published Friday, May 30th, 2014

Stop the cycle: If the pros can't cycle safely on mountain roads, how can we?

  • photo
    Taylor Phinney was injured at the U.S. men’s nationals here on Monday.
    Photo by Erin O. Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Professional cyclist Taylor Phinney was seriously injured Monday when he rounded a curve coming down Lookout Mountain on Scenic Highway and struck the guardrail while trying to avoid crashing into a motorcycle driven by a race official in the USA Cycling national championship.

Another pro cyclist, Lucas Euser, was descending just behind Phinney, and he also crashed to miss the motorcycle.

"I went into the concrete wall, and I disintegrated my rear wheel and my pedal and everything. I popped up against that wall, while he (Phinney) hit the guardrail," Euser told VeloNews. "Taylor's bike was 40 feet down the road, and he was underneath the barrier. I didn't see exactly how he crashed, because I was trying not to die myself."

Monday's spectacular crash points up the dangers of biking on our mountain roads. Not just for pros, but also for regular Joes.

If professional cyclists and professional cycling course officials can't safely "share the road" on Chattanooga's curvy, two-lane, mountain lanes, neither can hobby cyclists and ordinary motorists. The accident makes clear something this page has taken quite a bit of criticism for saying several times: bicyclists should be banned from these two-lane mountain roads.

Special events and professional races are fine, if the roads are closed to all other traffic during those events; but never, never, never should cyclists be on mountain roads like Ochs Highway, Scenic Highway and the W Road along with normal traffic.

Just over a year ago, a Florida man died on Ochs Highway when he lost control of his bike and crashed into a car during the 3 State, 3 Mountain Challenge, an event organized by the Chattanooga Bicycle Club. More than 2,000 bicyclists came to Chattanooga for that ride. One didn't go home, and the life of the person whose car he struck was likely forever altered as well.

Hardly a day goes by that W-Road drivers don't round a curve to find a cyclist struggling up Signal Mountain or flying down it. There is no room to give the cyclist the law-prescribed and common-sense 3-feet clearance without the driver being forced to break another law -- crossing the center line and risking a head-on collision. In a curve, a motorist just has to inch along behind, all the while praying not to be rear-ended by another car rounding a bend.

Sometimes cars pass anyway. When that happens, the unknowing drivers coming around blind curves in the downhill lane are the ones who should be saying their prayers.

No one here is suggesting that bicyclers don't have rights. And no one is saying that the outdoor mecca of Dixie doesn't want and need the cycling and sports events -- and the dollars that come with them. We do.

But there is an 800-pound gorilla in lime-green spandex that no one wants to talk about -- safety.

It's just not safe to bicycle on steep mountain roads. It's one thing for professional cyclists to do it while the roads are closed to traffic. (And even then, the pros wreck.) It's an entirely different thing for amateur cyclists and the workaday people who have to drive those mountain roads to get to work and home.

Again, we proffer a suggestion: Build the cyclists their own dream practice and race roads over local mountains. At least one part of that dream course can run up Aetna Mountain and through the planned Black Creek development, since that proposed Black Creek road already has $9 million in taxpayer supported TIF (tax increment financing) funding. The road still isn't built, so there's time to plan bike lanes.

Plus, atop Aetna is the remains of an old, off-road course over state and private land protected by conservation easements often used by four-wheeler enthusiasts. The four-wheelers are not allowed there anymore because they cause erosion. Bicycles ridden by people in spandex don't.

Explore the possibility of using more TIF funding for it. Tax increment funds funnel expected tax revenue to be gained from anticipated property value in an area to reimburse developers for commercial improvements over time. If the planned development on Aetna Mountain deserved TIF funds for its anticipated profits, then surely this region's bet on the future for extreme sports events would further legitimize the use of our money to help developers of a posh new enclave, and Chattanooga's Aetna is an outdoor and sports mecca and destination in the making.

Is it going to take a multi-fatality, head-on collision to snap everyone awake on this issue? Who else's son or daughter or mother or father has to die or be injured to get a bike ban on our mountain commuter roads?

Put another way: Public safety trumps recreation, plain and simple.

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inquiringmind said...

As a cyclist I agree that someone must be oxygen-deprived to bike up the W-road or Oches highway , but roads like the climb up Suck Creek are fine, the climb up 148 on Lookout Mountain, and even the descent on Signal Mt. Blvd is reasonable if autos are willing to obey the speed limit.

Your point about Mr. Phinnney is a bit flawed, he was traveling downhill at race pace and apparently expecting the race motorcycle to protect the road not hinder it. I'm sure there are some regular cyclist who delude themselves into thinking they are the next Greg LeMonde and try the same in normal traffic but you can't legislate common sense.

