(2015) Just last night, this area learned the identity of the man who was struck and killed while riding his bike. Wendy Hawkes – allegedly - killed Dan Wilson, an accomplished mountain bike and motocross rider, on the seemingly peaceful and straight tertiary road, Ervin Road in Ottsville, PA. He was heading north. She was heading south and (allegedly) crossed the road. Dan had raced as recently as the end of June in a mountain bike race in Neshaminy, PA. It seems to be a disassociating trend: Any motorist on the road is a human, any animal on the road is an animal, any hazard on the road is a hazard, and yet cyclists are considered none of these. There are polite people (in my experience) who give us the entire lane, but there are also people who try to “brush a cyclist back” by cutting it as close as possible. Judging by sentences handed out to drivers who hit cyclists, it’s no wonder why some people regard those riding bikes to be equal to deer when impacts happen.
When I have time while riding, I try to imagine what I have in common with each motorist that passes by me. What if that person enjoys hockey? (I may have coached your son/ daughter.) What if any of those who cut it close have sat on the sidewalk during the Bucks County Classic cheering on racers through the heart of Bucks County and Doylestown? (What changed since you left the sprint to the finish?) How many of those motorists with the “Coexist” bumper stickers have cut off a cyclist to save five seconds?
Despite riding thousands of miles I’ve yet to come to the conclusion as to what it is about cyclists that brings the worst out of some motorists. The Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles states that motorists should treat cyclists like any similar road hazard: be it farm tractor, postal truck, or road construction vehicle; Drivers are to give cyclists four feet of space when passing.
Yet many people wait behind farm tractors with frustrated patience, many motorists pass postal trucks with impatient consideration, and many progress through a construction zone with passive/ aggressive consideration. But it’s when cyclists are encountered that those same people have zero tolerance and, at times, deliver the worst of their personality.
I’ve often wanted to stop that driver and ask him or her what his or her favorite sport is? What is one fascinating fact about his or her kid? How many times has he or she watched the Tour de France with excitement? How would his or her house react if he or she did not make it home that night? I’m sure we can find middle ground and realize that cyclists are actually relatable in strangely common ways.
There was once a heated debate on phillyburbs.com when a woman stated she didn’t know what to do when she passed a cyclist and forced oncoming traffic into the grass because of the new four-foot law. Not one single person in the comments section called her out for reckless driving by not waiting for a safe time to pass the cyclists. Nobody cited that postal trucks have interfered with peoples’ rides home from work. Nobody referenced when a farm tractor made a person miss an all-important-event; yet here we are. If we’re five minutes late because of someone’s existence on the road, the cyclist is not the issue.
If a human being (because that is what cyclists are) is that intimidating, there are more issues with the motorists. Are there poor cyclists? Yes. Just like there are poor drivers. But at the end of the day, we’re all trying to get home safely together. I’ve stood in my kitchen glad to be drinking chocolate milk after a long commute much the same as after a long bike ride; I’ve experienced both sides of the argument. Having shared an intersection with Dan a mere three weeks ago, it is stated with confidence he did not fall under the category of a poor cyclist. Though unfortunately for his children and his wife, he did not get home safely this past Thursday and the cycling world will miss him greatly because of that.