Chattanooga cyclists: Cars often don't share roads

photo Cyclists cross the Market Street Bridge on Wednesday evening participating in the annual Ride of Silence for those that have been killed on bicycles. The ride is done worldwide on May 16, at 7 p.m.

The car was just inches from his bicycle, so close he could touch it.

Instead, Gary Hooper dodged and crashed onto the curb on Dayton Boulevard at Browntown Road.

The car kept going as he picked himself up. His shoulder hurt and his helmet had a "huge divot" that would have come out of his scalp if he'd been bareheaded, Hooper said.

It happened at the end of a ride with the Chattanooga Bicycle Club. Another club member got the car's license plate number, but the Red Bank police officer who answered the call said there was nothing to be done because the car hadn't actually touched the rider, according to Hooper.

"Because I'm on a bicycle you can run me off the road, leave me lying there, the police can come out, and nothing happens. I'm very bitter about it," he said.

Red Bank Police Chief Tim Christol said Wednesday he was unaware of the incident and would be happy to meet with Hooper to try to resolve the problem.

On Wednesday night, local cyclists participated in the annual Ride of Silence, part of a worldwide event to "raise awareness of cyclists' right to ride on the road and to honor the fallen cyclists no longer with us," according to the Chattanooga Bicycle Club website. The riders left from Finley Stadium and rode 14 miles in silence.

It was John Meek' third year to participate in the event. He rode in honor of his brother, David Meek, who was killed in 2009 while riding his bike to work on Ashland Terrace.

"It's inspiring, basically," Meek said Wednesday afternoon before the ride. "Probably a hundred, two hundred people all riding together silently. It's kind of like a moment of silence."

According to the Ride for Silence website, the event was held in 322 locations last year. Rides happened in all 50 states and 24 countries on all seven continents -- researchers at Palmer Station in Antarctica held a Spin for Silence, taking turns on an indoor stationary bike.

Chattanooga bills itself as a bike-friendly city. It operates a downtown bike-sharing program and has bike lanes striped on streets and marked on maps. Earlier this month, city leaders announced that Chattanooga has landed the USA Pro Cycling Championships for three years, starting in 2013.

But local bike enthusiasts say there's a lot of work to be done before they'll be able to truly claim their right to the road.

"People get killed all throughout the U.S. and nobody every really gets prosecuted," said Tom Ingledew, a Chattanooga Bicycle Club member who helped organize the ride.

Since 2007, it's been the law in Tennessee that motorists have to give cyclists at least three feet of clearance when passing. Violation can lead to criminal or civil penalties.

But the law is "only slightly enforced," said Philip Pugliese, bicycle coordinator for Outdoor Chattanooga.

"It's good that it's on the books; it's a step forward, but we just need to take our traffic safety laws more seriously," Pugliese said.

"Public spaces are for all people, not just people in automobiles, so we need to do engineering, education and enforcement to balance the needs of all the users in the public domain," he said. "The Ride of Silence is kind of a wake-up call that cyclists are people and they get killed on our roadways just as 35,000 other people are killed in traffic crashes each year."

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