The Columbus Dispatch asked me to write 750 words for their op-ed page which ran online on April 14, 2011.  Getting me to stick to 750 was tough… OK, impossible… but they ran my 800+ words anyway!

Here’s an expanded, and annotated, version of what I sent in… my views on why Cyclist/Motorist Tensions that have escalated in Columbus during and following the Ed Miller trial – the man accused of being drunk when he ran into, and killed, a well-known Columbus cyclist, ride leader and advocate, Steve Barbour.  The trial recently ended in a mistrial as jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict.

Steve Magas, The Bike Lawyer


By Steven M. Magas, The Bike Lawyer

The death of cyclist Steve Barbour in 2009, the recent trial of Ed Miller, and the 2010 deaths of Columbus cyclists Jeff Stevenson & Trent Music, have created a palpable tension between motorists and cyclists in central Ohio.  A war of words has erupted in the Columbus Dispatch.

Cyclists are rightfully angry that one of their most cautious and beloved brethren was killed and then blamed for causing his own death. Motorists argue that cyclists drive carelessly, should “pay for” using the roads though licenses and taxes and should not be allowed on certain roads in the first place.

Let’s step back –  take stock – and address some of these concerns.

Why Are Cyclists Allowed On The Roads?

As Walt Whitman proclaimed “O Public Road!”

The roads in Ohio, and throughout the U.S., are PUBLIC ways open for the public to exercise a constitutional right to travel.  Bicycles were on the roads before cars existed.  Bicycle operators are included as legitimate, legal road users in the traffic laws and rules of the road in all 50 states.  Under Ohio law, bicycles may use EVERY non-freeway road and may not be banned from the roadway.

Motorists argue that bicycles go “slow” – as do big trucks, farm equipment and Amish buggies.  However, on all but higher speed country roads, cyclists can actually travel at average speeds approaching motor vehicle speeds.  Today’s impatient motorists must understand that “traffic” is a brightly colored cloth which includes the movement of vehicles of all types and speeds of vehicles.

Do Cyclists, or Motorists,  “Pay For” The Roads?

Many, if not most, cyclists are licensed motor vehicle operator owners and pay the same “fees” as everyone else.  However, public roads, like public buildings, public sidewalks and pubic schools, are open to everyone regardless of income.

Roads are not a private club with a steep initiation fee and monthly dues.  Those who drive Big Trucks or gas hogs,  paying higher “fees” and “taxes” and buying more gas, do NOT get bigger or more rights than those operating smaller vehicles.  People driving VW Bugs or Mini Coopers or bicycles are not required to surrender their legal right of way to those driving a Ford Subdivision [or whatever the new humongo vehicle is called these days]!

Paying for the MAINTENANCE of roads is even more important. A single 40-ton semi, which weighs 40 times more than a one-ton car, does 9,600 times more damage to the roads than the car.   A bike rider does not compare – the bike+rider unit does virtually NO damage with  skinny tires, light frame and rider.  Yet, big trucks are not paying their “fair share” to maintain roads – at least according to a recent Dispatch editorial.  Under this analysis, bicycle operators should get a REFUND for not damaging roads…

Why Aren’t Cyclists Licensed?

We demand that people be licensed to be allowed to do dangerous things – things that put the lives of others at risk. A cyclist is a risk to her/himself but not a realistic risk to others.  A bicycle operator who goes “rogue” is not going to drive through a crowd of people and kill them.

Licensed motorists kill at the rate of 30,000+ per year in this country.  NHTSA was recently touting the latest figures for 2010, which dropped to “the lowest rate in history.” 33,808 people were killed in 2009 and “only” 32,788 were killed in 2010.  As far as I have been able to determine unlicensed cyclists killed ZERO people last year.

Drivers licenses were not issued in the U.S. until

Are Cyclists Driving Recklessly?

The short answer – no.

I am working on a report of EVERY cycling fatality in Ohio in 2010.  Part of my research included getting reports from the Ohio Department of Public Safety which list every CRASH involving a bicycle from 2005-2010.

There were only TEN cycling deaths out of 1,809 crashes in Ohio in 2010.  By comparison, 500,000 Ohio drivers were involved in over 300,000 crashes in 2009 leading to 935 deaths – that’s an average of 822 car crashes, and more than 2 motorist deaths, every day!

242 bike crashes occurred in Franklin County in 2010. Of those, 110 police reports listed the cyclist as the “unit in error.”   This roughly 50/50 breakdown on “fault” is consistent with national figures.

One Key Point needs to be inserted among the numbers here – one I firmly believe –> Cycling today in Ohio is SAFE.

