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Distracted driving a concern for bicyclists sharing the road

When Jim Clark hops on his bicycle to commute to work or go for a leisure ride, he doesn’t expect anyone to question why he is traveling down the road alongside cars and trucks.

“The road is for wheels,” he said. Clark isn’t alone on his opinion about cycling in and around Grand Forks.

Local cycling clubs and city officials are working to make biking in town a better experience — a concern among cyclists following the death Saturday of a bicyclist who was hit and killed by a motorist in Traill County, near Grandin, N.D.

For the most part, Clark said biking in Grand Forks doesn’t usually strike him as dangerous, but occasionally there are times when he must be an extra-defensive rider.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time I feel safe, I feel great and it’s fun,” Clark, who has been an avid cyclist for 10 years, said.  “But of course there’s the chance someone will be having a bad day and honk at us and start yelling at us, sometimes throw things at us.”

Dave Sears, a member of the Northern Star Cycling Club in Grand Forks, said this kind of behavior only increases the chances of accidents and said motorists need to understand the road is often the safest place for cyclists to ride.

“A bicycle is subject to the same laws as vehicles,” Sears said. “Riding a bike on a sidewalk is far more dangerous than riding on the street, as you’re crossing driveways and people don’t expect you to be there.”

According to Stephanie Erickson, a planner for the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization, motorists should expect to see more cyclists riding around town, as the MPO has seen an increase in bike traffic through a series of counter surveys.

To alleviate dangers to riders and drivers, the city is set to paint arrows with bike symbols, known as sharrows, on University Avenue between UND and downtown within the next two weeks.

“The sharrows should help the riders and the drivers to share the road and be kind since they both belong there,” Kim Greendahl, Greenway specialist for the city, said. The area, which sees the most bike traffic, will serve as a test for future sharrows in the city, Greendahl said.

Clark said the planned sharrows are necessary, and believes the area between Valley Dairy and Red Pepper is one of the most dangerous roads he bikes on in the city.

Even with sharrows, Sears said education is the best way to keep drivers and riders safe.

“The education that bikes need to be just as responsible as cars is big,” he said. “There’s a lot of distracted driving around town and it’s a problem for everyone, not just bikers.”