Transportation runs Dennis Platt’s life.
Every weekday evening, the 59-year-old Davenport resident rides his bicycle to work in Rock Island, about 7 miles. He then drives a semi overnight to Indiana and back, about a 450-mile round trip. The next morning, within 12 hours of his takeoff, he finishes his commute with a 7-mile bike ride home.
“It’s something I always had wanted to do,” said Platt, referring to his commute on two wheels and his truck-driving lifestyle.
Last Thursday, however, he took a night off. Instead of following his normal routine, Platt used a vacation day to lead an organized night ride through the streets of Rock Island in hopes of educating cyclists and motorists about safely sharing the road.
“We just want people to see how it should be done,” he said, noting recent bike-vehicle accidents in the Quad-Cities, including one last year that resulted in the high-profile death of Robert Moldenhauer, aka “The Can Man.” "We want to be exposed to the traffic."
In Iowa and Illinois, Platt stressed, bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists.
“None of this is inherently dangerous if you’re properly lit and following laws,” he said, sporting a neon vest and reflective gear.
Platt began commuting to work in the summer of 2015 after his move from Camanche, Iowa. He rides a Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike, fully loaded with bright lights, a speaker for music and a tail camera that records traffic behind him.
Platt's first Q-C Thursday Nite Ride drew about 10 people, including two Rock Island police officers.
Participants, whose bicycles were equipped with lights, pedaled slowly along a 7-mile route that began at Schwiebert Riverfront Park, meandered through Sunset Marina and ended back downtown.
Moline resident Mark Hendricks, who helped Platt organize the event, brought 30 years of commuting wisdom to the outing.
"If you're dressed up like a clown and lit up like a circus tent, nobody's going to miss you," said Hendricks, who rides about 30 miles every workday.
When one cyclist pedaled too close to the curb, he chimed in, offering a bit of experienced advice.
"The problem with hugging the curb is that you’re giving drivers the impression that it’s OK to pass you in your lane," Hendricks said.
Last month, a bill in Iowa requiring rear-facing bicycle lights to be used at night failed to advance in the House during the Legislature's 2017 session. The proposed law also would have required motorists to change lanes to pass a bicycle.
Rock Island Police Lt. Dan Knittle said bicyclists should stick to the right side of the road but can ride between four and six feet away from the curb if they need to.
When passing a cyclist in traffic in Illinois, motorists are required to leave at least 3 feet of space between their vehicle and the bicycle until they safely overtake the bicyclist.
Great policing tool
Prior to last year’s fatal accident in Moline, Rock Island County had its last fatal bike-car accident in 2013, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Scott County has not seen a fatal bike-car accident since 2004, according to the Iowa DOT and other published reports.
Bicycle fatalities in the U.S. increased by 12 percent from 2014 to 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports.
Knittle said bike-car accidents primarily occur when bicyclists do not follow the rules of the road. Issues frequently arise when bicyclists ride against traffic, he said.
Although he no longer rides, Knittle sent a couple officers on his afternoon/evening shift to last week’s ride, which he called “awesome.”
He said several Rock Island officers have received professional training from the International Police Mountain Bike Association and said bikes are a great community policing tool.
“It gets the officers off the roadway, into yards and talking to neighbors,” he said. “We really love it.”
May is National Bike Month
If nothing else, Platt hopes his monthly Thursday night ride, which he plans to lead the next five months, inspires Quad-Citians to simply get out and ride.
"We're not going to disturb anybody," said Platt, who got the idea from other cities that host regular group rides at night, including Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City. "It's our intention to properly negotiate all of the traffic and intersections and make this a positive experience."
The next Q-C Thursday Nite Ride will take place on May 25 in Davenport.
May marks the beginning of National Bike Month, which the League of American Bicyclists promotes to encourage people to hop on their bikes and ride to work, school or the grocery store.
Beginning Monday, AAA will offer free bicycle services to its members in Iowa.
The auto club said its technicians will assist members whose bicycles break down along a regularly traveled road or street. They will secure the member's bicycle to a service vehicle and transport it to a safe location within the member's coverage, officials said.
Mechanical repairs and bicycle lock services will not be included.
National Bike to Work Week is May 15-19, and National Bike to School Day is Wednesday, May 10.