You can imagine that after my (personal) experience of being thrown out of the Town Hall meeting on Monday night, that I would receive an email from Jim Syfan, the Hall County businessman who is rumored to have influenced the 3 sponsors of HB 689. The email was short but he requested to spend some time with me. Hey, I’m an adventurous guy, so I immediately responded that I would. Have to admit, from what I had heard in stories prior to the Town Hall meeting, I was surprised that he actually attended that meeting. Anytime you have the guts to face your accusers, we can only hope that we give them the benefit of the doubt. That was my mindset going into last Friday’s informal get-together.
Thinking it would only last about an hour, by the time we parted ways, 3 hours had passed…and quite quickly, at that. The first hour was getting to know each other. I have been around the block a few times and I can generally judge a persons character pretty well. Yes, I have been wrong a few times but as I have gotten (a few years) older, I’m batting a 1000. Hopefully, that is because I have gotten a bit more wiser as I age.
As a double lung transplant survivor, it was quite obvious to me that, even though I had never met him prior to the transplant, I could tell that this near fatal experience had a profound impact on his life and much of his perspective. He shared about starting his company and the big sacrifices he took to get started. If you want to find someone who REALLY knows about hard work, then you don’t need to look any further than Mr. Syfan.
Next, the conversation transitioned towards bicycles and obviously, this was the part I was really curious to hear what was on his mind…and why he would reach out to me versus anyone else. He explained that every time he read in the paper about a cyclist being killed, he would cut out the article and send to his representatives…the 3 sponsors of HB 689. This went on for several years. I could tell that he was genuinely serious about the safety for cyclists and as a motorcyclist, he certainly understands those ‘close encounters‘ with automobiles. As he explained, he had never even seen HB 689 until a couple days before the Town Hall meeting. Being sent an email from one of the sponsors of the Bill, he said he didn’t get to it for a few days. The Town Hall meeting was right around the corner. He did state his concern to somehow create a way to hold cyclists accountable for breaking the law and in his mind, having tags for bicycles was the answer. Though I didn’t agree with him, I listened patiently. With a vehicle tag, if anyone on the road sees a motorist do anything wrong, the first thing that we typically do is grab our phones and call 911. His thinking was if a tag was on a bicycle, that motorists could ‘call it in’, so to speak, which, in his mind, would fulfill his desire to hold rogue cyclists accountable.
To my surprise (and probably to yours), Mr. Syfan genuinely and sincerely told me that he wanted to help to find a solution; either his time and/or resources. It was easy to see, when he stated that he never wanted to be the one to hit a cyclist, that he wants to do something to prevent that from happening…to him or any other motorist. He asked me what my thoughts were to make it safer and I shared with him the suggestions from my speech…which was about the time I was pulled out of my chair and escorted out. Honestly, I lost count how many times he told me that he wanted to help and to ‘use me’ to make a drastic change. He was not trying to pull my leg, either. He meant it and if you were sitting beside me and across from him, you would have believed it, too.
Without going in to a lot of detail, it seemed (from the timing of events) that Mr. Syfan may have been used as a scape goat to blame this hideous Bill on. With specific dates and a few other issues, I honestly started to believe that the 3 sponsors drafted the Bill….and when it got all this attention (thanks to social media), that they needed an out to be able to walk away without taking any responsibility. All 3 sponsors made it clear that they had no intention of voting for this Bill, so why in the world would you go through all that hassle and time to draft a Bill that would never go anywhere? Putting the focus on Jim Syfan, takes the bad press off them and makes them look like they are the heroes because they decided to pull the Bill the very next day. How many times have you ever heard of Town Hall meetings, where after just one meeting that the Bill in question was abruptly pulled and killed? NEVER. There is generally several meetings and only after hearing public input from all over, does anything happen or change. Not this time. When you look at the totality of this, and the specific information that Mr. Syfan shared with me, it seemed pretty clear he was used as the ‘whipping boy’.
Regarding his 11Alive interview, he told me that they were there for 30-40 minutes and he shared his concerns for cycling safety, among a lot of other positive comments for cyclists. He told me he was very disappointed in that the only part of the interview that was shown on TV was when, as he described, he bated by forceful reporter that caused him to get upset. He didn’t think that was fair and having been interviewed a few times over the years, I can certainly understand his frustration. Guess the only way to get the whole picture is do a live interview like I did at 11Alive a few hours after the Town Hall meeting was over. Sure was glad I did that in their studio versus a jail cell.
He did explain in detail of his first encounter with cyclists a few years ago and it was certainly not a good one. Had I been behind the wheel, I would have been furious…and that’s coming from a cyclist. He admitted that this encounter has tainted his view of cyclists in general but he has also met a few good ones, too. He had a couple of cyclists tell him they would lead in an initiative to help educate folks in Gainesville, only for them to do nothing. That too, didn’t help his view of us. In his 70’s, his goal is not to find or make any enemies but to do the opposite. Speaking only for me, from the 3 hours we spent together, he found an advocate to work with him…ME.
Probably to your surprise, especially to those who attending the Town Hall meeting, reading that Jim Syfan genuinely wants to help be part of the solution, is one that might need some time to sink in…and genuinely accept. But, as the one sitting across from him for 3 hours, I can tell you that he is the real deal. So, now that is the case, let’s roll up our sleeves and do something about sharing the road. With that said, I challenge all who read this to read HB 101, better known as the 3FT Law, and begin to ride in accordance with its contents. If we don’t begin to police ourselves and allow our fellow cyclists to call us out on when we are clearly out of line, then I can guarantee you that the government will step in and take that chance. If you don’t think so, then please pull your head out of the sand where it currently is stuck.
Finally, I have been bombarded with requests for me to share my speech from the Town Hall meeting. With the length of this post, I will create a new post with my speech.