Cyclist fatality raises concerns over bike safety, enforcement


Posted on April 16, 2014 at 10:19 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 16 at 10:21 PM

Jaclyn Kelley / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @jkelleyWWL

NEW ORLEANS -- Biking continues to get more popular here in the city, but last week's car crash that killed an Ironman competitor raises concerns about whether drivers and bicyclists know the rules.

New Orleans ranks at the top when it comes to the number of bike commuters hitting the pavement, but those in the local biking community says it's not always the most bike friendly.

"We pretty much have close calls weekly," said triathlon coach Kevin Pilet.

Every weekend, Pilet takes 30 to 40 cyclists out to train on Chef Highway. It is the same stretch of highway where an Atlanta firefighter was killed while cycling last week.

Pilet said that is why safety always comes first

"The right of way, no matter what, we try to give to the driver because we get killed," he said. "It doesn't matter who is right or wrong."

He said more often than not, drivers do not share the road. It is a frustration drivers also share.

"It is a road, it is a car path first," said Julie Tompkins, who drives a lot for work. "Sometimes I feel like the bikers think they own the road."

Although Chef Highway is not a designed bike route, Bike Easy Executive Director Naomi Doerner said bicyclists have every right to be on the road.

"Bikers are allow the same privileges as drivers on the road -- and they are privileges -- and we are to abide by the rules of the road," says Doerner.

That means bike riders have to ride on the right side of the road and not the sidewalk. Just like cars, cyclists must obey all traffic laws, such as stopping at stop signs and use turn signals.

State law also says motorists must give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing, if it is safe and legal to pass.

Still, drivers and cyclists are guilty of breaking these laws.

"The public, in general, needs to be educated about riding with traffic and the cars about sharing the lane," Pilet said.

Whether you drive or bike, everyone seems to agree there needs to be more road signs, more bike paths and better enforcement of the laws.

"Just as you would caution drivers to be safe on the road, you would caution bicyclist to be safe on the road," Doerner said. "These are safe activities as long as everyone is following the rules."

You can learn more about the rules of the road and what laws apply to motorists and cyclists by checking out the Louisiana Bike Guide or visiting the Office of Planning Commission.