Two bicyclists have been killed during 2009 in the region:
- Dutch tourist Esther Hageman, 51, was killed while riding the Natchez Trace on her bike in April.
- Tupelo High School senior John Paul Frerer, 18, was killed Aug. 13 while riding from Tupelo to Oxford on Mississippi Highway 6.
Both people were experienced cyclists, Frerer a competitive athlete.
Those tragic deaths have heightened awareness and sensitivity to the issues of roads shared by cyclists and motorists.
Tupelo has an active and growing bicycle culture. The Tupelo Bike Club is among the organizations whose members regularly ride together and who keep up with bike-related issues and events in the region. Many of those bikers are justifiably concerned about the recent fatalities, especially Frerer, a widely-known young participant thought of as a disciplined and determined rider.
Libby Thomas at the University of North Carolina Safety Research Center said cyclists should know and follow traffic flow, obeying the same laws and rules as cars and trucks. Motorists should know where cyclists are and treat them like cars, yielding rights of way and giving full clearance coming toward them and legally passing them - in the opposite lane. The awareness issues become increasingly critical in full-speed highway traffic and city streets without bicycle lanes, a virtually unknown road feature in Northeast Mississippi.
Many cyclists also ride regularly on country roads, which usually are less congested, but which require the same level of diligence and attention from the riders and motorists.
An initiative to build more biking lanes is certainly a good long-term goal, and passing a three-foot law requiring that minimal distance between vehicles and cyclists when motorists pass them on the side is sensible and easily obeyed under every legal driving scenario. If it's not possible to do that, don't pass.
Frerer's family has started a special fund in his memory to promote bicycle safety in Mississippi, a fitting tribute that can have long-term benefit. Information about making contributions is available by calling Barry Walker at (662) 841-0629.
While automobiles are today's dominant mode, bicycling as a reliable means of transportation and recreation is far older.
Roads are public facilities, and cyclists are entitled to use them unless otherwise prohibited under specific circumstances. Drive and ride defensively, and lives will be saved.