Residents, bicyclists clash on sharing rural roads
By SUE HURLEY
Special to the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Jul. 10 2005
Trouble is brewing in the bucolic hills and dales north of Alton, say some who
use the roads there for their original purpose - to handle cars, trucks and
Some residents of Calhoun and Jersey counties are irritated with the increasing
number of bicycle riders who use the roads for pleasure.
Pennie Pohlman recalls a recent Saturday when more than 100 participants in a
charity bike ride converged on her tiny hometown of Brussels. What she saw that
day on the winding Calhoun County roads leading from the Brussels Ferry into
her village frightened and angered her.
"(Bicyclists) were riding three abreast and sometimes stopping on the shoulder
of the road" holding up vehicle traffic, said Pohlman, who was working at the
Red and White grocery that day. "We have a lot of bike riders come through
here, and I'm sure it's because the countryside is very pretty. But it's
infuriating to see what they're doing because they are so inconsiderate."
Pohlman said it's just a matter of time before someone gets hurt.
"There will be a head-on collision," she said. "It's going to happen."
Brussels resident Matt Meyer said he frequently sees cyclists pedaling on the
shoulder of the Great River Road near Grafton instead of using the Vadalabene
Bike Trail a few feet away.
Once, Meyer stopped a rider and asked him why he didn't use the bike path.
"He said, 'I have just as much right to use this road as you do,'" Meyer
recalled. "I understand that the paths get crowded, but they're not using them
The cyclist was correct. Illinois State Police Safety Education Officer Ralph
Timmins said bike riders legally can travel on the roadways as long as they
allow motorists sufficient room.
"(Bike riders) can continue out into the lane to miss rough spots or potholes,"
Timmins said. "They have a right to the highway, as well."
But the dangers of sharing the roadways are clear. In 2003, 17 bicyclists were
killed on Illinois roads, and 2,971 were injured, according to Illinois
Department of Transportation officials.
In Missouri, nine people were killed in bicycle traffic accidents in 2003, the
last year for which statistics were available. More than 650 were injured in
crashes involving bicycles, said Al Nothum of the Missouri Highway Patrol. Most
car-bicycle accidents occur in urban areas.
Calhoun County Sheriff Richard Meyer said although no cycling collisions have
happened there in several years, he agreed the road-sharing issue could be
solved with common sense, especially on summer weekends when bikers swell the
county's population of 5,300 to about "five times the normal," Meyer said.
And although Sheriff Meyer said he has reprimanded riders for ignoring stop
signs or otherwise disobeying laws, he hasn't issued any tickets.
"There's not much I can do unless I sit out there with my red lights on,
slowing traffic down even more," he said. "We have done that."
Ride organizers also are doing their part to make rides safe. Cycling events
such as the annual Tour de Cure on June 11, which took 150 cyclists through
Brussels, involve plenty of safety planning.
Lesli von Seelen with the St. Louis branch of the American Diabetes Association
- the organization that sponsors the Tour de Cure - said she makes sure the
chosen route is safe for the riders and manageable for the communities along
Warning and hazard signs are posted along the route the bikers travel, and
volunteers in support vehicles follow, monitoring them closely.
But, von Seelen added, it is after all a charity ride.
"It's just one day out of the entire year," von Seelen said. "We realize it may
cause congestion, but it's our biggest fundraiser for diabetes research
throughout the year."
This year, the 560 participants - 150 of whom rode into Calhoun County - raised
more than $235,000 for the local chapter. No injuries, accidents or
confrontations were reported at the event, which began in Grafton and continued
through Jersey, Calhoun and Greene counties, von Seelen said.
Alton bicycling enthusiast Ron Mayhew didn't take part in this year's Tour de
Cure, but he has pumped the pedals for the local MS 150, a two-day, 150-mile
annual ride that benefits the American Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Mayhew's riding experiences include angry drivers who have tossed water on him,
given him the finger and even spit on him, despite his following proper
Mayhew said problems often arise when amateur bikers who are unfamiliar with
group events join ranks with more seasoned riders. "They don't have a clue as
to what the rules are for bike riders sharing space with cars," Mayhew said.
"Sometimes you get people riding three or four abreast right down the middle of
That's the kind of behavior Pennie Pohlman witnessed, but cyclist Chuck Mayden
of Alton said that was neither typical nor acceptable.
"There's no excuse for riding three abreast," said Mayden, who has put over
10,000 miles on his Trek carbon fiber bike in the past three years. "Folks like
that make people upset for no reason. You just have to be smart about it."
Mayhew said the wise solution would be for both bikers and drivers to do their
homework. "Lots of (drivers) don't know what the rules of the road are,
either," said Mayhew, who recently co-founded the Alton-based Riverbend Cycling
Club. "It's an education issue."
Pohlman urged riders to take extra precautions in areas like Calhoun County
where there are no bike trails. "Farmers (driving slow-moving farm machinery)
pull over and let cars pass them. Bikers let cars pile up behind them. Common
courtesy would be to get off to the side and let cars go."
Cyclist hit in 1998
Tensions between drivers and cyclists flared in Monroe County in 1998 after a
farmer intentionally struck a cyclist, Norma Browne-Gerner, with his pickup in
Valmeyer. The farmer pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
The following year, cyclists from Illinois and Missouri gathered in Valmeyer
for a "Harmony Ride" to prove cyclists and drivers could coexist peacefully on
Dan Kelley, the Monroe County sheriff, said tensions since had cooled as
motorists have recognized the right of cyclists to use county roads and
"It's not a constant ongoing problem," Kelley said. "The problem with the
bicycles tends to be the numbers on rural and small roads. If you're riding 50
or 60 bikes, even if they're riding single-file, how do you get a passenger car
"That used to be the bone of contention when they used to have big bike rides.
You've got people on both sides of the issue who contribute to the problem by
either not knowing or not adhering to the rules."
William Lamb of the Post-Dispatch staff contributed to this story.