Bike wreck

My husband almost became a statistic last week in a bike accident eerily similar Nancy Oatesto the one that killed cyclist Pamela Lane the week before.

He and I had come out of the Community Center end of the greenway and were riding on the sidewalk along Estes during the after-work rush-hour. We chose to ride on the side against traffic to go toward Franklin Street because it has fewer risky places for cars to turn into and out of. The side of Estes going with traffic has two bank driveways, the post office entrance and exit, a driveway to a small office complex, the more heavily trafficked egress to The Center and the pork chop entrance and exit to Walgreens. I’ve seen too many car-on-car crashes at The Center and didn’t want to be part of a car-on-bike accident. Cars don’t even watch out for other cars there. A cyclist would be only so much roadkill.

So we opted for the side where we had to contend only with a radiology center, a Pizza Hut, the Chamber of Commerce and Caribou Coffee. Don was in the lead when a brownish-gold SUV shot up the incline out of the Chamber of Commerce parking lot. The driver paused briefly, apparently looking only left to check for cars, then made a right turn onto Estes and sped away. (And I don’t blame Aaron Nelson here, though I did wonder what kind of vehicle he drives.)

As soon as the SUV appeared in his line of sight, Don slammed on his brakes so hard he flipped over the handle bars. Had he landed in traffic or in front of the SUV, news headlines would have talked about a second cyclist getting killed within days of the first. Instead, Don made a five-point landing on the pavement, leading with his chin. His worst injuries were a finger bone snapped clean in two at one joint and popped out of another, and a cracked elbow. He hobbled to the Fast-Med on the corner, where he received excellent care.

But I couldn’t sleep that night, thinking how close he’d come to a much worse outcome. And how that driver could have been me. Who hasn’t been in a hurry, seen a break in traffic and gone for it without looking right to see what non-vehicular traffic might be in our path?

We tout ourselves as a bike-friendly town, and when I ride in bike lanes or in the street on the many thoroughfares that don’t have sidewalks, bike lanes or shoulders, almost all of the cars and trucks have given me room. But the occasional one that doesn’t scares the bejesus out of me.

We are so fragile on a bike or on foot, and far too many drivers pay too little attention to what’s going on outside their vehicle. A bike friendly community starts with drivers who are alert, educated and aware.
– Nancy Oates

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74 Comments

  1. Bonnie

     /  October 20, 2014

    Hey George I am not against cyclists. I am against arrogance and ignorance, Unfortunately our laws have not caught up with the realties of today’s road usage, and until they do, it’s up to everyone to do their part. Myself included. That includes giving cyclists a wide berth when passimg (Its discussed in the column).

    From my discussions with many people – including farmers and cyclists – we have a problem that’s frequent and chronic. Thank goodness the Sheriffs Dept, the DA, and Hwy Patrol agree and they are working with us to explore alternatives to share the road safely. The alternative is too dangerous,

    it’s going to take a combination of education, changes to the law, and if we can find the money, road improvements. Please appreciate that it’s frustrating to read comments that trivialize the problems and the solutions that will be required.

    One impact of urbanization will be more recreational cyclists in rural Orange County – and things will get worse. If there was a nine car pile up every day or every week, you might agree that there’s a problem with safety or traffic flow that needs attention.

    As Many points out, Since cyclists are not tagged, it is virtually impossible to enforce laws. A major contradiction in the law is whether or not a cyclist is a motor vehicle,

    My goal is simple – to make our rural roads safer, and to have laws that work for everyone.

  2. George C

     /  October 20, 2014

    Bonnie,

    You stated: “A major contradiction in the law is whether or not a cyclist is a motor vehicle”

    There is no contradiction in the law: Under North Carolina law, bicycles are considered vehicles and should be treated just like other vehicles. [§20-4.01 (49)], [§20-171.1], and [§20-171.8]. (from A Guide To North Carolina Bicycle and Pedestrian Laws published by North Carolina Department of Transportation Division of Bicycle & Pedestrian Transportation)

  3. many

     /  October 20, 2014

    …..then along with being held responsible for obeying the rules, time for them to be tagged, carry licenses, insurance and pay vehicle taxes along with the rest of us, does that make sense too?

    This sort of focus on the letter rather than the spirit leaves us nowhere.

  4. Bonnie

     /  October 20, 2014

    Thanks George. If you glance at the posts to the Chapel Hill News article, the cyclists believe that the impeding traffic laws only apply to ‘motor’ vehicles.