Don’t let statistics prevent you from dusting off that bike and getting out there to enjoy Ohio’s roads and trails.  According to bike guru Ken Kifer, cycling is six times safer than LIVING! However, being aware of how accidents happen can help you “see” ahead and plan ahead. Knowledge is power and, here, it is the power to ride safely and effectively!  [Ironically, Ken Kifer was killed while riding – by a drunk driver who is now serving 20 years in prison for murder as the result killing him!]

SEE” is actually an acronmym borrowed from the motorcycle literature.  It means “Scan/Search – Evaluate – Execute” – three steps new motorcyclists are taught to use constantly in Motorcycle Safety Foundation training classes.  These steps should be used by cyclists on the roadway as well.  “Search” ahead – 10 to 12 seconds ahead – and determine what potential risks are upcoming.  Complex intersections, pedestrians, narrowing lanes, right turn lanes, freeway on-ramps, crosswalks, dog walkers, debris or potholes, parked cars…  “Evaluate” those risks and develop a plan to deal with them as you approach.  “Execute” that plan far enough ahead to keep the risk from blossoming into a full blown conundrum!

Rising Cyclist Tensions

I took a closer look at one Columbus street – High Street – where 25 bike crashes occurred in 2010.  High Street is a long, flat, urban thoroughfare that stretches from one end of Columbus to the other.  Downtown High Street is chock full of great shops, food establishments and cyclists.  Of the 25 bike crashes in 2010, the cyclist was faulted in only FIVE while sixteen listed the motorist as being at fault.

“Right of way” violations by motorists on High Street were the overwhelming proximate cause of these crashes – i.e., the cyclist possessed the “right of way” under the law and that right of way was not respected by the motor vehicle operator either through an improper turn, passing maneuver, “ACDA” violation or other invasion of the cyclist’s right of way.

In many of these High Street crashes the motorist simply failed to “see” the cyclist.  As I have written many times, this is not an excuse but an admission of liability.  Judging by the actions of the downtown traffic cops in Columbus, motorists are being ticketed for these right of way violations.

Hit and run drivers continue to plague cyclists – as well as pedestrians, motorcyclists and other vehicle operators.  Hit/run drivers kill four people in the U.S. every day.

In Columbus, Jeff Stevenson and Trent Music were both killed by hit and run drivers.  Maybe you saw a white “ghost bike” marking the scene of Jeff’s death on Sawmill Road last summer?  Hit & run deaths take a huge emotional toll on the cycling community – similar to how an unsolved murder rattles the neighborhood where it occurs.

Steve Donaldson is an Arizona cyclist who started “CARD” – Cyclists Against Reckless Driving – with a mission of promoting and encouraging safe cycling, reducing crashes, and educating and informing the masses.  Steve started CARD’s Facebook page a year or so ago for the purpose of publicizing bicycle crash cases he finds during daily web searches.   CARD’s page has amassed more than 10,000 followers who follow the tragedies around the country. While at times morbid, this page serves as a very in-your-face reminder to cyclists that stuff happens on the roads every day  and hit/run incidents seem to be an epidemic these days.

How do we move forward?

The key is education – understanding the law as well as where the emotion on each “side” of this issue comes from.

Motorists need to understand and accept that:

–       Ohio cyclists may ride on virtually EVERY non-freeway chunk of asphalt in Ohio – even the ones viewed by some as “dangerous.”

–       A cyclist riding lawfully on the roadway has EXACTLY THE SAME “right of way” as any other driver. Bigger vehicles don’t get bigger rights!

–       “Failure to Yield” to a cyclist’s right of way is one of the primary causes of car/bike crashes in Columbus, in Franklin County, in Ohio and in the U.S.

–       Ohio law allows cyclists to ride two abreast.  One rider may use the FULL LANE where needed for safe riding.

–       Passing at safe distance is critical.

Cyclists need to understand and accept that:

–       With the right to use the roads comes responsibility.  Cyclists must follow the rules of the road just as any vehicle operator must.

–       Traffic rules must be followed.  Stopping at red lights and stop signs is mandatory and an effective way to demonstrate that you ARE “traffic” and not simply playing in traffic.

–       Riding visibly, and predictably, is better for riders AND motorists.

Millions of Ohio bicycle riders will safely ride tens of millions of miles this year.  With gas prices over $4.00/gallon and rising, we will see more utilitarian riders to go along with the commuters, recreational riders, mom & dads, fitness buffs, racers and kids on the roads.

To quote Sgt. Phil Esterhaus: “Let’s Be Careful Out There.

Printed from: https://ohiobikelawyer.com/bike-law-101/2011/04/1048/ .
© 2024.


