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Woog's World / After a tragedy, break the cycle of bicyclist-motorist tensions

Published 8:21 am, Sunday, November 3, 2013
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The accident happened in Bethel. A bicyclist was killed in a hit-and-run.

The victim lived in Weston. Thomas Steinert-Threlkeld, 59, a business journalist, died "doing what he loved to do," his wife Kayte wrote on Facebook. He was "riding his bike on a beautiful day and taking photos."

But it could have happened in Westport. Here -- as in Bethel -- bicyclists share narrow roads with drivers and joggers. Here -- as in Bethel -- there are few bike lanes. We've probably got more traffic -- and more aggressive, faster drivers -- than just a few rural miles north.

Yet there, as here, tensions between drivers and cyclists is palpable. After the fatal accident, the "comments" section on the Danbury News-Times website were filled with rage. Not everyone felt sorry for the victim.

"Beer Me in CT" wrote: "I have a guess how it happened. Cyclist taking up part of a lane, car tries to swerve around him, possibly around a curve or over a hill. Suddenly there is a car in the oncoming lane and he has no choice but to swerve into the cyclist. I see near misses like that EVERY DAY. Cyclists have the legal right to be in the lane with traffic, but any one of them that does that in this state has a death wish."

A reader adopting the odd name of "Racist America" added, "There are so many beautiful trails/bike paths in this country and they want to ride their bikes on the street? What the hell! I don't think bikes should be allowed in the street, its just too dangerous. One blind spot or quick curve with oncoming traffic could too easily be lights out for these bikers."

"Brain Drain" created an imaginary scenario in which distractions and frustrations played equal roles in the accident: "5 miles back the driver swerved to miss the women jogging behind a baby carriage. A 1/2 mile later she had to jam her brakes to miss the 3 dogs being walked by another women. A 1/4 mile later as she passes an unregistered ATV with two teens, one gives her the finger. As she is thinking about that, she goes around a corner and has to slam on her brakes not to hit the school bus that sits there while the driver and mom chat. The bus finally moves and she waits as the kids cross as s l o w l y as possible while staring at her. As she proceeds towards her meeting with the biker, she uses her cell phone to call home saying she will be late."

Of course, not everyone blamed the victim. "Free Country" said: "ITS NOT BICYCLISTS, ITS LOUSY DRIVERS. A car is just tons of steel, dressed up to make you think you are safe and special. If you hit something it will maim or kill you, or you will maim or kill it. Driving a car is more deadly than smoking and cancer ...

"People on bicycles are great. I love to see them, it means the area is prosperous, healthy, physical, getting out and being alive. If you find a bicyclist in front of you back off, slow down, you may have to drive a while until theres a safe place and traffic to pass. Its ok to cross your car over the solid yellow line to go around.

"If you're late, you can't make it up on the road. It is impossible to make up time driving faster unless you are the only person on the road. Get up 5 minutes earlier, go to your car with some time to spare and don't be a stressed out driver.

"Better yet, get out and walk more. Being in a car is a fantasy promoted by an industry expert at taking as much money from your pocket as they can.

"My thoughts and feelings are for the family and friends of this man who decided to enjoy a ride on a fall day. It was a brilliant day to be outside."

It was indeed. It was not a brilliant day to die.

Growing up in Westport, I biked everywhere. I had to, to get around. In my 20s, I rode because I enjoyed it. On a bike, you see a different Westport than from a car. You zip up and down streets you'd never otherwise travel. You get a workout, and you save gas.

For the past decade or so, I've ridden much less. Even with a helmet, I don't feel safe.

As a driver, I get aggravated by bicyclists who ride three or four abreast. Some almost dare drivers to hit them. Many ignore traffic lights and stop signs.

But here is what must stop -- in Westport, Bethel and everywhere else drivers and bicyclists share the road: Bad manners. Bad habits. Accidents. And deaths.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his "Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.