Recent cycling tragedy raises serious questions about roadway safety

CJ FILE PHOTO

Local recreational cyclists took to the Barnesburg Road in a club group ride back in 2007. In light of the recent cycling tragedy, local cyclists have expressed grave concerns about pet owners not restraining their pets from entering local roadways.

When people set out to walk, run or ride a bicycle, they hope that the activity will improve their health and not endanger their lives. But on Thursday evening, a local social bike ride turned into a deadly event for one of our local citizens - Lisa Evans.

Evans, 58, was killed last week when a dog darted into her path as she was cycling with friends on Estesburg Road in Eubank.

Somerset Cycling Club president Steven Toby, who has been part of and one of the more active leaders of the local recreational cycling club since 2008, stated that this was the only recreational cycling fatality that he is aware of in this area over the past 20 years.

"When you get in a car, on a motorcycle or on a bicycle; there is always that inherent risk of danger," Toby stated. "But is it more dangerous to get on a bicycle and ride, and in my experience 'no it hasn't been'. All the years that a lot of local people had ridden bicycles (as a means of recreation) in the Pulaski County area over the past 20 years, this is the first fatality that we have seen. And you can't say that in motor vehicles, because you hear of people getting hurt all the time in car wrecks. That is the nature of society."

"However, are there things that you can mitigate the risk when it comes to cycling," Toby stated. "Other than inattentive drivers - which are a danger to other motorists and pedestrians as well - dogs are up there as the most hazardous things we encounter. You don't go through a ride without at least encountering one dog."

But when dogs are allowed to run loose on public roadways, such as what happened in this tragic event on Thursday, cyclists are at a greater risk of danger. Many times cyclists can prepare for a dog encounter and avoid an accident. There have been many occasions, just in our local area, when a cyclist has collided with a dog, wrecked, and sustained serious bodily injuries.

"Most of the times we see them (dogs) coming, but in this case there was no warning, there was no sound made and the dog appeared on the scene from nowhere from the bushes," Toby warned. "And there was no time to react."

And while the local cyclists fear for their safety when it comes to dogs on the roadway, they are not dog or animal haters. In fact, most of the local cyclists have dogs as pets. But they know how critical it is, for the safety of their pets and others, how important is to keep them restrained and not allowing them to run freely on public roadways.

"Almost everyone in our riding club are dog people," Toby explained. "They have dogs and they are dog lovers, and we are not anti-dog. But if you own an animal, it is your responsibility to keep them away from the road for their own safety, as well as others using the road."

"I grew up on a farm back in the 80's and we didn't let our dogs go out and run on the roads back then," Toby explained. "As a dog owner, I felt that it is was my responsibility not to allow my dog in the road creating chaos."

But the law and the enforcement of the law of keeping pets off the roadways is not as clear as it may seem.

"We had a cyclist get mauled by a pit bull a couple of months ago, and there was zero accountability by the owner of that," Toby complained. "Typically, the bad actors in these instances tend to be certain people - and I hate to make a generalization - in society that don't care about other people. They only care about themselves."

"The way law enforcement is right now, and the way laws are written, unless you are willing to spend a lot of money to hold somebody liable, it is just not going to get followed up on and there is not going to be any consequence," Toby added. "And until there are consequences for bad actors, I don't think anything is going to change regardless of what laws are in affect."

Toby explained that the problem has nothing to do about the law of the enforcement, but is is more of a cultural perception.

"I am not talking bad about any law enforcement and (Pulaski County Sheriff) Greg Speck is a friend of mine, but I really feel it is a more a culture issue than a policing issue," Toby stated. "And until the culture changes, there is only so much the law enforcement can do."

"Our law enforcement does a great job in our community," Toby said. "I would like to see changes in the law in this matter, but I don't know how to make them change."

Longtime local cyclist Jeff Blevins collided with a dog on his bicycle back in April of 2011. Fortunately, Blevins survived the collision, but suffered several broken bones - including broken ribs, a broken pelvic bone, knee damage and extensive bruising all over his entire body.

Afterwards, Blevins found himself out thousands of dollars in medical expenses and the loss of his road bike. Despite contacting the animal's owner, after the accident, none of Blevin's accident expenses were paid for by the animal's owner.

"I raise cattle and if one of my cows (or another large farm animal) gets loose and is hit by a motor vehicle, I am responsible for those damages," Blevins explained. "However, if a person's pet causes an accident, the law seems to be much different."

In all of his years of cycling in the Pulaski County area, Blevins is all too aware of the dangers of dogs running in the roadways.

"I have ridden on almost every roadway in the local area, and I know where dogs tend be in each certain area of the county," Blevins explained. "When we go on group rides, the more experienced riders stay up front to keep a look out for these particular dogs, and they usually warn the other riders about areas where dogs could be present, and might enter the roadway. However, there are certain times dogs appear out of nowhere, and a cyclist has little or not time to react. "

Some communities help mitigate the dangers of cyclists, runners and walkers by creating public trails or pathways through the area. These paths - such as the Legacy Trail in Lexington, Ky. - are usually clear of any traffic or roaming animals, making it a much safer environment for recreational walkers, runners and cyclists.

And while Toby sees this as a much safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians, he is doubtful it will happen anytime soon in the local area.

"How did we build Highway 27 with six lanes and pedestrians don't have a sidewalk to walk on," Toby questioned. "How many times do you drive up and down '27' and see somebody walking on the shoulder of the road? How does that happen?"

"In the day and time of that construction project, codes were in place where you should have to account for pedestrians" Toby stated. "And that didn't happen. So if we can't get a decent network of sidewalks for pedestrians, then how are we going to hope for bike lanes, or multi-use trails?"

Toby sees this as more of a social economic issue rather than a need for recreational pathways.

"And I am not just talking about recreation bike lanes," Toby stated. "There is a delineation between a recreation cyclist and a person on a bike. And typically a person on a bike doesn't have the means to purchase or maintain a car. And for whatever reason, they find themselves relying on a bicycle for transportation. Those folks exist around Somerset in numbers and they are in the same position as pedestrians getting up and down 27."

"This is not a bike issue, but it is a socioeconomic issue," Toby warned. "This may be off topic from dogs on roadways, but it is relevant to the conversation. In my opinion, as a society and as a community, with all the things we have done with our roads in the last 20 years, we have really let people down - who are pedestrians and folks that really need to use these roads for cycling."

"I am not blaming the Department of Transportation for this, but there has to be a cultural change for it," Toby continued. "If we can get leaders on board with this, it would be far easier to make cultural changes."

STEVE CORNELIUS is the CJ Sports Editor and can be reached at sports@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CJSportseditor.

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