    Law enforcement is using your and my interpretation. That’s the kind of ambiguity that needs to be cleaned up

  5. Terri

     /  October 20, 2014

    Bonnie–the respondents to your CHN commentary are challenging your recommendation for “pull offs, i.e. safety shoulders at blind curves and hills, so that cyclists can pull over and allow vehicles to pass.” It sounds like you want them to pull off the road altogether. It’s a formidable group of respondents. They’re giving you good and informed feedback.

  6. George C

     /  October 20, 2014

    Bonnie,

    I don’t find any ambiguity in the laws. Cyclists have the same rights as motorists. Cyclists, if they are slower than other vehicles should pull over as far to the right as safely possible and let the faster vehicle pass (which I find most cyclists do). And the minimum speed limit law applies to motorized vehicles (no ambiguity there).

    And there are no laws distinguishing between recreational cyclists and other cyclists nor are there any laws distinguishing between urban cyclists and rural cyclists.

    BTW, I’ve also never seen a sign in CH/Carrboro/Hillsborough saying “No non-recreational vehicles allowed”. Please stop trying to make this an us (rural) vs them (urban) situation. You may think of yourself as representing a rural constituency but I’d like to think that constituency is a lot more open-minded than you appear to be on this issue.

  7. Bonnie

     /  October 20, 2014

    Terri. The respondents to my article show the intensity of the cyclist advocacy. I find that more cyclists are interest in change than in protecting an outdated status quo.

    I believe they were responding to the statute on impeding traffic. My comment said they should “pull over to allow others to pass” which is the law for motor vehicles who are impeding traffic. Tractors, ATVs and even horses do it all the time. They may or may not pull off the road depending on the situation.

    Pull offs are different. They are a compromise suggested by county transportation planners that’s easier to approve and fund than bike lanes. They are pretty long and generally the cyclists can keep moving. Pull offs are working well in western parts of the state.

    Many – I’m not sure it’s practical but there’s many people who would like to see licensing and tags for vehicles. One county has started issuing permits for groups of five or more cyclists, and there’s some recent state laws for golf carts that might have some applicability. Other states have laws to regulate pelatons. We’re looking at all of that and welcome any constructive ideas at bahauser@aol.com

  8. Terri

     /  October 20, 2014

    Curious, Bonnie. I just spoke with the county transportation planners, and they said they have not had any discussion about pull offs.

    I’ve also been told there are two groups meeting with the sheriff’s office on this issue. Your group and one that represents the cyclists. Once again, I agree with everything George said in his last post.

  9. Bonnie

     /  October 20, 2014

    Terri – if you are interested in contributing, I’m happy to share names and meeting notes. Just give me a call.

  10. Terri

     /  October 20, 2014

    Bonnie, Considering the brouhaha you have created and the fact that you have expressed your interest in being an Orange County Commissioner, I would recommend that you make those notes and names public. Practicing a little sunshine never hurt anyone.

  11. Bonnie

     /  October 20, 2014

    Thanks Terri. This process will probably take 6-12 months, more if changes to statute are involved. We will be fully transparent when there is more to discuss than a couple of ideas and opinions.

    The good news is that several people have commented that the brouhaha is helping. Many cyclists are pulling over, even stopping, and more. It might have something to do with the court case or maybe the conversation has started. Either way, it’s great!

    Again – any one who wants to help is welcome. There’s plenty of work to do.

  12. Terri

     /  October 20, 2014

    If cyclists are really stopping for cars to pass, they are creating more problems IMHO. I hope you’re wrong about that.

  13. Bruce Springsteen

     /  October 21, 2014

    Yes Terri, a self-driving car can be hacked and anything can be hacked. Are you suggesting that because of that we shouldn’t pursue self-driving cars? Should we dismantle the Internet and live without it too?

    If dwelling on the fact that a self-driving car could conceivably be hacked isn’t focusing on the tiny cloud at the expense of the massive silver lining then I don’t know what is. And in a discussion where people are promoting the 200 year old technology that is the bicycle no less.

    What is this fetish some have with bicycles anyway? How did this one mode of transportation become so elevated? It’s kind of strange. Is it solely because bikes don’t directly emit pollution? I get that all things considered less pollution is better but to conclude from that that bikes are necessarily preferable to cars is fairly myopic.

