COLUMBIA — Minutes before the start of a forum on Wednesday for motorists and cyclists at the Activity and Recreation Center, there was an accident between a cyclist and a vehicle outside the building. The cyclist was transported to the hospital.
The accident is the latest example of the problems that have arisen lately between motorists and cyclists. The forum, hosted by the Columbia Multisport Club, was an attempt to facilitate discussion and come up with solutions to bridge the growing divide between the two groups, which has come to the forefront this summer with the passage of the bicycle harassment ordinance in June. A mixture of about 100 motorists and cyclists attended.
A seven-member panel made up of cyclists and Police Department officials took questions and listened to stories from the audience. Club President Mackenzie Rickman said the meeting was not meant to be a one-sided conversation.
"This is not about cyclists preaching the law to motorists," Rickman said.
Several of the people in attendance said that they don't have a problem with cyclists who commute to work but take issue with those who ride busy streets for fun.
"I don't have a problem with cyclists at all," said Stan Sapp, who spoke at the meeting. "The problem I do have is with cyclists who use the highway for recreational purposes."
Maggie Johnston said she has to ride on roads when she trains for triathlons, even if she doesn't always feel safe.
"It's very scary for me to bike on a two-lane road," Johnston said. "It's a necessary evil."
Sapp took issue with the bicycle harassment ordinance, saying that motorists sometimes need to honk at cyclists who don't realize that a vehicle is near them.
Detective Jeff Westbrook, who was on the panel, said the part of the ordinance that prohibits honking at cyclists is often misinterpreted and that it only applies to motorists who intend to frighten cyclists.
Rickman said she doesn't mind when vehicles honk at her for safety reasons. She said the wind sometimes makes it difficult to hear nearby vehicles, and when motorists honk their horns it lets her know they're close.
Mary Bryant lives near Fairview and Chapel Hill roads and said that while her vehicle has never been hit by a cyclist, she's nearly been in accidents with fellow motorists in the area who were distracted by their cell phones.
"I've never had a problem, and I've been there three and a half years," Bryant said.
The meeting was less than orderly. At one point a woman began shouting at a motorist while he was speaking. But most people were able to air their views and concerns, and at the end of the meeting the woman who shouted apologized.
Robert Johnson, who works for the PedNet Coalition and was part of the panel, said he thought the meeting was productive, though he said he wished that more motorists had attended.
"I thought it was a good conversation," Johnson said after the meeting. "I thought there were some things clarified here, especially laws."