Case underscores danger to Prescott cyclists

Paul Katan

Paul Katan

"I was sure he was going to hit me," said Paul Katan, describing a driver who repeatedly came within inches of his rear tire as he rode east on Gurley Street in Prescott. "This guy repeatedly threatened to rear end me. It was pretty scary."

The incident occurred on April 22, 2009, at shortly before 1 p.m.

"I was going 25 or 30 mph," Katan said. "He was acting like he was going to rear-end me."

Katan, 38, a certified cycling instructor who works for Prescott Alternative Transportation, said he had stopped at a red light on Mount Vernon Avenue when a green Jaguar approached him from behind. After the light turned green, Katan began to pedal, but the car came extremely close to him, almost touching him. He signed for the driver to drop back or pass him, but still the driver didn't back off, Katan told police.

Although some drivers do not realize it, bicycles are permitted to take up a lane when the road is two lanes and no bike lane exists, he said.

After Katan turned onto Arizona Street to allow the vehicle to go by, another driver, who witnessed the incident, stopped. Later that witness told police that the situation was "very dangerous," and he believed the car was actually going to hit the bike.

In June, a jury convicted the Jaguar driver, Jack Ingebritson, 64, of misdemeanor charges of endangerment and reckless driving. On Tuesday, Prescott City Magistrate Arthur Markham fined Ingebritson $1,500, ordered him to perform 32 hours of community service and go to traffic survival school.

According to the police report, Ingebritson told a police officer that he was "frustrated and angry" that the bicycle was taking up the whole lane and going slow. He admitted that he was five to six inches from the bike, according to the police report.

His defense lawyer, Tom Kelly, said Ingebritson has no prior record and, although retired, was a "productive member of the community." What happened was not an "intentional act," but rather "reckless," Kelly said.

"Bicycles can share the road with drivers," Markham said. "Both bicycles and cars have the right to share the road. If cars have to slow down, that's part of life. Life is too short to be impatient at the extent we take others' lives."

Deputy County Attorney Kristina Jezairian called the sentence "a good outcome."

Katan said area cyclists often complain to his agency about similar car versus bike incidents, but in many cases they don't report them to police. Often no one witnesses the incidents, he said, but in this case another driver saw the entire event.

"I get reports all the time that bicyclists are intimidated or even hit by cars," said Katan. "They don't report it to police. There are no witnesses to corroborate it."

Prescott City Council voted against a proposal for adding bike lanes to East Gurley Street this past August. Katan ran for council in 2009.

"If the bike lane had been there, I'd have been using the bike lane and this would never have happened," he said. It wouldn't cost much to paint a stripe along side of the road to make a bicycle lane, he added.

While Prescott, a small city, should be easy to traverse by bicycle, safe routes are "disjointed," he said. Lisa Barnes, also of PAT, agreed that "connectivity, as far as bike lanes go, is really horrible." City officials have not made bike lanes a priority, she said.

"I'm glad that it happened to Paul because he followed through with (reporting it to authorities)," Barnes said. "In so many cases, if the bicyclist isn't injured, nobody follows through on it. Paul understood this is road rage and (the driver) was deliberately endangering him. A lot of incidents don't get reported."

Barnes warned motorists to be aware that more bicycle riders share the roads in the warm weather months.

According to a bicycle and pedestrian analysis that was part of the city's 50-page draft Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, bike riders in the city had 19 collisions with cars in 2006; 21 in 2007; and 11 in 2008. Gurley Street was the most dangerous thoroughfare, the study found. Bicycle riders were at fault in 68 percent of the collisions.