Last Friday was National Bike to Work Day, which is held during National Bike Month each May to encourage people to park the car and bike to work. But it was just another day for Findlay’s Jon Opperman.
Opperman is a Hancock County employee who has pedaled from his home south of Blanchard Valley Hospital to the Hancock County Courthouse every day for six years, unless the snow was too deep, in which case he walked. He wishes more people rode bikes for exercise or to get to work, but he understands why most don’t.
He has “seen it all” during his daily commute down Main Street or Western Avenue, including his share of distracted drivers.
“It can be a little hazardous at times, yes,” he said. “I’ve had a few accidents and have had to lay the bike down a couple times.”
He last collided with a car April 4, but neither he nor his bike were hurt.
Opperman insists biking in Findlay can be safe if riders and motorists are alert, something that doesn’t always happen. Each year, there are between 1,500 and 2,000 accidents and about 20 fatalities in Ohio involving bicycle riders.
State law doesn’t make a distinction between cars and bicycles. A bike is defined as a vehicle, which means it has as much right to the road as a car, van or truck. It also means bike riders must follow the same rules of the road.
While motorists have the responsibility to watch out for bikes, bike riders must comply with traffic laws, like stopping for lights and signs.
Riders should also do everything possible to make themselves visible, including using lights at dusk and at night, always riding with traffic on the right side of the road, and using turn signals.
Bike riders who don’t follow vehicle laws can undermine the efforts of those who do.
A U.S. Census Bureau report states that bicycle commuting is growing faster than any other type of transportation, another reason for motorists to get used to sharing the road. The total number of bike commuters in the U.S. increased from about 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 in 2012.
For most, though, cycling is still considered a recreational activity. But, as urban settings become more crowded and cars become more expensive to maintain, it is likely more will turn to cycling.
Ohio lags behind bike-friendly states like California, Florida and Colorado, but it is improving.
The League of American Bicyclists recently ranked the state the 16th most bike-friendly state, up from 32nd in 2013.
The ranking was based on improvements in education and encouragement through “Safe Routes to School,” “Share the Road,” and other programs encouraging safe bicycling and walking. In addition, Ohio was applauded for its state funding commitment to bike lanes and trails, having a statewide advocacy group, and including bicycle safety in its Strategic Highway Safety Plan.
One of the proposals of a recent downtown revitalization plan for Findlay was to add a bike lane along Cory Street from downtown to the University of Findlay. While some parts of the plan got scrapped, the bike lane is a good idea and would help encourage more people to park their cars and get on a bike.
Meanwhile, the weather is warming and schools will soon be out, and bikes will be the main mode of transportation for many. That’s enough reason for anyone who uses the roads to be on a higher state of alert.
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