Saturday, May 3, 2008

US 20 In Ohio: Mentor Ohio Dangerous for Motorcyclists?

Possibly in light of the 25th Annual Louie Run taking place nearby this weekend, my local newspaper published an article about the dangers of driving US Route 20 in my home town of Mentor, Ohio.

I can tell you that not only is the stretch dangerous for motorcyclists, but in my opinion it is also dangerous for motor vehicles and pedestrians. There are a lot of traffic lights – and frustrated motorists often speed through cautions and red lights. (I’ve had a few too-close calls by motorists running red lights.) There are also a lot of driveways leading into businesses, not to mention intersections. And with Mentor being the 6th largest retail area in the state, there is lots of traffic.

So if you’re coming to this area for the Louie Run, or just to enjoy the home of US President James A. Garfield, keep your eyes open and drive US Route 20 with care.

Route 20 dangerous for motorcyclists
Michael C. Butz

As the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, area motorcyclists are emerging from their winterlong hibernation ready to rev up their bikes and hit the open road.

Traditionally, May marks the beginning of motorcycle season in Ohio, and with that, local law enforcement agencies wish to remind all motorists of the increased need for safety.

To that end, the Ohio Highway Patrol and American Motorcyclist Association released data this week that shows the stretch of U.S. Route 20 that runs through Mentor to
be the fourth most dangerous roadway for motorcyclists in the state.

From 2002 to 2007, there were 56 fatal or injury motorcycle crashes on the road also known as Mentor Avenue.

"It's probably the high volume of traffic we have during the day, and at all hours,
and the fact we have so many exits and entrances to the businesses along the avenue," Lt. Tom Powers of the Mentor Police Department said.

Tim DeWolf, president of the Lake County-based Leathernecks Motorcycle Club, agreed that traffic is an issue.

"There's a number of red lights, and the visibility from parking lots can be obscured," he said. "Some of the intersections are pretty tricky."

Also, rain doesn't always drain well on parts of the avenue, DeWolf said. Traffic patterns frequently change with the addition or subtraction of a business.

"You have a lot of new construction and new businesses," he said.

Speaking of businesses, DeWolf said the number motorcycle crashes along Mentor Avenue might be the result of a higher number of bikers there due to the motorcycle dealerships, custom shops, and biker-friendly restaurants and bars in the vicinity.

"You might have a higher percentage of motorcycles there than on other roads in the area," he said.

DeWolf speculated there might also be a difference in the number of crashes involving what he called "sport bikes" and "cruisers," which many would identify with Harley-Davidson, but the available OHP statistics weren't that specific.

In 2007, there were 4,982 crashes involving motorcycles, which included 190 motorcyclist fatalities accounting for almost 15 percent of the 1,257 traffic fatalities that year, according to the OHP.

Other Northeast Ohio roadways made the OHP's top 10 most dangerous for motorcyclists - the stretch of Interstate 480 in Cleveland near I-71; Cleveland's Innerbelt, which spans the length of I-90 just south of downtown; and the stretch of state Route 534 found in Windsor Township of Ashtabula County.

"The traffic there is coming from southern areas going up to Geneva-on-the-Lake," said Lt. Mike Harmon of the OHP's Ashtabula post, referring to Route 534. "The big thing is there's an S-curve there, and the curves are very sharp," he said. "There are problems with people who are probably not familiar with the geography of that location."

Another problem Harmon sees, he conceded, is one that doesn't affect just motorcyclists.
"The added problem there is some of our fatals in that area are alcohol related," he said. "We want people to have a good time and enjoy Ashtabula County, but we want people to do it without drinking and driving."

Harmon offered other common-sense safety tips, including wearing a helmet and other appropriate safety gear, as well as obtaining appropriate training.

"The first thing we want people to know is they should be educated on riding their motorcycle," he said.

DeWolf, who's been riding for 25 years, agreed, pointing to something he saw recently that displayed inexperience.

"I was just at a Harley-Davidson dealership (Thursday) and someone purchased a $16,000 motorcycle and had to have someone drive it home for him," he said. For those interested in training, DeWolf said there are many local options.

"They offer a terrific riding course at Lakeland Community College," he said. "I strongly recommend that one, not only to new riders but also to (experienced) riders who have new riders in their family."

Also, at this time of year, a lot of bikers are shaking off the rust while getting used to riding their motorcycles again, DeWolf said.

"Everybody's a new rider for the first two months of the season," he said. As for motorists who prefer four wheels, DeWolf said there are things they can do to make the roads safer, too.

"They can put down their cell phones," he said. "My reoccurring nightmare is I'm going to be run over from behind by someone on a cell phone because they're distracted."

The US Route 20 Blog homepage can be found here.

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