If restrictions are put in place, they ought to be thought out (use common sense) and not just blanket prohibitions, something our government officials are not always willing or able to do.

May 30, 2014 at 7:29 a.m.
davidandgoliath said...

It's amazing that despite referencing safety multiple times in this article, nowhere was 'Cars should slow down' mentioned. If you, as a driver, come around a blind curve & are unable to stop safely if there's something blocking the road, you're driving too fast, period.

May 30, 2014 at 10:50 a.m.
rooworld said...

This is an editorial? This is irresponsible journalism. Taylor Phinney is a professional cyclist who races in Europe where cycling is as popular as soccer. They have no problem with cyclists riding literally anywhere. American drivers need to realize that they are not the owners of the road. It is the responsibility of both the rider and the driver to be aware of the conditions. Phinney was competing in a world class event and expects world class caravan actions. Many of the motorcycles in the race on Memorial Day had NO business being in that race. I am a veteran bicycle mechanic. I rode in a team car as mechanical support for the defending champion last year. There needs to be better race communication so that the caravan vehicles are not hindering cyclist during their decent. Phinney KNOWS how to handle a bike as do 90% of the pro field. They do not expect to find a motorcycle in their path that has lost temporary control. That, Mr Editor, has nothing to do with cyclist riding the mountain passes in this wonderful cycling area. Banning cyclists anywhere is not the solution. Education of both cyclists and motorists is the evolution that must occur. Tennessee needs to educate via the driver's licensing procedure. This is a great avenue to teach new drivers ALL of the rules of the road. There also needs to be continuing education for all motorists. Every driver's license renewal should be accompanied by a test. That test should include the basics and any new laws or regulations. Add a little to the renewal fee and you have tax money to fund motorist/cyclist education and even to fund infrastructure for bicycles. It's a win win for everyone. Awareness is the solution not banishment. Let's bring our thinking out of the Dark Ages and into the modern era where bicycles and vehicles will one day coexist peacefully. Thank you Mr Editor but your point is invalid.

May 30, 2014 at 1:38 p.m.
dhstreip said...

If NASCAR drivers can't go around in circles on a closed track without crashing, how can we normal motorists?

If Lebron James can't play a game of basketball without committing a foul, how can our kids be expected to play fairly?

If highly trained NFL players can't completely avoid facemask penalties and illegal tackles, then our high school football teams should be disbanded.

You also fail to mention that at least one rider, if not more, crashed Saturday during the time trial -- on completely closed roads, riding one at a time, spaced a minute apart.

Your problem is comparing imperfect beings -- every single one of us -- against a perfect, impossible standard. Of course professional cyclists don't want to crash, yet their wrecks become more spectacular the better they get.

The W Road is not a perfect road for motorists, even without bicycles in the equation. Want me to tell you how often I see cars crossing the double yellow lines, on that road and others, just for kicks and giggles? I hope not, because it's an innumerable amount.

By the way, what is your fascination with Spandex? The purpose-built clothing you're referring to is actually called Lycra. "Bicycles ridden by people in spandex don't [cause erosion]" ... but what about bikes ridden by people in Carhartts? Denim? Sweatpants?

If an editor can't publish an article without making false equivalencies, then we should disallow all writing by less-experienced authors. Unfortunately, your right to the First Amendment is the same as mine. I just hope more people respectfully exercise their right to voice their concerns about your "proposal."

May 30, 2014 at 3:53 p.m.
matt_from_chatt said...

This seems pretty much like a repeat of an opinion article on here a few months ago from someone (strangely enough) who was also fixated on spandex.

Who would profit from what this writer is suggesting "for safety"...gee, I bet maybe it's the writer or one of his/her buddies.

If we're going to ban anyone from going over mountains, how about banning the drivers that go over the mountains at breakneck speeds and nearly run anyone else off the road. I see that every time I go over a mountain, whether on a bike, motorcycle, or car.

May 30, 2014 at 3:57 p.m.
artcat742 said...

So, the irresponsible, speeding drivers who have no regard for the cyclists (who are often training for big events) have absolutely NO responsibility in the safety of the cyclists, or themselves, or their passengers, or other drivers on the road? This whole ridiculous, ignorant, uneducated, finger-pointing editorial is saying the same thing as gun opponents - that "guns kill people" when, in all actuality, PEOPLE kill people.

May 30, 2014 at 4:04 p.m.
Salsa said...

Every year there are more than 30,000 motor vehicle related deaths in the USA. Its pretty clear, therefore, that motor vehicles should be banned from the roads. Public safety trumps transportation, plain and simple.

May 30, 2014 at 4:21 p.m.
IamKevin said...

I was going to comment on the stupidity of this article but it appears that the task has been handled quite well by the previous commenters. Well done.

