Ghost bikes

The electronic sign in the median of N.C. 54 urging cars to share the road with Nancy Oatesbikes might cause some drivers to keep alert to cyclists. The white Ghost Bike propped against the bridge railing next to Run-In Jim’s on MLK Jr. Boulevard will help them understand why.

In early October, Pamela Lane was killed by an SUV turning right out of the gas station on the corner of MLK and Hillsborough Street; the driver apparently didn’t see Lane riding on the sidewalk in the opposite direction. Last year, two cyclists, Ivin Scurlock and Alexandria Simou, were killed in a hit-and-run along U.S. 15-501 near Southern Village, evidently riding in the direction of traffic. And last week, cyclist Kent Winberry was killed in Durham when a pickup truck turned left in his path.

Chapel Hill has unveiled a plan to improve the odds of cyclists and pedestrians against motor vehicles. The bike-ped safety plan has some common-sense changes that may prod drivers to pay attention: for instance, changing the flashing pedestrian crossing signs across MLK and East Franklin Street to flash only when pedestrians push a button; drivers attenuate to the signs that flash constantly at present and blow past pedestrians.

But the main thrust of the safety plan is to push cyclists to ride in the street and obey the same laws as motor vehicles or face a $213 fine. One person opined that cars won’t notice cyclists until there is a critical mass of us sharing the road. Unfortunately, that will mean more cyclist deaths, because standing your ground on a bike against even a small car never ends in the cyclist’s favor.

Pre-bike-crackdown, when I rode from my home up Piney Mountain Road to MLK, I crossed Piney Mountain at the crosswalk near the entrance to my neighborhood and rode on the sidewalk against traffic. But to be legal, I must pedal uphill in the lane of traffic (Piney Mountain has no shoulder) with cars going easily 50 mph as they careen around a long downhill and around a blind curve.

Terror factor aside, I did a simple cost-benefit analysis and found it was less risky to my physical and fiscal health to ride on the sidewalk. I calculated that I could get ticketed twice a week for several months and still pay less than the medical bills for a couple broken bones should I get sideswiped by a car while riding in the road.

Maybe with all those fines, the town could afford to lay black-top bike paths along heavily traveled roads like Piney Mountain and Estes Drive that have no shoulder. Or tap the public art fund. We don’t need more Ghost Bikes as public art.
– Nancy Oates

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11 Comments

  1. Bruce Springsteen

     /  November 3, 2014

    This is just a game that we play. An accident happens, we urge drivers to be more careful, drivers are more careful as a result, the novelty of urging drivers to be more careful wears off after awhile and then we’re back where we started. But even during the time when drivers are being more careful there are dangers because the dangers aren’t solely a result of drivers not being careful.

    Anybody ever actually pulled out where the driver was pulling out at the convenience store on MLK where the biker was killed recently? Or driven down 15-501 at the time of day where those two bikers were killed? Drivers not being careful wasn’t the main problem in either instance.

    I’ve been down that stretch near Southern Village hundreds of times and I very rarely if ever see even a single biker. Nancy notes that “One person opined that cars won’t notice cyclists until there is a critical mass of us sharing the road.” Yes, exactly. When you drive down a road many times and almost never see a biker and then you drive down the same road in the dark late at night and there aren’t even any of the usually more numerous cars then yeah, bikers are going to catch you pretty unexpected. The problem isn’t because you’re not careful, rather it’s that you’re a human being and behaving as one.

    How would a critical mass sharing the road there be implemented? Would we employ a mass of bicyclists to ride up and down that road for the sole reason that drivers would become accustomed to seeing bikers on a stretch of road that bikers under ordinary circumstances almost never want to use?
    This would all be absurdly funny if the consequences weren’t so tragic.

    There was a column in the CHN today bemoaning the fact that charges weren’t lodged against the driver in the MLK accident. I can only hope that the poor driver that sadly already has to live with the fact that they killed someone with their car didn’t read that column about how awful they are for all the town to see.

    The column also bemoaned our “car culture.” I read this a lot and I honestly wonder if the people that say it really believe it. A large number of people from outside CH/C get into their cars each workday morning to drive to work because CH/C gives them no other option and yet CH/C folks talk about how they’re against car culture? It is surreal.

  2. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  November 4, 2014

    It’s so bizarre that that gas station is called Run-In Jim’s, but not surprising, since drivers’ visibility at the second driveway is nil. It is also bizarre that the ghost bikes memorializing Mr Scurlock and Ms Simou are almost adjacent to a sign declaring Chapel Hill a Bicycle-Friendly Community 2010-2014.

  3. many

     /  November 4, 2014

    This place has only three exits, sir: Madness, and Death.” ― Rene Daumal

  4. Brandon Rector

     /  November 4, 2014

    I’m not sure I understand your logic. A biker was killed while riding on the sidewalk against traffic where drivers are very unlikely to think to look for a fast moving biker, so you feel more safe riding on the sidewalk against traffic? AND being a danger to pedestrians that are using the sidewalk at a much slower speed?

    I just don’t agree with that logic.

    I ride the Piney Mountain traffic lane with my 2-year-old in a trailer often and never have any trouble. The reason the police want you to ride there is because 99% of drivers look at the road ahead of them when they drive. How many check the sidewalk for fast moving vehicles when they’re pulling into traffic that is moving the opposite direction? 25% if you’re being generous.

