published Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Marion County Commissioner Gene Hargis defends cyclists' right to the road

JASPER, Tenn. — When Marion County resident Bill Jochym drives near his home along U.S. Highway 41 between Haletown and Tiftonia, his frustration mounts when he encounters a group of cyclists.

"You'll be going down the road, and they'll be six across," he said. "They know you're behind them, and they don't move over. They just keep going down the road."

Jochym recently brought his concerns to the Marion County Commission and asked for help.

"When you get to a straightaway and go around them, half the time they shoot you a bird," he said. "I've talked with some of my neighbors, and they're all upset about it also."

Jochym said that, on one particular section of road approaching Raccoon Mountain, there is a paved shoulder that is "almost wider than the road." Instead of getting onto that shoulder to let the long line of cars behind them by, the cyclists stay four to six bikes wide on the road, he said.

County Commissioner Gene Hargis, who also works for the county sheriff's department, said longtime members of the board have heard such complaints in previous years.

"In our research, basically, like it or not, [the cyclists] have as much right-of-way in the roadway as a car does," Hargis said. "That's state law. That's not my law."

County Attorney Billy Gouger said Tennessee's "Share the Road" law prevents any intervention by county officials.

"[The law] basically says that bicyclists have the same right to the road as motorists do," he said. "As long as they abide by the same traffic laws, there's nothing you can do about it."

Monteagle, Tenn., is the only area in the county with designated bike lanes, officials said.

Jochym said the cyclists are "discourteous to motorists" and "impeding the flow of traffic," which creates a dangerous situation for everyone involved.

"There is no minimum speed on state highways or a county road like there is on the interstate," Hargis said. "We've had bicyclers hit, and we've had all kinds of problems over the years. This [issue] comes up quite often, and that's why we're so familiar with the law on it."

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