This article is a perfect example of the author trying to twist an event to fit his predetermined narrow minded narrative.

Ask yourself this question (cyclists and drivers), would you or have you passed a bicycle on a blind corner on a narrow road? Would you do the same if it was a car? If you answered yes to either question, YOU are the danger out there. "He was going slow" is not a valid excuse for making a dangerous and illegal pass.

Lots of cyclists need education on the safe and legal way to use the road. The same can be said of automobile drivers. The difference is that I've never heard of an unsafe cyclist killing an innocent auto driver.

Being momentarily delayed is not a valid excuse for risking the life of somebody else.

May 30, 2014 at 5:55 p.m.

Hey folks. There are motorists out there who are looking out for cyclists. Join us!

May 30, 2014 at 7:03 p.m.
darylfagan said...

So you are proposing a "skate park" for road cyclists? I like it. You do have a valid point. There are plenty of mountain roads that can be ridden with minimal traffic. We can climb 136, Burkhalter, or Nickajack instead of Ochs or Scenic Highway. I do not understand the beef though. Just wait until it is safe to pass. If all parties are responsible, things should proceed safely. Most of us in turn will move as far as we can to the side safely. If the city wants to assist in resolving the issue, clean the debris and gravel from the shoulders of the road.

May 30, 2014 at 8:41 p.m.
Indurain said...

Bicycles are inherently dangerous even in the best of conditions. How many children have skinned their hands and knees while riding in their driveways under their parents' watchful eyes? Thousands. Bicycles should be banned altogether. Skateboards, roller blades, and wagons, too. Public safety trumps recreation, plain and simple.

But let's address the 900 pound gorilla in a speedo: water. People throughout the world are drowning every day. People are drowning while trying to rescue people who are drowning. All activities in, on, or around water must be stopped. This includes swimming, boating, surfing, bathing, and fishing. And frozen water is no better than liquid water. Who hasn't slipped on ice? It's hazardous, and so is snow. The injuries and deaths from skiing, sledding, ice hockey, snowball fights, poor traction, avalanches, and bad glare are limitless. Water in all its forms must be cordoned off from all human contact, except for carefully regulated cooking, drinking, industrial, and agricultural purposes. Public safety trumps recreation, plain and simple.

May 30, 2014 at 8:43 p.m.
JGannaway said...

Dear Pam, I think that IamKevin said it best: [This article is a perfect example of the author trying to twist an event to fit his predetermined narrow minded narrative.}

I hope that you read all of the above comments. But I also hope that the next time you write an opinion piece, you try to be more responsible. Although your knowledge of cycling is obviously lacking, I am sure that you are aware of the recent events at Raccoon Mountain. This opinion is an article that is clearly divisive. One thing to note about the vast majority of cyclists in this area: we all drive cars as well. The events at Raccoon Mountain started an entire culture of US vs THEM. I believe whole-heartedly that this article is widening the divide.

The entire reason that I purchased a "Share the Road" license plate was because I wanted motorists to realize that we, too, drive cars. I have to slow down and WAIT to safely pass cyclists as well. However if I had to compare the cumulative amount of time that I have ever spent waiting on cyclists or waiting on slow automobiles, 18-wheelers, a mail truck, etc., there would be DAYS of waiting on cars Vs. minutes of waiting on bikes. I don't know what it is that causes people such profound anger against cyclists, but the truth is that it exists. Your article is fuel for their fire, making a realistic solution (i.e. everyone, cyclists and motorists, obeying previously-established laws) further away.

Here is the main issue: there is a divide. There are people who strongly think that bicycles don't belong on the road and there are people who staunchly disagree. The law supports cyclists though there is inherent danger in cycling. But when there is an incident, cyclists lose more. We CAN NOT AFFORD to make this divide larger. We have to close this gap. The tone of your article is dissenting and does not offer a reasonable solution. Is it impossible to obey traffic laws, for cyclists and motorists? Not unless your personal time is more important than someone else's life (and yes, Mrs. Sohn, the last comment applies to everyone).

About me: I am a cyclist. I am a physical therapist. I am from here and wanted to leave badly. I stayed here, graduated from UTC with a Doctorate, and have invested in this community. I also stayed here to ride my bike on these mountain roads.

May 30, 2014 at 9:01 p.m.
aae1049 said...

It is without question that our roadways were designed to serve motorized traffic in a lane. The roads were designed by engineers to convey motorized traffic. Grow up people, traffic lanes are not for recreation.

The notion that a motorized vehicle and bicycle could share a traffic is absurd. Motorized and non motorized transportation does not mix, and that is why we have sidewalks for pedestrian traffic. How is stacking motorized traffic behind a bike going up the mountain at 3 mph good for the carbon footprint, and the weight difference alone dictates that bicycle traffic should be segregated, just like pedestrian traffic. Mountain roads are especially inadequate and dangerous for playing in the road with your bicycle. Roads were not designed for recreation period. Don't play in the traffic lane with your bicycle, go to a park.

