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Tension Between Cars and Bicycles on the Increase

May is National Bike Month; this week is Bike to Work Week and Friday is Bike to Work day. Thousands of central Ohioans are already riding bicycles for a variety of reasons - not the least of which are rising gasoline prices. But there's tension on the streets of Columbus between cars and bicycles.

Linda Vitak says she doesn't usually ride in the city because of drivers.

"I try not to ride in town because I don't think the cars really believe that you have really any right on the road," she says.

Ohio State student Josh Botti was riding up Lane Avenue recently when he says he was accosted by a driver.

"I was only able to go about 15 miles an hour up hill," he says. "He didn't want to wait behind me and honked at me and honked at me and just came and tried to swipe at me with his car. It was pretty ugly.

Ryan Delia has a similar story:

"I was actually pretty scared," he says. "He flew passed me in his monster truck and got really close, almost clipped me. And then when he came to the stop sign he chased me down. I had to ride away pretty quickly."

With more and more bicycles competing for the same asphalt that cars use, more confrontations are occurring.

Courtney Smith and Shannon Sieber were driving to Goodale Park this week when they encountered a cyclist in the center of the lane. They did not confront him, by they say they were forced to drive around.

"He was in the middle of the street not paying attention to the cars behind him and just rode in the middle of the road," Smith says.

"I think it's a lack of awareness and a little bit of attitude also," says Sieber. "I know that the law says that they're supposed to ride on the streets not on the sidewalks and he thinks he has as much right as we do to be in the street. But we do weigh a lot more and we're going a lot faster than they are."

Greg Knepp of Columbus is an avid cyclist who writes a column called the Peddle Pusher. He says just about every cyclist has encountered people he calls "car bullies:" those who blow their horns, yell or scream or throw things. Rage directed at cyclists may be fueled, Knepp says, by alcohol, or it may be caused by a few cyclists who follow some laws and ignore others.

"Cyclists create resentment by not following the traffic laws," Knepp says. "If you're a motorist and you see a cyclist running a stop sign, running a light, turning the wrong way, riding on the sidewalk, then you don't take that form of transportation seriously."

A spokesperson for the Columbus police department says bicyclists in general must obey the same laws as other motorized vehicles. Greg Knepp says that's the approach he takes when he rides on heavily traveled High Street.

"Riding downtown it's very easy for me to maintain the traffic speed, I will go ahead and get in the center of the lane, as long as I'm traveling reasonably fast so that I'm not impeding traffic. But I have the right to impede traffic somewhat. If you're driving an auto and the speed limit's 25 and you're going 20 you don't expect to be assaulted if you're going five miles beneath the speed limit. I don't expect that either if I'm peddling five miles beneath the speed limit."

"Knepp says there may come a time when cyclists begin carrying guns for personal protection. But he says obeying the rules of the road will do a lot to ease tensions between cars and bicycles.

"The cyclist has to learn how to use the road," Knepp says. "Stay off the sidewalk, stop at stop lights; they have to wait til the light turns; they have to do what the responsible operator of a vehicle does.

But motorists have to get used to the idea. We are here to stay. We have every right to be on the road."