Group hopes to reduce bike vs. car crashes

BEND — In Bend, more than 60 crashes involving injuries occurred between 2006 and 2008, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. Many took place at or near intersections and were the result of drivers or bicyclists who ignored the rules of the road. A new group hopes to "get all cyclists and motorists to play by the rules."

For local bicyclists, 2008 was a particularly bad year.

At least 21 cyclists were injured in collisions with vehicles on Bend's streets, and two others were killed, the highest number of bicycle-crash fatalities in any Oregon city last year, according to statistics recently released by ODOT.

Now, members of a group formed in response to those crashes say they believe they're making progress by reaching out to the community with training sessions, informational guides and the area's first-ever Bicycle Safety Week, held in late July.

They're trying to get the word out to both drivers and cyclists and giving special attention to adult cyclists, a group they say often understands the rules of the road but doesn't always follow them.

"We don't want to be a part of the statistics, and I think that's why we're advocating so hard to level the playing field, to get all cyclists and motorists to play by the rules," said Cheryl Howard, member of the Road User Safety Task Force, the group formed last year.

"We're so passionate because we don't want to see any more fatalities," said Howard, also the chairwoman of the Deschutes County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Though Bend had two of the seven fatal bicycle crashes in Oregon last year, it ranked below other cities in the number of injury bicycle crashes.

Of the state's 10 largest cities, Bend ranked fifth in the rate of crashes per capita, according to the ODOT data, which is compiled from reports from the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles. Corvallis and Eugene had the highest and second-highest crash rates, respectively, with Portland in third.

The number of injury crashes in Bend last year rose considerably from 2007, when the city had 16 crashes, but the 23 crashes recorded in 2008 were closer to the total in 2006, when there were 26 crashes with injuries. Bend had no fatal crashes in 2006 and one in 2007.

ODOT reports for the three-year period show crashes took place throughout the city.

A majority of the injury crashes, more than 40 of the 65 reported between 2006 and 2008, involved a driver or cyclist who failed to yield the right of way. More specific information about the accidents was not available.

In about a half-dozen crashes, one of the parties failed to stop for a stop sign or flashing red light, and about the same number involved a driver or cyclist disregarding a traffic signal. Other crashes were the result of drivers going too fast, following too closely or not paying attention, among other causes.

The data from ODOT includes all DMV-reported crashes between bicycles and vehicles on streets. It is limited to crashes that resulted in injuries or deaths.

Sgt. Chris Carney with the Bend Police Department said most of the crashes he sees take place at or near intersections, but they happen for a wide variety of reasons.

Carney said he believes some of the crashes could be linked in a way to the economic downturn and last year's high gas prices.

"When the gas prices hit $4 a gallon, I think we had a lot of people on the road, bringing bikes that were really old and not well-maintained," he said. "We kind of had a newer rider on the road that wasn't as proficient as before."

The biggest problem, Howard said, is cyclists who don't make their patterns clear, such as those who fly past stop signs, cross the street without warning or ride the wrong way up one-way streets.

Other local drivers and cyclists said they've seen their fair share of bad behavior, even from spandex-clad riders who would appear to have spent plenty of time on the road.

"I've seen a lot of people not following the rules, even those who look like they should know better," said Connie Miller, 38, of Bend.

With his department's resources stretched thin by citywide budget cuts, Carney said patrol officers don't always have time to make cycling enforcement a priority, but they try to stop and talk to cyclists and drivers whenever they can.

"Our goal is just to change the mindset and the behavior that can lead to those crashes that gets somebody hurt," he said.

Carney said high-profile crashes like last year's two fatalities don't typically prompt a sudden crackdown on cyclists, but he said they have raised awareness about the importance of safety on the road.

The advocates said they're hoping that more cyclists on the roads and more people talking about cycling safety will help cut down on the number of accidents, but believe it will take some time.

This year, Bend has already had more than a dozen bicycle crashes, including one last month that resulted in the death of a man riding a motorized bicycle on O.B. Riley Road, according to a report from the Bend Police Department.

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