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Orlando Sentinel: Tensions grow between bicyclists, motorists on Lake County roads

Orlando Sentinel

By Dan Tracy

Photo May 09, 8 21 07 AM*Animosity appears to be growing between thousands of motorists and hundreds of bike riders who take to the hilly country roads of south Lake County each weekend.

Recent Facebook postings encouraging motorists to be rude to riders and some close calls between cars and bikes have cyclists worried that their favorite place to ride in Central Florida is becoming dangerous.

“It gets pretty tense sometimes. There’s definitely an issue at hand,” said Brett Schaefer, who rides daily in the area and owns South Lake Bike and Tri in Minneola.

The problem, Schaefer said, is really pretty simple: There just is not enough road for a growing number of cyclists and motorists. Many of the roads in Lake County are two lanes and, at least in the past, not that heavily traveled, making them attractive to cyclists.

But now cars and trucks more and more frequently pass too close to bikers, Schaefer said, and cross words and gestures between two- and four-wheelers are not uncommon.

Within the past two weeks, he said, a school bus passed within inches of him while on his bike, practically forcing him off the road.

A Facebook page, Clermont/Minneola Community Awareness, recently had a long post about ways to intimidate cyclists, including throwing tacks on the road. One poster suggested — jokingly, he later stated — about driving into bikers.

“If you hit a whole pack that’s double points,” he wrote.

In another post, he wrote, “let them bastards fly over your hood for not following stop signs. I bet they don’t run it anymore.”

Cyclist Shannon Hildalgo of Montverde said she can almost feel the tension in the air, particularly as new subdivisions sprout in Lake County and attract more traffic, while cities such as Clermont actively court bike riders to move to and train in the region.

“The aggression and frustration has grown,” she said, adding that she heard four or five bicyclists rode over tacks recently, causing their tires to go flat.

Clermont police Chief Charles Broadway downplayed the Facebook chatter and said no cyclists have contacted his office about belligerent motorists or drivers throwing tacks onto the road.

“We can’t believe everything on social media,” he said. “But this is something we will monitor so it doesn’t happen.”

Clermont spokeswoman Doris Bloodsworth said the city prides itself on a welcoming attitude toward bikers and holds many races and triathlons where participants swim, cycle and ride, often at the city’s signature lakefront park.

“We really do want to be known not only as bike-friendly, but also for bike safety,” she said.

Clermont City Council member Diane Travis is one of those who often takes to the road as a runner and bicyclist. Last month, she won the age 60-64 age bracket national championship in St. Paul, Minn., for duathlons in which contestants ride and run.

Unlike places such as St. Paul — which has a history of accommodating cyclists — Travis said the culture in Lake County does not readily lend itself to all motorists willingly sharing the road with bikes. This occurs despite the fact that cyclists by law are allowed to take a lane.

In fact, when drivers pass a bike, they are supposed to leave at least a 3-foot cushion between the car and cyclist.

She suggested that both motorists and bikers need to learn how to safely be on the same road at the same time.

“It’s constant education we have to do,” Travis said.

Hildalgo concedes cyclists are not blameless. They tend to roll through traffic stops and ride in large packs that can take up the entire lane, sometimes making it difficult for trailing motorists to pass.

“Be mindful of traffic,” she said.

dltracy@tribune.com or 407-420-5444

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