It’s a battle between two groups that has been waged since the early part of the 20th century.
If they were gangs they would be the Fearsome Fours vs. the Terrible Twos and their battleground is the streets of Akron and Summit County where the fight takes place every single day.
Cars may rule the roads, but bicycles are an increasingly common sight on the streets. Both clans seem to want the other to get out of their respective way, while Akron officials would like for everyone to just get along.
During the past decade or so, the city has worked with bicycle advocates and groups such as the University of Akron-sponsored How We Roll Akron to make Akron more accommodating to cyclists. According to the Akron Metropolitan Transportation Study, there are 13 miles of off-road trails in the city, nearly 10 miles of conventional bike lanes and nearly 13 miles of shared lanes. Despite the fact many motorists own bikes and many cyclists own cars, the groups often antagonize each other.
Doug Charnock, a sales manager at Century Cycles in Peninsula, is a 20-year two-wheeler. He said as more folks realize the benefits of commuting by bike — which include less air pollution, good aerobic exercise and no blaring, window-rattling stereo — he expects the number of commuting cyclists to grow, necessitating a great need for the two groups to get along.
But Charnock says that’s not happening, yet.
“I personally see as we get more and more cyclists, we’re getting more and more aggravation from drivers …,” Charnock said, adding that when he follows the rules of the road, cars are usually more friendly to him.
A Peninsula resident, Charnock said he does most of his street riding in the Cuyahoga Valley area where many motorists are also cyclists, generating a bit of detente between the two gangs.
But for some drivers, it’s when two-wheeler operators want to have their commuting cake and eat it too that spark flurries of four-letter words.
“I have no problem with cyclists if they follow the rules,” Robert Godward said while enjoying a beer with a few of his buddies at the Lockview in downtown Akron. Godward lives in Cuyahoga Falls and drives to work at Apteryx in downtown Akron every weekday. “They can act like a pedestrian or they can act like a vehicle. You don’t get to switch back and forth as you see fit.
“That’s when I have a problem,” he said, adding he’s indulged a few fantasies about moving cyclists out of his way with his car.
Godward’s drinking buddy Nathan Hamlet lives in Kent and had been driving to his job at a grocery store in Cuyahoga Falls. But since the weather has gotten warmer, he’s been commuting by bicycle and says he sees the problem from both sides.
“People generally get mad when we’re on the road, but I have to say I get mad at other cyclists because I see them do some ignorant [stuff],” Hamlet said. “And I think if you want to be treated as a respected vehicle on the road, you have to stick to the rules: Don’t pull in front of people, use your signals and wear a [freakin’] helmet.”
By our informal, quite unscientific and slightly beer-fueled poll, the “rules of the road” seem to be a major sticking point between the four-wheelers and the two-wheelers.
Mike Jones of Akron is an avid cyclist who rides the streets of Akron for work and area trails for fun. He said he often encounters angry motorists.
“They don’t see us. …,” he said. “I have had a lot of people yell out of their car at me ‘Why aren’t you on the sidewalk where you’re supposed to be?’ Well, it’s called a sidewalk, it’s in the name.
Jones said he was hit by a car turning into a business the last time he forsook the hallowed rules of the road and rode on the sidewalk.
Some motorists accuse cyclists of projecting an arrogance that is both surprising and frustrating.
They say cyclists’ actions and attitudes seem to ignore the simple law of physics that states when a multi-ton metal force meets a highly moveable, lightweight object, the heavier object usually wins.
Until both sides learn to play by the same rules, the ongoing commuter wars will keep Akron from achieving the blissful nirvana found in cities such as Portland, Ore., voted America’s best bike city by Bicycling Magazine. According to lore, Portland cyclists and motorists are often seen holding hands, singing This Road Is Our Road together while admiring each other’s hipster beards and ironic tattoo sleeves while sitting at stoplights.
Perhaps for the near future, the best Akron’s warring gangs can aspire to is turning those one-finger salutes into friendly waves and transforming angry verbal torrents of insults and threats into crystal clear creeks of encouraging words, affirmations and mutual respect.
But probably not.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at www.ohio.com/blogs/sound-check, like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml or follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.