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In a city striving to live up to its "bike-friendly" reputation, the recent deaths of an experienced cyclist and a motor scooter driver in traffic accidents have unnerved the Chattanooga bicycling community.

"Anytime something like this happens, it resonates. We all feel it," said Shane Adams, an avid cyclist and co-owner of Bear Creek Bicycle Co. in Dalton, Ga. "I would hope it would raise awareness, but the question is for how long."

In early March, Ellen Pittman, 51, died after a vehicle failed to yield right of way to her motor scooter on Brainerd Road. Local cyclist, father and business owner David Meek, 51, died a couple of weeks later after he was struck by a passing truck on Ashland Terrace.

Area cyclists have been "greatly shaken up" by the recent tragedies, said Colleen Carboni, owner of the Pilates Center of Chattanooga. She bikes 75 to 100 miles per week and runs the Bike2Work program here.

But as a close friend of Mr. Meek, Ms. Carboni said any fear-based response to his accident saddens her. Mr. Meek "would not be happy thinking that people were getting off of the bike because of his accident," she said.

Leaders in the cycling community emphasize that cycling's health and environmental benefits, the pleasure of riding and cyclists' calming effect on city traffic should not be dismissed.

"I believe cycling is a healthy, safe form of active transportation and recreation, and the benefits far outweigh the potential risks, as a whole," said Philip Pugliese, bicycle coordinator for Outdoor Chattanooga. "But in this particular case, we're very concerned about coexisting safely with motorized vehicle traffic."

Sharing Responsibility

Motorists and cyclists alike say that those riding on two wheels share the responsibility to keep the road safe, and at times they share the blame for violations of the law.

As an avid motorcyclist, 56-year-old David Fihn said he is frustrated by how many cyclists he sees who disregard the rules of the road, compromising their own and others' safety.

"I have a great deal of respect for two-wheeled vehicles, but I lose a lot of my (support) of bicyclists when I see almost literally every single bicyclist breaking speed laws and equipment laws," said the Hixson resident. Mr. Fihn said he's seen cyclists run red lights, change lanes without signaling and ride far faster than the speed limit.

Ms. Carboni acknowledged both motorists and cyclists can be guilty of failing to follow road rules.

"The typical motorist does not understand cycling rules. They do not know how to drive around a cyclist. Then these same people get on a cycle and still don't know the rules," she said. "It's not them or us - most cyclists are motorists."

Chattanooga police Officer Mike Taylor, a member of the downtown bicycle patrol, said he often sees cyclists breaking the law by coasting through stop signs or stop lights. Many ride while switching back and forth between the street and the sidewalk, he said. Riding on the sidewalk is legal, but the constant shifting is hazardous, he said.

"We tell them all the time, 'Look, you're making it hard for other cyclists, the cyclist community, because people in cars don't know what to expect,'" he said. "The best thing you can do (to ride safely) is make yourself predictable."

Education of cyclists and motorists alike is crucial, Mr. Pugliese said. Yet he emphasizes that all travelers - whether in cars or on bikes or motorcycles - make errors in judgment.

"The sense that a single cyclist running a stop sign is indicative of the whole problem is mistaken," he said. "Someone driving a 4,000-pound block of steel who makes the same mistake can make substantial damage and injury."

Bike Friendly?

Outdoor Chattanooga's bicycle program and other groups have made great strides over the past decade in making the city more accessible to cyclists, area cyclists say. Improvements include a program encouraging residents to use a bike for their work commute, the addition of bike lanes in the city and more bike trails in the region, as well as a bike valet service available at events such as Riverbend and Pops in the Park.

In 2003, the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority added bike racks to city buses.

Mr. Pugliese, also bicycle chairman for the Chattanooga Urban Area Bicycle Task Force, said the group is focusing on bike safety education for riders of all experience levels. The task force works on plans and programs to promote the safe use of bicycles in the area.

An achievement for cycling advocates came in 2007 when Tennessee legislators passed a law requiring motorists to give three feet of room when passing a cyclist. Still, advocates say they are concerned that so far no citations have been given under the law, a situation verified by local police.

Despite commendable progress, "a lot of what determines whether Chattanooga is a bike-friendly place is the individuals who are drivers," Ms. Carboni said. "People have very mixed reactions on how bike-friendly the typical motorist is" in Chattanooga.

Mr. Adams, who is 37, said he has been hit by cars on more than one occasion when motorists tried to pass him on a blind hill only to be met by an oncoming vehicle. When the passing car veered back into its lane to avoid the oncoming car, Mr. Adams was struck and thrown from his bike, he said.

Motorists regularly throw things at him, honk or yell and follow too closely, he said.

"In the grand scheme of things, the cyclist may only hold somebody up for a few seconds," he said. "We don't take pleasure in impeding traffic. ... But what we're talking about is just a few seconds. Just wait a little longer" to pass.

Mr. Pugliese said, above all, whatever vehicle one uses to get around, riders and drivers must be respectful of the laws and each other.

"The key point to remember is roads are for people. They're public rights-of-way, and they belong to people. They don't belong to cars," he said.

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