Due to the weather, some customers may experience late delivery of The Roanoke Times. We apologize for the delay.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
If you’re curious why Roanoke County is sponsoring a bicycle safety event June 8 at Tanglewood Mall, you should listen to the stories of local lawyer David Harrison.
Twice in the past five years, he has been hit by cars while riding his bike carefully and legally. The first time was on the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2008 when he was bumped off the road by a passing sedan pulling a fishing boat. It knocked him off the pavement and he landed in adjacent grass.
That one left Harrison with some bruises and a busted cellphone. He rode away from the crash, but on the next one he wasn’t so lucky.
It happened on Edgewood Street just off Brandon Avenue Southwest in 2010. Once again, a car bumped Harrison as it passed him too closely; this time he went down hard on the asphalt. He fractured five ribs, broke his collarbone in two places and his shoulder blade in one, and suffered a collapsed lung.
The injuries required surgery and Harrison was laid up for weeks. He had to sleep in a chair because it was impossible to get in and out of bed.
Though serious car-bicycle crashes in this area are rare, local authorities are more and more mindful of them as the popularity of bicycling continues to grow.
Roanoke County Supervisor Charlotte Moore was moved to organize the bike safety event after hearing other horror stories from area cyclists at another biking-related meeting she convened at the South County Library in April.
It was dominated by their tales of malevolent motorists who seem to get their jollies by startling cyclists, and heart-pounding near misses with better-intentioned but inattentive drivers.
The fact is, bicyclists are by far the slowest-moving and most vulnerable vehicle operators on our roads. In much the same way that cyclists need to take extra care when riding through a pedestrian-clogged greenway, drivers have a responsibility to exercise extra caution when approaching bikes on roads.
The event is titled Share the Road Bike Safety and Awareness Day and it will be on the mall’s parking lot near Firestone from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’ll feature safety experts, community discussion, a youth bike rodeo, games, prizes and demonstrations.
The organizers include Roanoke County Parks and Recreation, the Prevention Council for Youth, East Coasters Cycling and Fitness, Roanoke County police and the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission. They hope it will dovetail with a health-related event held inside the mall that day.
There’s no hard data, yet, that support Moore’s sense of more recreational cyclists on the road. The city of Roanoke last year conducted its first “bike count” at 40 Roanoke intersections — but there are no numbers to compare that to.
But the number of bicycle commuters, though still small, has soared. Six years ago, there were 13 registered in the valley, said Jeremy Holmes, program director of Ride Solutions, a commuter services agency of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission. Now there are 101.
Moore is not a bicyclist, but she is an ardent supporter of recreation and nonpolluting means of transportation. She lives in Clearbrook, is a lifelong resident of the valley, and she told me she has never seen so many cyclists on the road as she sees today.
“We all need to be concerned about motorists and cyclists and everyone who shares the road. We all need to be more courteous,” Moore said. “The more bikes that are on the road, the more we need to be aware, the more we need to respect what other people do.”
At the April event, Moore learned from Roanoke County police about some surprising bicycle-specific state laws she had been unaware of. In general, cyclists have to follow the same rules as drivers, but there are a couple of key exceptions.
Under state law, cyclists are permitted to jump a red light if they’ve been waiting at a signal for at least two minutes and the intersection is clear. The law also permits cyclists to ride on the shoulder to the front of a queue of cars waiting at a light.
Many drivers don’t understand that, Moore noted. She didn’t until she heard it come from a policeman’s mouth.
The law also allows bicyclists to ride up to two abreast in a single lane, but they must ride as far to the right as is safe and practical when their speed is below the posted limit. That’s the case almost all the time.
Motorists also are legally required to give a cyclist at least two feet of leeway when they’re overtaking and passing . That law is the one that motorists twice violated in Harrison’s unfortunate experiences.
Somewhat ironically, at the time of the 2010 crash, Harrison was chairman of Roanoke’s Bicycle Safety Advisory Board.
That day, he had just finished writing a draft document of bicycle safety information that now appears on the city of Roanoke’s website.
“It was a nice day, so I went out for a ride.”
The first driver who hit Harrison in 2008 drove away and was never charged in the incident. Though Roanoke County police nabbed him about 6 miles farther north on the parkway, a discrepancy in the car’s description between Harrison and one of his riding partners caused police to let the man go without charges.
In the second mishap, the driver was charged and convicted of failing to maintain control of his vehicle. His insurance covered Harrison’s medical bills but not much else.
Harrison, 68, is now very leery of riding on area roads, especially alone. “I just don’t need another bump like that,” he told me.
When I asked him for some bicycle safety advice, the first thing he said was “wear your helmet.” He said he believes his saved him from a serious head injury or worse during the 2010 wreck.
That’s an important one for cyclists. But there’s another that applies both to them and to drivers:
We all have to be (extra) careful out there.
Weather JournalMany very icy despite 'bust' claims