Local leaders hope the interest and participation in bike riding around downtown increases, but cyclists and advocates said that much more needs to be done to make it safer to ride.
What: Crit Faced, featuring a bike criterium, bike derby, raffle and live music
When: Saturday, Sept. 15, 5 p.m.
Where: Velo Coffee Roasters, 509 E. Main St.
How much: Donations in any amount accepted
This weekend, friends of local cyclist Scott Porbansky are hosting a fundraiser to raise awareness of what they think is a critical issue in this city that stands in contrast to the recent attention received as a bike-friendly town.
"To me, there is a huge discrepancy with what I might read in a magazine telling me what our city is like versus what it is like on the street. I don't personally agree with the label that Chattanooga is a bike-friendly city," Andrew Gage, Velo Coffee Roaster owner and cyclist, said.
Unfortunately, Gage can back up that opinion with one-too-many firsthand experiences.
Gage, who operates a "bicycle-powered" coffee roasting company on the Southside, was hanging out downtown with Porbansky on the evening of July 29. The two separated at approximately 9 p.m., and Gage said Porbansky hopped on his bike and headed north on Market Street to meet his girlfriend.
But the next time she saw her boyfriend, he was lying in a hospital room bed with 40 staples in his head.
Porbansky was the victim of a hit-and-run accident that left him lying unconscious in the dark on the Market Street Bridge.
Porbansky doesn't remember anything, but Gage said he was hit with such force that it broke and destroyed his bike frame and tossed him hard enough to knock him out and cause his brain to hemorrhage. He also has road rash covering most of his body; severe bruising; leg, arm, torso and neck injuries; and at least $50,000 in medical expenses, Gage said. Porbansky does not have medical insurance.
Philip Pugliese, the bike coordinator for the city of Chattanooga, doesn't completely agree with Gage and said that what happened to Porbansky is more of a criminal issue than a reflection on the safety of cycling as a mode of transportation.
"Hundreds of bicyclists are able to commute and ride safely each and every day through our downtown area," Pugliese said in a voicemail.
Although Pugliese said overall he thinks motorists are considerate to cyclists, "we have an issue with distracted driving, and that is very serious."
But Gage said he has personally felt a small degree of malicious intent toward cyclists trying to share the road.
The two bike advocates do agree that education and enforcement are at the forefront of the issue for motorists and cyclists alike. The recent Due Care law introduced last summer has not been pushed enough, Pugliese said.
Merlyn Townley with Merlyn Mechanics, one of the fundraiser's sponsors, said he is concerned that when the USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial national championships come to Chattanooga for the next three years, beginning in 2013, all eyes will be on the city's support of cyclists.
"We need to be more cycling-friendly because the world will find out next year if we are or not," Townley said.