The fragile relationship between car drivers and bikers in Atlanta has been well documented over the years. But last year, it was clear the city needed help managing those relationships.
Last October, the city appointed its first chief bicycle officer, Becky Katz who is charged with overseeing all things cycling related in the city. A few months later, community outcry killed a proposal from the Georgia Department of Transportation to add bike lanes on a stretch of Peachtree Road in Buckhead .
Just last month, a biker got a fire extinguisher spray to the face from a truck driver in Coweta County proving that the battle extends beyond city borders. The biker didn't pursue any action against the driver (it would be hard to see a plate number when your eyes are burning) but another biker recently had a sweet victory in court against a car driver.
This month, a local biker received a $292,500 settlement when his bike was hit by a car in Dahlonega, Georgia. The 50-year-old male cyclist was touring the North Georgia Mountains when a motorist traveling on a county road in Lumpkin County attempted a left turn. The collision sent the bike rider airborne, shattering his ankle on impact.
Before the collision, the man had been an active cyclist who biked a hundred miles a week. The incident sidelined him for many months as he underwent extensive surgery and rehabilitation.
“With the increased popularity of cycling, especially in the north Georgia region, drivers and cyclists alike must be more vigilant to keep these tragedies for occurring," said Steven Leibel, attorney and founder of Leibel Law which negotiated the settlement.
"Obviously a car wins in any collision with a bicycle. We really don’t teach motorists how to interact with cyclists in our driving program," Leibel said.
The law is very clear that cyclists and drivers are equals and must abide by the rules of the road. But in practice, that can be difficult. Drivers are not always aware of road rules or very accepting of the fact that in some cases, cyclists have the right of way.
Cyclists, said Liebel, also need to remember to be respectful to motorists, just as if they are driving a car. "They have to yield at intersections and stop at stop signs," Leibel said.
Reckless driving (or cycling) should always be reported, and if the situation becomes physical, it may warrant civil action.
Leibel says bike riders should always check with their insurance agent to make sure they have adequate coverage for biking incidents. And they should never assume they are safer when riding on wide open country roads instead of congested city streets.
"Lots of accidents where people get hurt happen when they are cycling in the mountains," he said. "This isn’t just a city issue, it is a state issue."