UA cyclists worry about dangers on road
Student cycling outside the new Recreation & Wellness Center at Honors Village also known as the NorthREC.
After a cyclist died early September in Madera Canyon, some cyclists at the University of Arizona are feeling the weight on their shoulders. Some blame the carelessness of motorists, while others blame the infrastructure on campus and throughout Tucson.
Joey Iuliano, a graduate student studying geography and urban planning and the captain of the cycling team on campus, said he believes that the dangerous dilemma between cars and cyclists has to do with several issues, starting with the carelessness of drivers around town.
Iuliano said there are multiple places on campus where cars will pull into the bike lane to unload students without taking into consideration the cyclists making their way around campus.
“I talked to a woman earlier this morning about parking in the bike lane,” Iuliano said. “She got out of her car and screamed bloody murder at me because she refused to move her car because she didn’t see what the issue was. That’s the mind shift we have to do and the only way is to have a person in uniform say the unloading zone is here and it is a dedicated space for cyclists.”
Tucson was considered the 24th best city for biking last year by Bicycling Magazine. There are bike lanes throughout the city as well as outside of Tucson. However, Iuliano thinks that these additions do not make Tucson completely bike friendly.
“There is still a long way to go,” Iuliano said. “Right now, I’d say we have seven miles total of protected bike lanes where we have thousands and thousands of paved roads.”
According to the website visittucson.org, there are at least 131 miles of car-free trails in the Tucson area known as The Loop.
Iuliano said that Tucson is still not as safe as it could be, even on campus. He made examples of Park Avenue and University Boulevard, saying that Park Avenue has parts of the road unequipped for biking, with several parts of the road lacking a bike lane. This forces cyclists into the motorist traffic, hoping that drivers will see them.
Another example is the congested intersection of Helen Street and Mountain Avenue. Iuliano claimed that it is an unsafe area for pedestrians and cyclists alike with its crowded crosswalk and bike path.
In addition to the congestion and lack of bike lanes, the paved road is unsatisfactory to Iuliano, as it is often littered with debris that poses the threat of damaged tires.
“There is a lot of inherent favoritism towards people in cars because the vast majority of our infrastructure is set up that way,” Iuliano said. “It’s a huge paradigm shift to get traffic engineers and urban planners to shift from ‘Well, we just have to build it to move as many people and cars as we can to this intersection,’ to understanding that it’s not about just moving cars, but it’s about moving people as quickly and efficiently as possible. That means on bike, on foot, on transit, a whole host of mode options.”
Iuliano claimed that although there is a shift toward this direction, the number of comments on articles about cyclist fatalities say otherwise. In addition, there are Facebook pages like the Picture Rocks Watchful Warriors page that are dedicated to sharing hate speech towards cyclists.
“Paintball guns are very effective,” a member of the Facebook page said.
“You can see the visceral hate that people will post,” Iuliano said. “It is unreal what other people will say about someone who got hurt while walking or riding.”
Smartphones, in Iuliano’s opinion, have also added to the danger.
Cameron Beard, a junior nutritional science student and director sportif for the cycling team, agreed with Iuliano. Beard said he has been hit once by a car and that he has met several other people who have been hit as well.
Beard is from Bend, Ore. and compared Tucson’s bike friendly atmosphere to his hometown. He feels it is safe to ride within Tucson but that the farther a cyclist moves from the area, the more dangerous it becomes.
Along with the danger of cell phones, Beard feels there should be more repercussions toward drivers who get into the bike lane and the green box in front of traffic lights. He believes this will control the problem better.
“I’d say most times when a cyclist gets hit by a car, it’s the driver’s fault,” Beard said. “I haven’t seen a time where it was the cyclist’s fault.”
Beard also mentioned that there are many people that are afraid of cyclists, often being afraid to pass them and creating a line of cars.
Shelby Rae Hoglund, Graduate student in the environmental science department confirmed this. Hoglund said there are three different populations in Tucson: the bike friendly community, those scared of bikes and those that hate cyclists.
Hoglund said she did not tell her coworkers and acquaintances that she is a cyclist because of the hate she receives from other people. She finds that drivers generalize cyclists as people who take up space and don’t follow the rules. She also chooses to ride alone rather than with people.
“I think that people that don’t have connections to people that ride a bike to commute seem more apathetic about it,” Hoglund said.
Hoglund said she has been hit by cars twice. Both times the drivers did not face any repercussions. So has Spencer Ciammitti, a junior molecular and cellular biology student.
Ciammitti said he was in an accident just this past summer that caused him to have a phobia of riding a bike for a few months.
“It was rough for a good two months,” Ciammitti said.
Right now, Ciammitti is going through a legal battle with the driver that hit him. Unless the cyclist wants to prosecute the driver on their own terms, Ciammitti believes that there are no repercussions for motorists unless they break traffic laws, or it was intentional.
“I think it more of cycling is somewhat new in American culture,” Ciammitti said. “In Europe, it’s completely different. There is a mutual respect for cars and bikes. In the U.S., it seems there is a bigger aspect of a nuisance and [cyclists] should get out of the road.”
Ciammitti gave the example of an incident that occured a couple weeks ago. There is a mass bike ride that occurs every Saturday, and during one of these, a driver pulled up next to the cyclists and threw thumb tacks out his window.
“It proves that he knew we were going to be there, so he had thumb tacks available to throw,” Ciammitti said. “Why? That’s my question. We’re not purposefully trying to disrupt traffic or anything. Most of us follow the rules of the road.”
Ciammitti agreed with Iuliano that there is an infrastructure problem in Tucson. He felt the city could do better than it has been doing, citing a bill that has been proposed to raise taxes for better infrastructure. The bill proposes a slight raise in taxes for better roads.
Ciammitti believes that the increase in taxes would benefit people in Tucson since there are so many cyclists. But for now, many cyclists still believe the roads pose threats to their safety.
“There is a saying with people who ride, where if you want to kill someone and get away with it, kill them in a car while they’re on a bike because you probably won’t get anything," Iuliano said.
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