  • JAT in Seattle says:

    That’s an awesome essay, but it’s twice the Columbus Dispatch’s word limit. I hope you’re emotionally ready for merciless editing; I don’t think I am…

  • Nice post. It makes all the right points.

  • Steve Magas says:

    Thanks John… we’ll see how much of it makes it to the newspaper!
    Steve Magas

  • khal spencer says:

    Nice job, Steve. Thank you.

  • Ed says:

    steve — thanks, great piece. i hope they run it.
    for what it’s worth: i would have left out the “humongo…” part for general audiences.

    The gas tax / not paying a fair-share thing really bugs me;
    It varies depending on exactly what funding sources are used but the story is always the same — general funds (some mixture of income taxes, sales taxes, or property taxes) inevitably get used to build and maintain roads


  • Herman says:

    Nice summary, Steve.

    One comment, though. I think the last sentence in your introductory paragraph is missing a word. Should it not be, ‘The trial recently ended in a mistrial as jurors could notreach a unanimous verdict’?

  • Todd Duren says:

    Great post. I commute by bike and find most motorists courteous and safe. But the ones who aren’t are not just annoying, but dangerous. I once had a guy in a huge SUV lay on the horn behind me as I pedaled at top speed over an interstate overpass in the right lane. I looked back on the second honk to see the guy waving me toward the right. There was no shoulder and no sidewalk. Where did he expect me to go? Oh, and the left lane, the PASSING lane, was wide open. Apparently he couldn’t be bothered to use it. Keep explaining the law to the dangerous drivers out there who don’t get it.

  • Khal Spencer says:

    With the increasing marketing of hybrid and fully electric cars (Leaf, Volt) the discussion of “who pays” will broaden, since vehicle miles driven per gallon will potentially soar (of course lightweight cars don’t do as much to wear out roads as Shopping-Utility Vehicles).

    I’m looking forward to the discussion because it will finally open up the question of making highway funding so heavily contingent on the use of fossil fuels while trying to cut our dependence on fossil fuels. Especially given Congress’ unwillingness to raise the fuel tax while watching bridges fall down.

  • Kevin Tice says:

    Great article. Although I’m sure the “biking isn’t safe” crowd will exploit the fact that Ken Kifer was tragically killed by a drunk driver while riding his bike in 2003.

  • Steve Magas says:

    THANKS Herman, got it fixed!

  • Steve Magas says:

    I added a lot to the blog post. The Dispatch ran the abbreviated, unannotated version this morning!

  • Koninda says:

    A great article. Thanks for posting it. I have a couple of thoughts, which I will pass on, in case they are of some use to someone. In talking about who pays for the roads, in addition to the great points that you made, I think it is worth mentioning the high percentage of road building and maintenance funds that come from sources unrelated to car driving. I don’t remember where I first read the figures of 35-70%, and the percentages vary by calculation method, state and road type, but I was amazed to find that I was paying for the roads when I bought a loaf of bread or a movie ticket. Most car advocates don’t know the figures.

    In answering the question, “Are Cyclists Driving Recklessly?”, any time bike advocates respond with a simple “No”, we lose credibility. Most drivers will say to themselves that they see reckless cyclists every day. I certainly see insane bike maneuvers whenever I bike to the university. Perhaps we can collectively come up with a better answer. My current response, which I think could be improved, is along these lines: “Yes, there are some crazy bike riders out there, just as there are crazy drivers of other kinds of vehicles. All of them need to be ticketed and/or educated. But the regrettable, and highly visible irresponsible cyclists distort the picture of traffic safety.” And from there, I use similar words and statistics about car accidents and deaths.

    A final area where I think our advocacy can be a bit more effective is on the question of licensing bicycle drivers. I think it is counterproductive to take a strong stand against this, when talking to an audience that is predominantly car drivers and/or hostile. I tend to say something along the lines of, “I would have no objections to a practical and effective license system for bike riders.” Designing such a system would be very difficult, and almost certainly a money-losing proposition for the government. Therefore, it is unlikely to happen. So I see only disadvantages to fighting that battle in the average discussion.

    Thanks again.

  • peter says:

    No “wear your helmet and make sure you use lights” comments?

  • David says:

    Excellent article. Very enlightening and well written. Thank you for taking the time to do this.

  • Steve Magas says:

    @ peter – I think you should wear your helmet and use lights… The article is about rising tensions, though. I do NOT think the government should tell us what kind of hat to wear – no mandatory helmet laws for me, thankyouverymuch. However, I do wear one all the time, and have a collection of cracked helmets in my office from cases – each represents a living, breathing, non-brain-damaged client.

