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Cyclists Demand Tougher Penalties for Assaults by Motorists

March 31, 2002
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Cyclists Demand Tougher Penalties for Assaults by Motorists

Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) - Urban bicyclists are demanding stiffer penalties against motorists they accuse of hogging the road.

For example, the Rev. David Tinney of Issaquah fell while biking last Monday when a passing motorist leaned out the window and punched him in the back.

Witnesses reported the car's license number to police, and detectives tracked down a 17-year-old passenger they believe was responsible.

The King County prosecutor's office has received more than 50 calls from people demanding the teen-ager be tried as an adult.

"That's an unusual number of phone calls," prosecutor's office spokesman Dan Donohoe said.

Charges are likely to be filed this week.

Tinney is recovering from a broken shoulder, punctured lung, five broken ribs and a broken elbow that required surgery.

According to many cyclists, most cases involving harassment of cyclists go unreported.

Tinney's case has sparked outrage among area cyclists and others who say drivers who don't like sharing the road with bicycles often don't realize cyclists have a legal right to be there.

In 2000, 690 people died in bicycle-motor vehicle crashes, according to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, run by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. Eleven were in Washington state.

Though bicyclists have to follow the same rules as car drivers, including using appropriate signals when turning, Bellevue police spokeswoman Marcia Harnden said bikes have as much a right to be on the road as cars do.

It's often a challenge to pedal the narrow path between asserting that right and antagonizing drivers, said Federal Way resident T.J. Graham, who rides to Bellevue each day for work at Gregg's Bicycles.

"People get pretty irate at cyclists," Graham said. "I try not to cause any more discourse, not to retaliate and not make them any madder. They like to come up beside you and yell, trying to frighten you."

The trick, cyclists say, is to take a safe-sized slice of the road lane, try not to ride too close to the curb, be courteous, and if several cars are lined up, pull over and let them pass.

Steve Hoover, an officer on the Bellevue police bicycle patrol, believes problems are rare.

Still he recalls the time he was out of uniform biking with a group in Snoqualmie Valley when a truck driver picked him out of the pack and began swearing and inching his pickup closer. The driver eventually sped away.

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