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Sharing road safely with bicyclists at JBLM

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - The rain has abated and the sun makes longer daily appearances, along with this and the seemingly ever-increasing gas prices, many people have taken up the use of bicycles. The cyclist will face many obstacles in and around the post including everything from obstructions in the roadway to impatient motorists.

Washington state and Joint Base Lewis-McChord have rules that bicyclist must follow for the safety of motorist and bicyclist alike. A cyclist must adhere to all state traffic laws that govern motor vehicles for the state the base is located in according to Army Regulation 190-5.

Some may believe that slow moving cyclist should stay out of the way of motorist however there are some options that aren't available.

"It is illegal to ride a bicycle with tires larger than 16 inches in diameter on the sidewalk, bicycles belong on the road or on a dedicated bike path," said Christian M. Owens, crime prevention manager, Directorate of Emergency Services.

Owens stated that cyclists on JBLM have to wear a helmet and should be readily visible, wearing bright colored clothing or a reflector belt for their safety. Cyclists should obey all traffic signs, lane markings and use hand signals to communicate with motorist. Bikes should have a rear reflector and a front headlight for driving a night.

"It really is all about safety," Owens said.

John Greer, maintenance inspector, Department of Public Works, who makes a daily eight-mile commute to work worries most about drivers being aware of their surroundings.

"My main concern during commutes is expecting drivers to not see me and being prepared to react accordingly," said Greer. "Bright and contrasting clothing and lights help, but don't guarantee it."

"We follow the rules of the road so drivers know what to expect of us, when they do see us," Greer said. "The use of hand signals is very beneficial, but I've seen drivers completely ignore my signals and cut me off. We're always playing defense because we don't have a metal shell around us for protection."

Without the safety features of an airbag or the benefits of seatbelts the rider only has a helmet and their wits to protect them.

"As a bicyclist you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times and predict what drivers may do," Greer said.

Greer suggests that if motorists would ride a bike for a little while they could see firsthand the dangers that a cyclist faces and could possibly change driving habits for the better.

Owens stated that a good way to ensure safety is to "adopt a strategy of using roads with less traffic on them."

While it is everyone's responsibility to stay safe and be aware of their surroundings, with the increased outdoor activities during the summertime Owens has some tips for motorist.

"Share the road," Owens said. "Motorists during the summer time tend to be in more of a hurry, I guess nobody knows how long the sunlight is going to last."

One example of a tragedy demonstrating the need for vigilant awareness is when Chief Warrant Officer 5 Paul Stewart, I Corps, was struck from behind by a sport-utility vehicle while riding his bicycle Feb. 4. Stewart was riding in a community just outside JBLM. Stewart was wearing the proper protective equipment, yet he succumbed to the injuries he received during the accident, according to the Olympian.

"Motor vehicle operation is not a right," Owens said. "The privilege of operating a motor vehicle means that we are accepting an agreement that we are going to pay attention and accept the rules of the road. These rules include being safe, slowing down in neighborhoods, watching out for other motorist, bicyclist, even rollerbladers and pedestrians."

Greer said he rides his bike nearly year-round, rain or shine, for reasons that include staying fit, saving money and enjoying the outdoors. He challenges others to try riding for a little while and receiving the same benefits and experiences. He also asks motorist to put themselves in his shoes when they see a cyclist on the road.

"I'm trying to do the same thing you are get to work and get home in one piece; have a little patience," Greer said.

"Be aware that cyclists are out there and be patient; give us a little room when we need it," Greer said. "I'm not there to hog the road, I don't want to slow anybody down. I just want to ride and be safe about it. Some drivers get upset with it [a cyclist in the middle of the road] but I'm willing to bet they've never been forced off the road and into a ditch either."

Photo: John Greer a longtime bicycle commuter exits DuPont Gate during his daily eight-mile ride home, June 15. Greer says that he adheres to all the safety standards and rules for cycling on JBLM where he works as a maintenance inspector. He does this to stay safe and enjoy his ride.

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