thereafter, a couple who survived a horrendous head-on crash came to the forefront with a citizen group concerned with Highway 49 safety, joining The Union in advocating for increased safety measures.

What followed were more CHP patrols, the installation of rumble strips and road striping, along with a general increased awareness in driving safely that clearly have combined to make a huge impact on Highway 49 safety.

As our Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller reported last month, the fatality numbers have dropped dramatically since the 11 deaths in 2005. In 2006, there were three killed, with one in each 2007 and 2008 and two in 2009.

Of course, one death is too many.

But the point is while we work on funding and plans for bike paths to be brought into our community, we can make an immediate difference by simply using some common sense and showing some respect for everyone sharing the road.

Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton via e-mail at bhamilton@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.


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