    Chapel Hill / Carrboro kinda reminds me of the Monty Python episode involving Dennis Moore. Dennis Moore tried to accomplish a goal by focusing in on one aspect of accomplishing the goal to the detriment of all the other aspects and then at the end he realized that his myopia relative to the larger goal he ended up accomplishing nothing at all. Chapel Hill / Carrboro focuses on affordability and getting cars off the road and the result is that every workday morning a large number of people that can’t afford to live in Chapel Hill / Carrboro get into their cars far away from UNC and drive to UNC (or to a park & ride near it) in order to get to work. I honestly can’t tell whether people here just don’t get that at all or if they get it completely and that’s the point.

  14. Bruce Springsteen

     /  October 21, 2014

    Hey George C, do you not notice any contradiction between saying that the rights of cyclists and motorists are the same in the same paragraph that says the minimum speed laws apply to motorists (and presumably not cyclists)? Or the same thread where discussion is over where bikes have the rights to be on the sidewalk even though we know that motorists never have the right to be on the sidewalk?

    It’s this kind of silliness that I was talking about earlier, where people pretend cars and bikes are the same. They’re not the same by every strict point of law but even if they were, they’re not the same as a matter of obvious fact so what is the point of equating them?

    We all know that pretending cars and bikes are the same will result in bikers getting run over and killed and yet we do it anyway. Think about that!!!

    A driver can be careful and yet still kill a biker (which by all indications is what happened a couple weeks ago) whereas a biker can purposely try to do as much damage to a driver as possible and accomplish nothing. Is it not worth acknowledging this UNCHANGABLE REALITY?

    There are limits to human visual acuity and human reaction times and to human performance when faced with a wide assortment of stimuli as drivers almost always are. These limits can be changed at most only very slightly no matter what laws are passed. Why do people not acknowledge this?

    Someone else said we need to start enforcing all the laws. Honestly, would someone like to take a crack at describing what that would be like in realistic terms? Remember, I said realistic, not your fantasy of how the world ought to be. Chaos, I think, would be a mild description.

  15. Nancy

     /  October 21, 2014

    Bruce — To enforce all the laws, we’d need to hire more police officers, who couldn’t afford to live in town and would have to commute to work by car, and the extra personnel costs would wreak havoc with the town budget, which would require a property tax increase, meaning homeowners would have a harder time selling their houses because of the high property taxes, so they might end up commuting to work outside of Chapel Hill.

    As to your question about what is the obsession with biking: When you’re not getting injured, it’s great exercise and really a lot of fun.

  16. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  October 21, 2014

    In some states a bicycle+rider riding legally on the sidewalk is considered a pedestrian, but is considered a vehicle if on the roadway. Does anyone know what N.C. considers bikes? George C.?

  17. Terri

     /  October 21, 2014

    One more time…… in North Carolina bicycles are considered vehicles, at all times. This was established by law in 1974 as part of the Bicycle and Bikeway Act of 1974. For more information see, http://www.ncdot.gov/bikeped/lawspolicies/

    There are more than enough police officers to enforce laws that are violated right in front of them, from bicycles on the sidewalks to smoking on the sidewalks to speeding motorists. The officers we have don’t have to go looking for these violations–they just need to enforce them when they are right there in front of them.

    And Bruce, if I was anti-self-driving cars, I wouldn’t have advised entrepreneurs to get involved in a security opportunity.

  18. many

     /  October 21, 2014

    Terri, yes bicycles are “vehicles” unless they are going too slow and impeding traffic (according to George C) that’s why NC bike laws do not permit bicycles on sidewalks.

    Of course Chapel Hill decided to override a perfectly understandable definition and create an ordinance that is unclear in definition and intent to cover the poor design of the bikeway/roadway interfaces.

  19. George C

     /  October 21, 2014

    Many,
    NC General Statutes do not address bicycling on sidewalks. Rather this issue is usually addressed through local ordinances. In the case of CH, bicycles are prohibited on sidewalks only on certain portions of Franklin and Rosemary Streets.

    Deborah,
    Based on CH’s ordinance I would say that a bicycle ridig on a sidewalk is considered a vehicle, not a pedestrian.

    “Sec. 21-45. – Applicability of traffic laws.

    Every person riding a bicycle upon a public street, bikeway or sidewalk shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by the laws of this state declaring rules of the road applicable to vehicles, this Code or other ordinances of this town applicable to the driver of a vehicle, except as to those provisions of laws and ordinances which by their nature can have no application, and except as otherwise provided in this chapter.”