    Be safe. Use the road.

  5. Bonnie

     /  November 4, 2014

    Drive defensively. That phrase inspired an entire generation of drivers.

    In the share the road wars, the conversation seems to focus on “rights”. And people sadly end up “dead right”.

    Bruce – when I read that column, I was stuck by how tragic the accident truly was. I wonder if cycling defensively could have made a difference.

    There’s no perfect solution here. I hope Nancy doesn’t get a ticket for being resourceful.

  6. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  November 5, 2014

    Here is an article about deadly bicycle accidents in North Carolina:
    http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/north-carolina-is-one-of-the-top-10-deadliest-states-for-bicyclists/Content?oid=4282668

    Wake County (pop. 974,300) came in 1st place as deadliest for bicyclists; Durham County (pop. 288,100) came in 5th place; Orange County (pop. 140,400) came in 7th place. There are 100 counties in N.C.

  7. many

     /  November 5, 2014

    Really a badly reported story with sensational overtones. Wondering if the Wake/Durham/Orange area ranks so high because there are so many more bikes? Because there are so many more cars? Because the design of road bikeway interfaces are so poor?

    Sad to see the quality or reporting at the INDY going the way of the N&O and Chapel Hill News.

  8. Deborah Fulghieri

     /  November 6, 2014

    I didn’t read the same article as many (whoever that is). Where is it sensationalist? The writer stated, “With more than 1.25 million people living in the Triangle, a highly urbanized area, it’s not surprising more bicycle-car crashes occur here,” and cites statistics that back up the assertion.

  9. many

     /  November 6, 2014

    Sheesh. Where to begin?

    “Florida is the most dangerous state, with 5.7 annual deaths per million residents; by comparison, North Carolina has 2.6. The safest state is Maine.”

    Well duh Ms Sorg. Each “deadly state” has an increasing number of months for riders to be out. (BTW Both Florida and North Carolina are as large in area as all six New England states and have hundreds if not thousands of more miles of paved roads.)

    “Based on state transportation data from 2008–2012, Wake County ranked first in the state in bicycle-car accidents, both fatal and non-fatal; Durham County came in fifth and Orange County, seventh.”

    Well Duh again, guess what, each county is progressively more urbanized and has a high student population. It might have been actual journalism to look up the populations and translate that to per capita accidents,. and going a step further discover that many of the accidents are young but a disproportunate number of deaths are people in their 40s & 50s, but that’s expecting too much, I know.

    “Pamela Lane, 57, died from injuries sustained in an Oct. 3 accident in Chapel Hill. She was riding on the sidewalk along Martin Luther King Boulevard”

    Ms. Sorg fails to mention the inconvenient truth that Ms lane was riding against traffic at a high rate of speed on the sidewalk and that is what the driver was not charged.

    “Kent Winbery, [sic] 52, died Oct. 27, 10 days after he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle near the intersection of Duke University and Chapel Hill roads in Durham.”

    Ms Sorg again fails the test of basic journalism by not mentioning Mr Winberry was wearing dark clothes with no helmet at dusk when he was hit. However Ms Sorg is to keen insinuate that the cause was Mr Lipscombs age. Furthermore Ms Sorg could not even get the spelling of Mr. Winberry’s name correct. (Mr Winberry was 52 and a celebrated member of the bicycle community, Ms Sorg later corrected her mistake without acknowledgement)

    There are two possible reasons for this sort of dreck, intentional incitement or lazy stupidity. Perhaps both.

  10. Bruce Springsteen

     /  November 12, 2014

    I was walking on campus today, which is unusual. I crossed when there was a red light for traffic. As I was crossing there was a bike on the road coming towards the light and a car a ways behind it. The bike went through the light without stopping and the car behind it stopped at the light.

    Last week I was driving on the road during the evening rush hour, which is also unusual. I saw no bikers and there probably weren’t any since you’d have to have a death wish to be biking on the road in the dark during rush hour. Driving wasn’t even easy then, much less biking.

    In both of the above situations bikes and cars are legally considered the same thing despite the fact that considering them the same thing is patently ridiculous in those situations.

    Because of the nature of cars they should never run a stoplight other than perhaps in the middle of the night when there is no other traffic or when someone is rushing to the hospital with a health emergency. OTOH there are plenty of situations, like the one I saw on campus today, where it is perfectly reasonable for a bike to run a red light. Sometimes bikers run red lights when it’s not reasonable, but most times when they run red lights it is no danger to anyone.

    Because of the nature of rush hour there are few times when it’s reasonable for bikers to be on the road I was on during rush hour (15-501 from the Dean Dome light to New Hope Commons) and there are no time when it’s reasonable to do so in the dark.

    So do you get the point? In both situations cars and bikes the legally equivalent but nobody treats them as being equivalent because doing so would be silly.

    Setting aside the minority of bikers that run red lights in situations where running a red light is unsafe, the rest of the bikers would be engaging in a colossal waste of time, without increasing anyone’s safety, if they were to come to a complete stop at every single red light and not go again until the light turned green.

    And setting aside the minority of bikers that do bike during rush hour on roads that are unsafe, the rest of the bikers would be engaging in pointless endangerment of their lives by being on those roads at those times.

    So the law can be whatever it is but in those cases where the law is silly and harmful, people are going to ignore it.

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