San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
op-ed

Indifference on the streets jeopardizes athlete safety

Last December, the national cycling federation hosted the Tour of Costa Rica. This is a well-known event in Latin America, part of the UCI America Tour.

As part of the event, like every December from the time I can remember, the roads are closed for some hours during the mornings — the particular places and times depending on that day’s stage. You would expect every Costa Rican to know this.

Well, one apparently didn’t.

On the very first day of the Tour, one particular taxi driver found a road closed. He didn’t know why. Police officers told him to wait and explained that the peloton of the Tour of Costa Rica was just about to pass by. After the peloton was gone, they said, he would be allowed to cross to the other side. It would be only a few minutes of waiting.

But he didn’t wait. He thought he was smart enough to cross very fast without anyone noticing. Oops. Bad timing. He hit the peloton!

Some cyclists required medical attention. The Tour had to be rescheduled.

It’s a tragic story and yet I can’t help laughing as I’m writing because it sounds ridiculous. In what country of the world does a taxi driver crash into the peloton of the national cycling tour? How did this happen?

Costa Rica’s lack of respect for its athletes is now taking to the streets.

Just a month ago, the national marathoner Jenny Méndez was hit by a car while she was training. “A driver trying to pass on the right hit her and threw her into the air,” her husband and trainer, Daniel Garivia, who was going behind her on a bike, told reporters. “When she fell to the ground, a motorcycle, that was also trying to pass on the right, hit her again.”

I can laugh no more. Sounds like a horror story.

Not one but two disrespectful and irresponsible drivers crashed an Olympic dream. Jenny had been preparing for the Edinburgh Marathon in late May, where she was expected to make the mark to qualify for Rio. She still tried but the injuries in her leg left her 3 minutes and 42 seconds behind the Olympic mark.

“It was tough,” she said to reporters after finishing fourth in the race, in 2:48.42. “My knee was hurting because of the accident. I’m happy I tried. I love my country and I did it for the love I have to this flag.”

How is it possible that in the so-called “happiest country in the world” people cannot share the roads?

Cyclists and marathoners are athletes. This is how they should be respected.

In this developing country, they have no more option than to practice on the same roads used by the cars.

Just as most people wouldn’t dare to go in the middle of the field during a soccer game, drivers should care about the safety of these athletes, giving them space.

People are getting killed in the streets while practicing sports. In 2015, 28 cyclists were hit and killed by cars. My best friend’s dad, a road cyclist, was one.

Government has its part in this, too. Irresponsible drivers can’t go unpunished. Better roads, including bikeways and proper sidewalks, have to be designed and built. Awareness campaigns should be all over the media.

Drivers, please: if you see cyclists or marathoners in the way just slow down and give them some space. A meter and a half would be great. I promise it will take you just a few seconds — and you’re not going to be late.

Ivon Carballo majored in communications and is currently a graduate student in sport management at Seoul National University. She is from San José, where she grew up as a sports enthusiast. 

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maxinedeville

Generally speaking, Costa Rica has a very polite society, except when Ticos get behind the wheel of a vehicle. It’s like Jekil and Hyde. They turn into monsters behind the wheel. They are rude, inconsiderate and very dangerous. They will tailgate everyone, no matter how fast one goes to avoid being tailgated. To make matters worse, when a Tico hits you and you go to Court to get justice, the judges will find any reason to find in favor of the Tico driver. I know, been there, done that!!! It is impossible for an Expat to get justice in the Costa Rican court system. But to get back to Tico drivers, the worst ones are the motorcyclists. They do stuff that no one in their right mind would even dream of doing. They pass on the left, they pass on the right, they pass in a curve. I have no idea where Ticos are learning to drive, but of all the countries that I have visited in my lifetime (about 45 countries), they are the worst of the worst.

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Ken Morris

Sadly, a necessary article. Current law states that overtaking motorists must give cyclists a meter’s berth, but few do. Add that zillions of motorists opt to park half on the sidewalk and half on the road. This forces the cyclist way father into the traffic lane than most motorists understand, since the cyclists also have to be careful lest the illegally parked motorist opens a car door in his or her path. There’s a real lack of basic understanding among motorists in Costa Rica, as well as frankly a serious lack of courtesy. Tico politeness ends when a Tico gets behind the wheel of a car.

My one reservation is that the article focuses on and celebrates athletes. As a lifelong cyclist who never had much interest in sports, I don’t consider cycling a sport or cyclists athletes. I think of cycling as a means of transportation and the people who do it as not much more althletic than those who walk. In fact, it actually bothers me when streets are closed for a bike race. I fear that leaves the impression in the public mind that cyclists ought only to be protected once in awhile when they are engaged in athletic competition, as well as that a person needs to be an athlete in order to ride a bicycle. I prefer pro-bike policy to be for the average person, not just athletes on special occasions.

The same of course can be said for runnng.

Of course, people like and admire athletes, so focusing on them probably helps get the message across. It’s probably a good strategy and I can’t get too annoyed. I just prefer the focus to be on the average person.

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Bobpiazza

I used to be an avid cyclist; when I moved to Costa Rica I gave it up viewing it as too dangerous.
On the smaller roads I have witnessed cyclist being pushed off the road by drivers who could not vision slowing up for a minute or so.
As far as the indifference; many Ticos are indifference to anything on the street that slows their progress, motorcyclist are the worst.
Got to hand it to Costa Rica, their drivers have offensive driving perfected.

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Amy Schrift

You forgot to mention a very important point about drivers in Costa Rica. There are a significant number who have “paid” for their licenses and can often not even read or write well enough to pass the exam on their own. These drivers have never reviewed driving laws or regulations and are hazardous to have on the roads. There needs to be an immediate crackdown on this form of corruption, as it is costing lives.

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Cindy Calvin

Hate this, happens in the USA also even though roads better here. Just had horrible inexcusable death of road bikers here, it’s lack of respect, ignorance, disgusting excuse for being a human.

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RevMichael Carbone

I’ve seen too many times when trying to pas where I’d do a fast honk honk to make them aware I was going to pass. This way they would not swerve in front of me.

Respect goes both ways. What 3 cyclists did was rude and disrespectful. Two of them sped up to the one in front, blocked the road, turned their heads and smiled. And when no one was coming in the other lane I tried to pass only to have 1 cyclist wanting to play chicken. He swerved in front of me and slowed down.

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Ken Morris

Sorry, I didn’t mean to vote this down, just accidentally hit that instead of reply.

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that honking the horn might not get your intended message across. Yes, some motorists honk for the reason you did, namely to alert the cyclists of their presence and their intent to pass safely, but believe it or not, some honk to say, “Get off my road or I’ll run you over.” It’s hard for cyclists to know what message a honking motorist intends to convey, and being honked at gets old fast. A lot of motorists do it. It’s usually better not to honk but instead just to slow down and pass giving the cyclists a wide berth. If they’re any good, they already know you’re behind them and plan to pass.

Also, if a cyclist is any good, he or she will “take the road” in a situation where they feel threatened by an overtaking motorist. Swerving into traffic sounds suicidal, and it obviously can be, but if done when a motorist has plenty of time to slow down, it’s often the safest move. Very few motorists will rear end a cyclist, but many of them will fail to give cyclists enough berth when overtaking and either clip them or run them into the drainage ditch.

Sure, some cyclists are discourteous, and that may have been all that was going on in the incident you describe. However, as described, it sounds like the cyclists did exactly the right thing. They don’t after all know why a motorist is honking at them.

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