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Cyclists, motorists: Share the road
Message should be heeded by all to avoid tragedy, keep travel safe
Erin Williamson is an avid cyclist who urges motorists and bicycle riders alike to observe traffic rules and common courtesy on the roads.

How to help

A trust fund has been set up for T.J. Pattillo's children at Community Bank & Trust. If you can help, please contact Jessica Siskey at 770-287-3900.

Georgia bicycle safety laws: From the Governor's Office of Highway Safety

Fall came early Sept. 4. On that crisp Saturday morning, I was up before sunrise in Gainesville, loading up gear for a bike ride.

Two friends from Birmingham had come to town for the holiday weekend, wanting to ride some of the mountain roads before Dahlonega's Six Gap Century and Three Gap Fifty bike ride at the end of the month.

It couldn't have been a more perfect day for a ride - crisp, cool air, deep blue skies and the soft golden light that appears in the mornings and evenings for a brief time each year.

Dozens of other cyclists dotted the mountain roads with color that morning, challenging themselves on roads loved by locals for years and made more famous by the professional cyclists who rode the same routes during the Tour de Georgia.

Others set out for rides closer to home.

I didn't know T.J. Pattillo, a cyclist and young father who was killed that same morning when a car hit him and a friend from behind as they were riding on Sloan Mill Road in Flowery Branch. By all accounts he was a wonderful man whose life was cut short in a tragic accident.

Thankfully, fatal cycling accidents that involve cars don't happen very often around here. But when they do, it causes those of us who ride to pause and realize that along with the feeling of freedom that cycling brings comes a certain amount of danger.

Some will say that cyclists have no place on roads, despite the fact that under Georgia law bikes are considered vehicles and that there are very few bike lanes in the area. There's plenty of room for all of us, especially if we use some common sense, awareness and a lesson our parents thought they taught us — respect for others.

The "Share the Road" message on road signs and license plates goes both ways.

For cyclists, it means obeying traffic laws and riding single file so cars have the ability to pass as soon as it's safe to do so. The groups I ride with follow this rule, although I've occasionally come across riders who don't.

Those riders make roads less safe for all of us by angering drivers who would've been patient and passed safely if given the opportunity.

For drivers, it means being patient and slowing down until it's safe to give the rider enough room while passing. Typically, the driver is delayed only for a moment, if at all. Isn't that brief delay worth not injuring someone, or worse?

In my experience, that balance is almost always what occurs.

Sure, I've been cursed at before and told to "Get off the (...) road!" And there have been a couple of instances of drivers who have come so unnecessarily close with their side mirrors it would make my mother panic.

I also know people who have been hit, run off the road or even had things thrown at them from passing cars.

But impatient or malicious drivers are the exception.

Unleashed dogs running after or at cyclists tend to pose a problem on a more regular basis than cars, especially on the rural roads of northern Hall County.

Unfortunately there still will be accidents like the one that happened Labor Day weekend. Hopefully we can reduce them as much as possible by being more aware of our surroundings, whether in the car or on a bike.

Maybe it will mean one less family will have to suffer a devastating loss like the Pattillos have.

Erin Williamson is an avid cyclist who lives in Gainesville.