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Cyclists push for safer roads for all

Published: 
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Rigtech Sonics Cycling Club head coach Terence Chapman, right, inspects the tyre of National Juvenile Road Race and Time Trial champion Tyler Cole, 14, before a training ride. PHOTO: CORI BAYNES

On the nation’s roads, an unofficial “bullying” system exists. Trucks and other large vehicles are the most feared and many times force the lighter cars and vans to “give way” regardless to who has the right of way.  Fast cars traverse the highways at near-frightening speeds, weaving in and out, most of the time not waiting for the slower movers to scramble into another lane.  Now, introduce the pedal cyclist, who also uses the road for a variety of reasons but unfortunately falls into the category of one of the most vulnerable of all road users. For years, this group has been fighting to gain an equal place on the black carpet but has so far got little or no respect from their mechanical counterparts. There have been increased calls for motorists to be more responsible, especially in light of numerous road traffic accidents involving cyclists, the latest being the death of Clinton Grant, who was killed while riding his bike in March. 

Grant was the head coach of the Arima based Bike Smith Cycling Club, and its members have since placed special emphasis on the safety of its riders. In a recent interview, Claire Orr, treasurer of the 37-member club, said safety is at the forefront when it meets every Sunday for its weekly training rides. “Our cyclists are required to have lights and other safety gear on at all times and the parents and other supporters follow them in their vehicles,” she explained, adding that the club often uses the busy Churchill Roosevelt Highway as part of its training route. 
Sometimes, cycling clubs pay the police to provide an escort for the riders, but Orr admitted that it is costly, and hers as well as many other clubs cannot afford the fee which can be as much as $2,000. 

Noting that the attitude of many motorists towards cyclists is poor, Orr added, “We cannot stress enough on how important it is to ride carefully. When we follow our cyclists in our vehicles, we put on our headlights and hazard lights and drive as close as we can behind the riders to give them extra protection.” “In general, cyclists need to be more aware on the road. Keep your eyes and ears open because more often than not if you don’t see danger coming you may be able to hear it.” Moving away from the east, the Rigtech Sonics Cycling Club in the South also faces similar challenges and echoes its eastern counterpart’s calls for motorists to have greater respect for cyclists. In addition to the general safety equipment that all cyclists must have, Rigtech Sonics takes a slightly different approach to road safety in that it doesn’t use the highways for road training unless absolutely necessary. “There are a few areas in deep south like Siparia and Erin where cyclists are respected, but generally, the attitude is unacceptable and we have trouble sharing the road with drivers,” said Rigtech vice president Roger Frontin. 

“We avoid the busier roads and our rides are planned using the roads that are not as busy. We try to avoid the highway and encourage our riders to stay off the highway as much as possible,” he said, noting that cyclists were not permitted to use the Solomon Hochoy Highway. He encouraged cyclists to use hand signals, ride single-file when the road is narrow and two abreast when it is wider, but never against the flow of traffic. “Cyclists have to be especially wary of doors, side streets and driveways because it is obvious that drivers don’t realise that bicycles can travel as fast as 20 miles per hour.” Frontin, however, frowned upon the use of music players, headsets or anything that can compromise a cyclist’s focus.  “There has to be a greater awareness among motorists because we are also road users. Drivers need to check their mirrors because bikes don’t make a sound. We have to ride as if we are not being seen and exercise the necessary precautions.”

Over the years, the road safety organisation Arrive Alive has kept a close eye on the number and frequency of accidents on the nation’s roads.  On its web site at www.arrivealivett.com, it states that from the year 2006 to December 31, 2013, 37 pedal cyclists have been killed in road traffic accidents. Arrive Alive acting president Sharon Inglefield has called for the traffic laws to be revamped and errant drivers to be penalised via mail.  She said cyclists riding too close to car doors and motorists indiscriminately swerving to avoid potholes are two common causes of cyclist accidents.  “There are many causes of road fatality and we as motorists need to make eye contact (with the cyclist) because we do not make enough eye contact,” she said. The T&T Cycling Federation is of the opinion that both cyclists and motorists need to understand their roles on the road. “We have found that motorists have been very hostile towards cyclists on the road,” Federation president Rowena Williams said.  “They are not seeing them as important and it’s very discourteous treatment being meted out by motorists.”

She continued however that cyclists also have to shoulder some of the blame for not adhering all the time to the traffic regulations. “I think that it is important that both cyclists and motorists understand their roles on the road, and even though cyclists have the right to use the road, they have certain guidelines to follow,” she explained. “They should make sure that they don’t get in the pathway of the cars to cause danger to themselves or the motorist.” She continued, “I think they should also be aware of the side of the road on which they are riding, make sure that they have the relevant reflectors on, things that would be easily seen and noticed and they stay on the side of the road that they should be and not just ride and forget that there are cars on the road.”
“For the motorists I would ask them to use due diligence, use their mirrors and be aware of their surroundings, be aware of who’s on the road and pay attention and of course slow it on the roads.”
Weighing in on the topic, Transport Commissioner Ruben Cato said that while there are no specific set of rules governing pedal cyclists in the Road Traffic Act, they, as well as motor vehicles (motor cycles, cars, trucks, animals, pedestrians etc) are considered to be traffic on the road and must adhere to the laws of the land. 

Cato stated however that except in cases where written permission is granted from the Commissioner of Police, resulting in police escorts for the riders, no pedal cyclist is to use the nation’s highways. He said in the past, signs had been erected along the Solomon Hochoy Highway prohibiting bicycles, animals and pedestrians from using the highway, but admitted that he could not remember when last he saw any such sign in recent times. “Cyclists are not supposed to use the Solomon Hochoy, the Churchill Roosevelt, the Uriah Butler or any of the nation’s highways unless they get permission from the Commissioner of Police.” Even though they are allowed to ride two abreast on the roads, Cato advised that it is safer to ride in single file and urged cyclists to familiarise themselves with the traffic laws and wear bright colours if they are riding early in the morning or late at night.  The bicycles, he said, should be outfitted with a red light to the rear and a white light to the front. “Data shows that pedestrians and cyclists are the most vulnerable group of road users so take all the necessary and extra precautions on the road.” Cato also issued the same advice to motorists to obey the traffic laws.  “Look out for all the road users including cyclists and exercise caution generally and more so when approaching cyclist traffic,” he ended.

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