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Bike etiquette not road hog's only shortcoming

Monday, February 04, 2002

As David Hoffman was picking himself up from the Penn Avenue pavement Tuesday afternoon, the passenger in the car that had just run him down yelled, "That's what sidewalks are for!"

Nobody stopped to help Hoffman, 32, who had been knocked from his bicycle and had hit the pavement at 25 miles per hour. He removed his bike from the road and began assessing his injuries.

This shouldn't happen in a neighborhood called Friendship: An ugly cut above his right eye. A cut so deep on his right wrist he could watch the tendons slide underneath. A face and chest turned black and blue.

Friday afternoon, he still looked like he had crossed Mike Tyson. He was nonetheless planning to bike to work this morning on a spare bike he kept in the garage.

"Share the road" is not only the mantra of bicyclists, it is the law of the land. Yet the casual and criminal contempt shown by the rush-hour driver who nearly killed Hoffman is sadly unsurprising. There's something about a person on a bike that just drives some motorists nuts, even to the point of felony hit-and-run.

Pittsburgh is not a bike-friendly town. There are no bike lanes on the big streets. Throw in the fact that too many cyclists don't obey the rules of the road, and even a law-abiding guy like Hoffman becomes a target.

The afternoon he was injured, he had been riding behind a bus. When the bus pulled to the right to stop, he continued past, moving to the right to let everyone behind him pass. So why was he hit? The loudmouth's comment convinces him it was intentional.

Hoffman is a soft-spoken guy who moved here from the Silicon Valley in 1999, and has been biking to his Downtown job in computer software development for about eight months. Leaving his home in Highland Park at 5:30 a.m., he makes it in about 20 minutes, and the 11-mile round-trip keeps him fit. It's a welcome change from the two-hour auto commutes he left behind in California.

Or it would be were this not his second accident in four months. The first one occurred in October when a driver in East Liberty made an illegal left turn. Hoffman biked into a curb to avoid hitting the car and wound up flying 10 to 15 feet through the air. Another motorist chased the driver down and brought her back. But he let that go. There was no malice.

I suggested that, as both his accidents were in the afternoon, he might consider cycling Downtown and then busing home, using the bike racks on the front of some buses. He wasn't persuaded.

"I'm being a little stubborn because I think this is something I should be able to do," he said.

He's no cycling militant. He thinks the cyclists who cut off motorists are hurting his cause, and even conceded that bicycles should be banned on some streets. But he hopes that like-minded cyclists will join him for a concerted "share the road" campaign. He is working on a Web site, and can be reached at davidisaac@mac.com.

Maybe Hoffman just arrived a few years too soon. Mayor Tom Murphy plans a "green necklace" of bike paths to link major parks with Downtown. By the end of the summer, a path should run along the Allegheny River from Point State Park to 23rd Street in the Strip District. By next summer, it should stretch past 31st Street, and one day the trail should cross beneath Butler Street to enter Highland Park.

"If I could get to work without having to take a city street, that would be great," Hoffman said. "There would be less risk for me, less frustration for drivers."

Meantime, we have to share the road, like it or not. So if you happen to know the loudmouth in the late 1980s silver four-door General Motors sedan that ran down Hoffman, call a cop. The driver deserves at least 200 hours in a bike shop greasing chains.

Brian O'Neill's e-mail address is boneill@post-gazette.com.

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