MURPHY: Bicyclists: Respect the road

Spring is in the air. Baseball, warm weather and jean skirts (I love wearing jean skirts) are all emerging from hibernation. In a few weeks, we’ll be in full spring mode.

There aren’t a lot of things to dislike about spring. As Midwesterners, we only get to experience it for about three months of the year, so naturally everyone seems happier and livelier.

But the surfacing of spring also brings another thing out of hiding: bicyclists.

I’m not talking about chopper gangs and I’m not talking about kids riding on the sidewalk with their parents chasing after them. I’m talking about road-hogging, spray-on-spandex wearing, two-speed riding, Lance Armstrong posers.

Don’t get me wrong, I respect the sport tremendously. It takes an incredible amount of strength and endurance to ride as fast and long as some of these people can, and for that I salute them.

The only thing is, when I’m driving down a one-lane street staring at some 40-year-old man’s butt for 10 minutes because he won’t let me pass, I get a little upset.

Drivers often have to play a game of chicken with oncoming traffic in order to pass these guys (or girls, although most of them lack the crotch bulge and the gut spillage that makes me sick).

I’m from the Chicago suburbs, so this is where most of my bicyclist run-ins occur. I always thought I had very short patience with bicyclists — pulling out my hair and pounding on my dashboard.

But it’s not just me who gets so frustrated. Apparently, some people take their frustration beyond the self-inflicted abuse level. On March 23, the Illinois Senate passed a bill that would prevent a driver from “crowding or threatening a bicyclist.” What’s crowding, you ask?

The bill defines crowding as “threatening a bicyclist when a person driving a motor vehicle recklessly drives the motor vehicle unnecessarily close to, toward or near a bicyclist.”

The bill goes on to say that throwing stuff at bicyclists is a misdemeanor and that any bodily harm or permanent disfigurement to a biker can result in a felony. Fair enough.

So this tells us two things: Some drivers are insane and some bicyclists are so obnoxious that they actually drive (pun not intended) people to try and kill them.

The problem exists here in Milwaukee as well. Milwaukee law states that bicyclists are to be given the same rights as motor vehicles — which means that they have to follow the same rules as well.

Milwaukee has tons of great bike paths that run along the lake — in fact, it was named one of the top 25 bicycle friendly cities. But many bicyclists don’t follow the rules. If you want to be treated like a car, act like a car.

Mike Moore, 54, lives in the Chicago suburbs but works in Milwaukee, so he experiences bicyclists in both areas.

“Have you seen any bicyclists pulled over for blowing through a stop sign lately?” Moore asked. “I know I almost hit one the other day. I had to stop short and I spilled my damn coffee all over my lap. I would have gone after the guy if I wasn’t running late to work.”

This ignorance to the law is what causes many bicycle accidents, according to the Rozek Law Office’s Web site.

“Bicyclists must obey the Wisconsin rules of the road,” the site states. “Oftentimes, bicyclists do not realize they are required to follow the rules just as a motor vehicle does.”

So it seems we have an “I don’t like you, you don’t like me,” situation between bicyclists and drivers, but there’s a solution.

Bicyclists: Stay off streets that do not have bike paths and obey traffic signals. Drivers: Stop threatening to kill bicyclists.

If we all do this then I think we might get along and I can have a good spring.