  20. Bruce Springsteen

     /  October 22, 2014

    I don’t have anything against biking per se. I don’t have a bike but that’s only because other than a parking lot near where I live I wouldn’t have a place to ride it. It amazes me when I see the bikers all over the place. You couldn’t pay me to do that. Even if both drivers and bikers are careful it’s just too dangerous for me. Careful humans are still fallible humans and there is a lot of stimuli coming at drivers.

    I don’t understand why bikers are automatically assumed to have a privileged position in any consideration of if/how things should change. It’s like moving to a town and hearing everyone mention in political discussions “We have to consider how this will affect the Johnson family” and after awhile you say to yourself “Why the hell is everyone so concerned about the Johnson family?” And the answer would probably be because the Johnson family is politically powerful and that’s probably the case with the bikers too.

    The irony though is that they often use their political power to perpetuate situations dangerous to themselves. Instead of working to make biking actually, you know, “safer” and “less life endangering” they sometimes stress symbolic things like being considered the strict equivalent to the cars/drivers even in situations when it shortens their life own expectancies. Oh well. To each their own.

  21. many

     /  October 22, 2014

    George C, Agreed Ch-Hill has an (unclear) ordinance that partly addresses sidewalk riding, however I would get legal advice on your assessment that sidewalk riding is not addressed generally in NC. A bicycles status as a “vehicle” subjects bicyclists to all laws affecting motor vehicles unless specifically exempted. Motor vehicles cannot be legally operated on the sidewalk. The requirement to “ride on right, in the same direction as traffic” would also strongly imply the need to remain in the street. It also implies the requirement of identification, licencing, insurance, registration and other responsibilities of vehicle operation on roadways.

    Many in the bicycle crowd seem to want things both ways. On one had they loudly assert all their rights of vehicles, while on the other hand the myriad of excuses and argument put forth when the responsibilities of vehicle operation is brought up is obtuse and irksome.

  22. Geoff Green

     /  October 30, 2014

    Terri said: “One more time…… in North Carolina bicycles are considered vehicles, at all times. This was established by law in 1974 as part of the Bicycle and Bikeway Act of 1974. For more information see, http://www.ncdot.gov/bikeped/lawspolicies/

    many said: “A bicycles status as a “vehicle” subjects bicyclists to all laws affecting motor vehicles unless specifically exempted. Motor vehicles cannot be legally operated on the sidewalk. The requirement to “ride on right, in the same direction as traffic” would also strongly imply the need to remain in the street. It also implies the requirement of identification, licencing, insurance, registration and other responsibilities of vehicle operation on roadways.”

    These are two examples of the incorrect legal conclusions that some folks are drawing about the status of bicycles. Bicycles are not considered vehicles for all intents and purposes under state law, subject to the same rules and regulations as motor vehicles. The NCDOT’s bikeped page, linked above by Terri, is inaccurate.

    There’s a whole chapter on motor vehicles, NCGS section 20. Section § 20-4.01(49) defines a vehicle as “Every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon fixed rails or tracks; provided, that for the purposes of this Chapter bicycles shall be deemed vehicles and every rider of a bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the provisions of this Chapter applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those which by their nature can have no application.” That’s a pretty key exception. Motor vehicles are defined separately and exclude bicycles, section 20-4.01(23).

    With regard to sidewalk riding, the statutes pretty clear anticipate that sidewalk riding is a legal activity. See, for example, section 20-173(c) regarding rights of way owed by cars to people on sidewalks: “The driver of a vehicle emerging from or entering an alley, building entrance, private road, or driveway shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian, or person riding a bicycle, approaching on any sidewalk or walkway extending across such alley, building entrance, road, or driveway.” The law barring driving on the sidewalk, section 20-160 is explicit about who it applies to: “No person shall drive any motor vehicle upon a sidewalk or sidewalk area except upon a permanent or temporary driveway.”

    The Bicycle and Bikeway Act of 1974 cited above clearly states that the definition given there for bicycle applies “[a]s used in this Article“. It nowhere implies that a bicycle is a vehicle for every possible use that you make of it, or for purposes of every statute in NC state or municipal law, or that bicycles are thereby prohibited on sidewalks.

