KENNETT SQUARE—Daniel Schwendeman of Kennett Square never leaves for a bicycle ride without his Go Pro video camera attached to his helmet. Last week, a motorist got into a confrontation with Schwendeman and other cyclists riding on Mill Road near State Street in Kennett Square. Now, police are reviewing footage from the camera to determine whether criminal charges will be filed.
Schwendeman and his group of riders from the bicycle group Bike Kennett were riding on Mill Road when a motorist who was frustrated at being stuck behind the group passed, got out of his car and confronted the cyclists. Schwendeman said his group was riding two abreast, as allowed by law. The video, which shows the hostility of the motorist, was turned over to police. The motorist received a visit from police shortly after the incident.
“We never had someone actually get out of a car and argue with us,” said Schwendeman, 34, who has been riding for the past two years. “The driver wasn’t surprised when police showed up at his door."
William Holdsworth, Kennett Square police chief, said he has received two individual complaints from riding groups this year. In the latest incident, he said his staff is trying to determine if traffic violations were committed, as the video shows a verbal, not physical altercation.
Holdsworth said his officers will ticket any bicyclist they see rolling through a stop sign or traffic light.
“The bicycle is considered a vehicle under Pennsylvania law, and we will give a ticket,” Holdsworth said. “Bicycle riders can't ride more than two abreast in a lane and bicycles need to be able to allow (motorists) to pass. It all comes down to safety.”
Lydell Nolt, Kennett Township police chief, said there was an aggravated assault about two months ago when a motorist got out of his car to confront a bicyclist.
“It’s a problem,” Nolt said. “Some bicyclists take the liberty of braking traffic laws, and we even see some cyclists ride in the middle of the road. For all intents and purposes, and with only a few exceptions, bicycles must abide by the same rules of the roads as motorists.
Josie Marsh, who heads up the Bike Kennett group, makes sure riders know the rules before each and every ride. There is a briefing to ensure riders know to stop at all stop signs – not just the first rider, but every rider. To ensure riders know bicycles are vehicles and may legally use the full lane. And to let riders know that two abreast is legal, and motorists must leave four feet of space when passing.
“We often hear that cyclists who are out riding in groups in their spandex don’t deserve to be on the road,” Marsh said. “Our instant-gratification culture has made it difficult to wait a few seconds, perhaps a minute or two, to safely pass a bicycle or group of bicycles who deserve the use the road safely, just like motorists.”
During the summer months, bicycles and cars are common on Chester County roads, especially the back roads. Schwendeman said his riding group generally avoids Route 926, where vehicles often travel 60 mph in a 45 mph zone, and especially on Route 82. And they avoid biking on Route 41 at all costs.
“We try not to ride anywhere on a back road where our bike can’t reach the speed limit,” he said.
Kennett Township Ptl. Adam Cramer said a law passed recently in Pennsylvania allows bicyclists and motorcyclists to travel through a red light without stopping if the signal’s sensor does not pick them up.
“It’s not a ride straight through without stopping on red law, like one of the cyclists I stopped recently told me,” Cramer said. “(The law) allows for bicyclists and motorcycles to proceed with caution through an intersection if the traffic signal detection system fails to recognize them.”
Kennett Township police, like many local municipal police departments, have recently been citing bicyclists who do not obey traffic laws.
After a decade-long decline, deaths on U.S. roadways are rising again. The latest study from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association found that cyclist deaths increased at a higher rate than those of drivers, walkers or any other road user.
In 2015, the most recent year with available data, bicyclist deaths rose by 12.2 percent to 818, up from 726 in 2014. The GHSA found that two out of three people fatally injured in bicycle accidents were not wearing helmets. Researchers found that most of the fatalities involved incidents where the driver of the car did not see the cyclist, while the cyclist expected the driver to yield and instead was unable to avoid a collision.
Many riders today have portable cameras affixed to their helmets, and it is this footage that has become common in courtrooms across America. Nolt said he used footage provided by a Kennett area cyclist as evidence in a case where a motorist ran a cyclist off the road.
“It’s been helpful for us,” Nolt said.
Meanwhile, Schwendeman rides knowing that it’s a distracted driver, or an angry driver, that could end his riding days forever.
“I was riding on Conservatory Road near Longwood Gardens once, when someone in a white Toyota Tundra blew by me within inches. I was going 35 mph downhill, which is the speed limit for cars, and this guy blew by me doing 75 mph. He was going so fast my camera couldn’t read his license plate. Was he trying to show me that his car was faster than my bike? What do you get out of that?”
Schwendeman's Go Pro video of the confrontation on Mill Road is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4FG3aqUO-k