By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
All she remembers is going through the roundabout at 20th Street and Duquesne Road on her bicycle with fellow riders from Rufus Racing and noticing an approaching car not yielding.
Then, Lauren White, a 24-year-old Joplin graphic designer, was on her back. Her body took all of the impact. She was taken by ambulance to Freeman Hospital West with severe bruising and road rash. She had dizziness for months, and she was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.
But she was lucky.
“Actually I was very lucky,” White said of that clear evening in May. “I survived.”
Mark Morris, 50, director of information systems for the city of Joplin, also was lucky, from a certain point of view.
On a sunny July morning in 2010, he was riding his road bike with a training partner south of Joplin on the shoulder of Missouri Highway 43. It was a route they took two to three times a week between Joplin and Seneca.
A truck swerved, hit Morris and sped away.
Morris was left with five broken ribs, a punctured lung, four broken vertebrae and several cracked ones, a concussion, and a sprained leg. He spent several days in Freeman Hospital West.
Ironically, Morris and his partner had been riding in honor of Larry Jones, 46, of Carl Junction — a cyclist with whom they had ridden since 2001. Jones had not been so lucky: The week before, he was struck by a truck during a Saturday morning ride on Ivy Road just south of Oronogo.
He died later that day at St. John’s Regional Health Center in Springfield.
In a separate accident, another of Morris’ training partners, Larry Nelson, also was hit while riding his bike.
“Out of the original four riders in our training group, three of us have been hit, and one was killed,” Morris said. “Those aren’t super great odds.”
‘Enough is enough’
Ruth Sawkins, founder of Rufus Racing, decided to do something about it.
“I thought, you know, we need to do something about this,” she said. “Enough is enough. A lot of other towns are doing campaigns, trying to raise awareness for cyclists, drivers and runners who share the road.”
So Rufus Racing kicked off a not-for-profit campaign called Look, with all proceeds going toward billboards, public service announcements, YouTube videos and other awareness-building efforts. The group also established a presence on Facebook at Look4States, and had the logo printed on cycling socks, shirts, key chains, bumper stickers and other items.
Since the campaign was kicked off in August, individuals and businesses have contributed $4,000.
“It was a tremendous response,” Sawkins said. “Everyone has told us it’s really needed.”
Six billboards — three in Joplin, one in Carthage, one in Webb City and one in Pittsburg, Kan. — were erected, and the area’s television stations have been running the PSAs.
They feature Morris, White, Jones’ sister and other local residents who have been hit by cars while riding bikes, or are active in cycling and running.
“Our main focus of this campaign is to get drivers to understand these are real people: someone’s friend, relative, grandma, mother, sister, brother,” Sawkins said. “These are people who are special to other people.”
Back on the bike
After being hit at the roundabout, White was leery of getting back in the saddle, but she did, deciding that she didn’t want anyone to take away her passion, which is competing in triathlons.
“I was determined to not let it take that away,” White said of the accident.
Morris, too, began riding again, but his wife and daughter forbid him from doing so alone.
“I still have long-term stuff I deal with,” Morris said. “My left leg, hip, knee, foot — I’m in quite a bit of pain from time to time, depending on what I do.”
He rode 203 miles for the Bike MS event last month.
“I don’t have fear as much as I just don’t have a good confident feel for what is a safe route,” Morris said. “Because I was on a super-wide highway with super-wide shoulders, a bright sunny day — I wasn’t even in the road — and I’m hit and almost killed by a truck going 60 to 65 miles an hour. So where is it safe to ride?
“It always comes back to you have to raise awareness. You have to make people aware that it’s OK for bikes to be out there, that you can expect them to be out there, that you should watch out for them.”
Although he was hit along a highway, Morris, in his role with the city, said he has been in discussions with the Public Works Department about bike lanes and signs in town with a goal of improving urban bicycle safety.
“I keep trying to impress on people the difference it would make,” he said.
Other Missouri cities, including Columbia, have completed large-scale bicycle and pedestrian projects in recent years to address both safety and fitness and recreation opportunities. But those projects come with a price tag.
Roger Lomshek, owner of Tailwind Cyclists in Pittsburg and a competitive biker for 30 years, said riders are hit by cars on the Kansas side of the border, as well.
Nancy Nowick-Kauk, former editor of Kansas Magazine, was one of them. On Memorial Day 2006, she and her husband, John, were riding in the Cottonwood 200 — an organized ride from Topeka to Cottonwood Falls and back. They were struck by an inattentive driver in a truck going 60 mph.
Both were injured. Nowick-Kauk suffered a fractured neck vertebra, multiple breaks in her left arm, a broken pelvis, fractured ribs, a fractured tibia, a lacerated spleen and severe internal bleeding. She was in a coma for nine days, one of which was the couple’s first wedding anniversary.
Since then, she has had extensive rehabilitation to learn to feed, wash and dress herself. She chronicled the experience in a blog last week for the Kansas Department of Transportation’s statewide Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day campaign that wraps up Wednesday.
“People just don’t pay attention when they’re driving,” Lomshek said. “The No. 1 one thing I tell cyclists is ride as if you’re invisible and ride as if they’re trying to kill you.”
Lomshek and his wife, Rebecca, also a competitive cyclist, were involved in the formation of the advocacy group KanBikeWalk.
In recent years, the group has been instrumental in achieving the passage of two laws pertaining to cyclists and motorists. The first, referred to as the Dead Red Law, allows a cyclist to proceed with caution through a red light if the light trigger isn’t set off by the light weight of the bike.
The second, referred to as the Three Feet Law, requires motorists who are passing cyclists to give them three feet of space.
Other advocates, like Alan Apel of Topeka, are hopeful that a coalition can be successful in getting a law passed in Kansas that would punish drivers who hit cyclists and other non-vehicular road users. Those punishments might include suspension of driving privileges for six months, steep fines or incarceration.
“I feel it is just part of the puzzle in making bicycle riding safer here in Kansas,” Apel said.
Lomshek just completed a multiyear project with fellow cyclists to create a map of the safest routes for cyclists to get around Pittsburg.
“We wanted to connect all of the schools and parks in town with a way to get to them that doesn’t involve high traffic volumes,” Lomshek said. “We’ve been experimenting, riding various routes, trying things out, and slowly mapped out these routes.”
The map currently is in electronic form. Lomshek is to meet with city officials to complete the map before getting it printed. Funding is provided by Live Well Crawford County.
A map of safe bicycle routes will be available around Pittsburg, at Tailwind Cyclists, and at bicycle safety fairs Roger Lomshek conducts at local schools. Those fairs, held in cooperation with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department, kick off Tuesday for third- through fifth-graders in Frontenac and continue throughout the week in Cherokee, Girard and Arma.