May 31, 2014 at midnight
IamKevin said...

This is for aae1049.

In Tennessee, a bicycle has the legal status of a vehicle. This means that bicyclists have full rights and responsibilities on the roadway and are subject to the regulations governing the operation of a motor vehicle. Tennessee traffic laws require bicyclists to: Ride on the right-hand side of the road with the same direction as traffic Obey all traffic signs and signals Use hand signals to communicate intended movements ... (6) Section 55-8-175(c), by failing to overtake and pass a bicycle safely as provided in § 55-8-175(c). ...

There is more if you care to read.

May 31, 2014 at 12:58 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Just because it is legal, does not mean you should do it. For instance, only a fool would ride a bicycle down McCallie Avenue with all the depth perception challenged people on a narrow road. As a former survey and designer of roadways, the traffic lanes were not designed for recreation with motorized vehicles.

Laws should not defy common sense. Go ahead and play in the road and then whine about getting injured.

BTW, Pam's idea about using TIF money for a bike course up Aetna Mtn publically funded road is great. This would be a wonderful asset for the biking community. Let's get behind this and start calling our city council people to fund this at the Black Creek Road that is being funded with 9 million of public money, expand this to bike use. Love the idea.

May 31, 2014 at 1:01 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

aae please make sense. Many of the roads in Chattanooga are in fact marked for as you call it "bicycle recreation," and as another writer above notes, the legislature makes it legal to ride on any road except interstates (where non-motorized vehicles are still prohibited) and demands the auto give 3 feet clearance o the cyclist. For many it isn't recreation but the desired way to commute.

May 31, 2014 at 8:40 p.m.
aae1049 said...

The markings you refer to were a 90's "share the road" marker in the driving lane. Roadways were never designed for bicycle use in a traffic lane. the paint marking are a retrofit afterthought that are arbitrary.

If you wish to play in traffic lanes go ahead because it is legal, go ahead.

June 1, 2014 at 1:34 a.m.
matt_from_chatt said...

Thanks so much for your permission. Thankfully, more people in the area are getting into healthy habits (like cycling) after seeing nearly 7 out of 10 American adults become overweight. I'm sure that people taking on healthier lifestyles irritates a lot of people (for unknown reasons), but I will continue to make my choices without consulting the tfp opinion pages, and without regard for how many ignorant or overweight people harass me about my choices.

I could try to explain why riding a bike to the top of a mountain is a rewarding challenge, and riding back down feels like flying, and that all of this costs nothing and makes a person quite healthy and strong, but I think it would fall on deaf ears. Maybe I should talk more about the spandex?

June 1, 2014 at 9:57 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Most of us have children to take to school, groceries, that are not conducive to a bicycle. Perhaps if you had more responsibilities than playing on a bicycle in a traffic lane, you could understand that the narcissist on the bicycle holding up peak traffic flow and increasing the carbon footprint through stacking of traffic down an entire mountain is tiresome.

June 1, 2014 at 10:31 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

aae, you aren't related to those kids that got into trouble up on Raccoon Mountain harassing the bicyclist are you? Or just a wannabe?

June 1, 2014 at 12:58 p.m.
aae1049 said...

I have no problem with bicycles, go for it, and hope it goes well when Granny who has depth perception problems is sharing the lane. I mean all drivers must ahere to the 3 foot rule, even though many cannot see 3 feet. You guys want to defy common sense have at it, while we watch.

June 1, 2014 at 7:45 p.m.
conservative said...

Anyone on a bike placing their life in the hands of another who is in a car close behind them on a narrow winding mountain road has to be missing a few spokes.

June 2, 2014 at 7:30 a.m.
Relic said...

I appreciate all the positive commentary posted about Pam's biased opinion piece. She's back on her podium again, spewing nonsense about bikers and spandex. I personally would not ride up the W road, but kudos to those who choose to do so. It's their road, they have a right to it. As others noted, it's irresponsible drivers that cause problems, not bicyclists. Bikers and cars coexist in Europe, they can here also. It just takes both respecting each other. A few comments, as well as "Opinion pieces" like this one by Pam, show we have a long way to go.

June 2, 2014 at 11:29 a.m.
ohnoyoudont said...

yikes - what is going on in TN that many out driving on the road cannot even see 3 feet as commented by aae1049? looks like there are more problems there than some cyclists going up and down a mountain.

June 2, 2014 at 7:11 p.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

Wow. What a pinheaded article.

June 2, 2014 at 10:39 p.m.
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