Story, interviews and Storify compilation by Meghan Feir
MSUM English and mass communications dual major
Biking, as beneficial and eco-friendly as it may be, is, once again, sparking controversy. The culture of the Fargo-Moorhead area has become more bike-oriented than in previous years, ranking No. 46 on AreaVibes’ “Top 50 Bike Friendly Cities in America.” The recent dilemma of whether or not more bike lanes should be added to Fargo roads is causing many citizens to choose sides. This issue is a great reminder of how intense disdain between drivers and cyclists can be, and how it rages onward due to a lack of communication and knowledge from both parties.
Bikes are becoming increasingly valuable for F-M residents. What used to sit in garages, save for the summer rides to Dairy Queen in Moorhead for cones, is becoming an asset for daily commuting. College students, especially, have opted to use their bikes whenever possible to get a little extra exercise and save some cash. And, with gas as expensive as it was, is and will be, biking whenever possible seems a logical and healthy alternative to jumping in the car.
Unfortunately, these lovely biking excursions have a downside, particularly noticeable for people who depend on biking as their primary means of transportation. Animosity is often found between car drivers and bike riders, oftentimes leading to dangerous interactions.
Online discussion exposes motorists and cyclists’ ongoing feud
Zach Johnson, a 24-year-old market research analyst at Sanford Health, is also an avid cyclist. Johnson rides his bike on a daily basis, competes and also works at Great Northern Bicycle Company in downtown Fargo. Johnson has experienced the tension that can arise between drivers and cyclists on numerous occasions.
Taking his usual route to work one winter morning, Johnson decided to ride on the road due to a thick layer of ice on the bike path. “A car came by and yelled at me to get on the sidewalk and flipped me off,” Johnson said. “I waved back and continued on my way. I usually take the bike path, but when no one cleans (the ice off the paths) it puts us in a tough situation.”
On another occasion while biking to work, Johnson was riding on the NP Avenue bridge from Moorhead to Fargo. He once again took to the road since the narrow sidewalk already had multiple cyclists and pedestrians taking the same route. “A (driver) almost hit me with his side view mirror,” Johnson said. “He was stopped by the next red light, so I politely reached into his car, tapped him on the shoulder and informed him that he almost hit me. He was surprised and apologized. Then we sat next to each other waiting for a green light.”
Not all run-ins with cars and bikes result in friendly outcomes. Jason Uphoff, an MSUM mass communications graduate, commented adamantly on a Facebook discussion. Uphoff said that, “Bikers need to stay off the road. Period. There’s no reason for them to be on the road when there’s a sidewalk RIGHT THERE. ‘But there’s a law against biking on the sidewalk’. I don’t care! When was the last time that was ticketed? It’s like J-Walking. It’s a J-oke. Bikers off the road means safer bikers and better roadways for motorists.”
In the same online discussion, Jesse Trelstad, another mass communications major at MSUM, spoke on behalf of the cyclists. “Roads are meant for transportation,” Trelstad said. “They were not created for cars, just because cars have overpopulated the road does not mean they own it. Sidewalks were made for pedestrians to travel, and in most places bikes are not permitted to travel on them. It’s a safe place for kids to be riding their bikes, but they do not go that fast and aren’t using them to travel that far.”
Trelstad went on to say that the “unwillingness to share the road is a sad state for most drivers as they could probably use some more time on a bicycle than sitting on their ass wolfing down a double cheeseburger in a car. They could be enjoying some fresh air and a good workout.”
Like many others, Trelstad believes that bike lanes are a great way to compromise. Bikers would be able to have their own space on the road while cars would continue having their own.
Tim Rodenberger, an instructor at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, N.D., said “Both sides blame the other for traffic-related injuries and fatalities, but the truth of the matter is, that it almost always relates to a lack of awareness, perception and just being mindful of others around you while driving.”
According to BicyclingInfo.org, there were 618 reported bicyclist deaths in 2010, a 25 percent decrease since 1995. Bicyclist injuries have also gone down since the ‘90s, but 61,000 were still reported in 2010.
Brainstorming could solve, help problems
Whether it’s a car cutting off a bike or a biker coming out of nowhere, both sides have relevant concerns. Angie Jacobs, a product development specialist at Swanson’s Health Products and an avid biker herself, has many thoughts on why miscommunication is so prevalent. She also has a few ideas of what can be done to alleviate the tension between bikers and drivers. “I think there are a couple reasons for the driver ignorance of bike laws in our area,” Jacobs said. Here are four of them:
- “One – I blame behind the wheel teachers for not emphasizing these rules enough.”
- “Two – I blame the driver’s ed. teachers for not emphasizing this enough.”
- “Three – North Dakota should require more driver’s education/ behind the wheel in general.”
- “Four – there are always random bicyclists out there who don’t follow the rules either, making them frustrating and unpredictable for drivers to follow. Somehow, drivers assume all cyclists are like this, though, and automatically get angry as soon as they see a cyclist anywhere near their car.”
Jacobs also had a few suggestions for spreading the word on the rights and laws of biking.
“I think it would be really cool to have someone from one of the cycling advocate groups in town to visit every driver’s ed. class for one day of their education to explain bicycling laws and answer questions,” Jacobs said. “Community-wide education would be nice, too, but at least starting with new drivers first would be a place to start in general.”
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