  23. many

     /  October 30, 2014

    If what you say is true Geoff, why was the driver not charged in the Pamela Lane accidental death in Chapel Hill? (Ms. Lane was riding against traffic on a sidewalk on MLK in Chapel Hill). Why have there been no charges in the recent accident in Durham that killed Mr Winberry? (Winberry was not wearing a helmet, and thus much harder to see at sunset) Why no charges in Mr. Kavanagh’s accidental death? (Mr Kavanagh was killed riding in a designated bike lane when a driver in a legally parked car opened his door)

    The law apparently does not support your assertions. Reasonable people do not expect traffic going in the wrong direction, nor do they expect fast moving, hard to see traffic. Poorly designed interfaces are known risks to bicyclists. I do not believe that anyone of these drivers was trying to hurt anyone, nor were they negligent and apparently the law agrees.

    I think Bruce captured it all when he typed “…The irony though is that they often use their political power to perpetuate situations dangerous to themselves. Instead of working to make biking actually, you know, “safer” and “less life endangering” they sometimes stress symbolic things like being considered the strict equivalent to the cars/drivers even in situations when it shortens their life own expectancies.”

  24. Terri

     /  November 2, 2014

    “In North Carolina, the bicycle has the legal status of a vehicle. This means that bicyclists have full rights and responsibilities on the roadway and are subject to the regulations governing the operation of a motor vehicle.”
    http://www.ncdot.gov/bikeped/lawspolicies/laws/

    From the driver’s handbook: “Because bicycles are vehicles, bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as other drivers, this includes DWI laws.”

    However, the law then specifies that decisions about riding on sidewalks are left to local communities. Orange County’s ordinance says nothing about bicycles on sidewalks. Chapel Hill says:
    “Sec. 21-43. – Shared facilities.
    While roadways are provided for the safety and convenience of vehicles, sidewalks are provided for the safety and convenience of pedestrians and bikeways are provided for the safety and convenience of bicycles, it is recognized that in many instances such facilities may be shared. On shared facilities, the following regulations shall apply:

    (a)
    When using bike paths and bike trails, pedestrians shall walk as far to the right as practicable; shall walk no more than two (2) abreast: and shall exercise due care. Bicyclists shall give audible signal before passing a pedestrian on a bike path or trail.
    (b)
    When using sidewalks, bicyclists shall not exceed seven (7) miles per hour, shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and shall pass only on the left and only after giving audible warning to pedestrians.
    (c)
    When using a roadway, bicyclists shall ride as far to the right as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction, and shall not pass standing or slower moving vehicles in their lane on the right except as permitted by G.S. 20-150.1.
    (d)
    Persons riding bicycles upon a sidewalk or bikeway shall ride single file except when passing another bicycle.
    (Ord. No. O-78-58, 9-11-78; Ord. No. 99-9-13/O-6.1)

    Carrboro is more explicit:

    Section 6-37 Shared Usage By Bicyclists and Pedestrians
    While roadways are provided primarily for the safety and convenience of motor vehicles, sidewalks are provided primarily for the safety and convenience of pedestrians, and bikeways are provided primarily for the safety and convenience of bicycles, it is recognized that in many instances such facilities may be shared. Where these facilities are shared, pedestrians and bicyclists shall exercise extreme caution and the following regulations shall apply:
    (1) When using bikepaths where there is no designated pedestrian area, pedestrians shall walk as far to the right as practicable, shall walk no more than two abreast, and shall exercise due care. Bicyclists shall give an audible signal before passing a pedestrian on a bikepath where there is no designated pedestrian area.
    (2) When using those sidewalks where bicycle traffic is permitted, bicyclists shall not exceed seven miles per hour; shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians; and, when passing pedestrians from the rear, shall pass only on the left and only after giving an audible warning to such pedestrians; and shall not ride on any sidewalk in such a way as to endanger pedestrians.

    The area along the north side of East Poplar Avenue shall be a pedestrian lane, and
    no person may ride, drive or park any vehicle (including a bicycle) upon such pedestrian lane.

    Section 6-38 Bicycle and Motor Vehicles Prohibited on Certain Sidewalks (Amend. 10/13/98)
    (a) No person riding a bicycle may go upon the sidewalks of any of the following areas of Town:
    Both sides of Main Street from the intersection of Greensboro St. to the intersection of Weaver Street.
    (b) No person may operate upon any sidewalk a motor vehicle (including without limitation on any riding lawn mower or other motorized device designed to carry one or more persons, but not including a motorized wheelchair or similar device
    designed principally to convey a person with limited mobility). (Amend. 10/13/98)

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