    I use lights on my motorcycle – lots – for daytime and nighttime conspicuity. “I Didn’t See You” is an all too common refrain after the fact. To me, the easier I am to be seen, the more likely I’ll be seen… then the motorist has the ability to gauge whether or not to try to interrupt my right of way…

  • Khal Spencer says:

    Helmets and visibility are no-brainers. Its only when we take them out of context and assume they are ends in themselves that we get goofy about safety. Helmets and visibility are means to an end.

  • Thomas Kohn says:

    Superbly argued post, Steve. Thanks for providing the original in parallel to the Dispatch publication. I’ve tracked to your post from my blog.
    Tom Kohn
    Dayton OH

  • Steve Magas says:

    @Tom – Thanks for the note! Definitely interesting issues – I’m getting some + & – responses from motorists as well.

  • Nick Pedicini says:

    You can drive on any road or stand on just about any street corner on any day and count automobile violations by the dozens – speeding, running a red (changing) light; illegal turns, illegal passing. Add to that the dozens of unsafe acts – cell phone calls, textig, cut offs, blind lane changes, sliding across three lanes of traffic to make a left turn. Hang out near any DUI checkpoint and watch them haul driving drunkards in by the van full. And these jokers see one biker slow-slide through a deserted stop-sign intersection and it’s open seaon on all bikers because they are arrogant and unsafe. Don’t think so.

  • Steve Magas says:

    @Nick – very well said – the Distraction issue is huge to me. When I ride the motorcycle downtown on our outerbelt I am shocked at how many “drivers” are doing so much other stuff than “driving” – coffee – make-up – smartphones – emails – faxes – newspapers – maps – food – yelling at kids in the back. “Perception/reaction” time is dramatically effected when there is NO perception of danger because you have, in essence, put on a blindfold…

  • David Smith says:

    “As far as I have been able to determine unlicensed cyclists killed ZERO people last year.”

    Velda K. Mapelli was hit and killed by a bicyclist last April. The Renton City Mayor went for a walk on the trail the next week and was hit by a bicyclist. But, bike advocates prefer reporting crashes that involve motorists, so it takes some research to find these crashes.


  • Steve Magas says:

    @David – I saw this story. Hadn’t seen it before. It’s a horrible story which re-affirms what I have preached for years
    – Bike trails are more dangerous than roads…
    – Cyclists who want to go fast shouldn’t be on bike trails…

    This was a horrible thing – cyclist hits and kills an 83 year old lady. As a bike advocate, stories like this sicken me. However, the fact that we have to scour around to find them is pretty good evidence that they are rare – unilke the 32,788 people who were killed in car crashes during last year – a year touted as the BEST since 1949 for traffic fatalities… In Ohio last year, 2+ people died every day and 500,000 people were in 300,000 crashes… in Ohio…. last year…


  • Thanks for an excellent article. I’m in agreement with almost everything you say. I only take issue with the statement that bikes should stop at every stop sign. I believe every state should follow Idaho’s lead and make stop signs require cyclists to behave the way all vehicles treat a yield sign.

    A bike is most vulnerable when stopping and starting. That’s when we wobble and are more challenged to control the device. By maintaining momentum and maneuverability, the bike is actually safer.

    Stop signs originated in 1915 to control motorized traffic. Bicycles have been around since 1866. Ever watch a movie of busy bike traffic in China? Streets clogged with bikes. No stop signs or traffic lights. No cops. No accidents or injuries. Bicycles are inherently safer than cars.

  • Steve Magas says:

    Thanks for the note. I don’t disagree that, as a concept, the “slow but don’t stop” approach is workable for many cyclists. However, the fact is that the law says Stop – for whatever historical reasons. When we do an “Idaho Stop” and slide through instead of stopping, or when cyclists slide through traffic, run red lights or otherwise don’t follow the law, these acts are seen as the moral equivalent of thumbing our middle finger at the rest of the “Traffic” world – While I agree that, as a concept, it makes sense – it’s NOT the law in OH, or anywhere outside of Idaho at this point… although, I did read where AZ is considering making the change

  • Rj says:

    Hi Steve I’m not a cyclist but I live in an area of california where we have the same issue in the dry creek valley. I was asked for my college class to find an example of Invitational Rhetoric. Although you your self are in the cyclist community you wrote it very well not to push on one side or the other but through understanding we can all share the roads. Thanks for the great example!

  • Steve Magas says:

    Thanks… I tried to be realistic in that piece – cyclists have issues- we do stupid things which tick drivers off – we weave through traffic and run red lights – I don’t get this, but folks pretend they are riding on a trail with no rules rather than in a highly complex, dangerous roadway with very precise rules as to who has the “right of way” at any point in time…


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