Road Worrier

Road Worrier: Bicyclists cope with paving crews on a beloved country road

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comJune 25, 2012 


Following a pilot vehicle, Barbara Mathias, bikes past asphalt trucks on Dairyland Road in rural Orange County on Friday morning, June 22, 2012. NCDOT is adding 2-foot-wide paved shoulders that should give cyclers a welcome safety margin, but the road crews are encountering conflict with some cyclists who object to the work-zone restrictions. (EDS note. Mathias was not asked her opinion on the roadwork, please let's make sure the caption doesn't make her look like she's one of these objectors.)


— Dairyland Road is a pastoral path traveled by fewer than 2,000 cars a day, but a new paving project is a big deal for hundreds of bicyclists who come from Orange and neighboring counties for the pleasure of the ride.

And last week, it sparked a small controversy.

If you’re a city dweller yearning to breathe free, Dairyland is an expressway to the heart of rolling woods and farmland near Chapel Hill and Carrboro – an area unsurpassed in the Triangle for bucolic beauty. Cyclists pedal its seven miles in evening and weekend group rides, and others bike on their own every day.

“It’s a pretty area,” said Jeff Klee, 58, of Carrboro, who organizes rides through his website, “There’s not as much traffic as on other roads, and it gets you out into the country really fast.

“A lot of rides head out further. But if you want to head south to Pittsboro or north to Hillsborough or west to Mebane, you’re usually going to go out Dairyland to start with.”

So there was a flare-up in the cycling community when a Department of Transportation contractor, citing safety concerns, tried to ban bikes during a six-week paving project.

View Dairyland Road widening in a larger map

Dairyland is getting a new layer of asphalt and a wider footprint this summer, with 24-inch paved shoulders added to both sides, for its full length from Old N.C. 86 in Carrboro to Orange Grove Road.

The paving crew includes flaggers who stop traffic while a pilot vehicle guides drivers in single-file caravans that shuttle back and forth on sections of the road, eastbound alternating with westbound.

Unfortunately, just as cyclists are not uniform in their adherence to traffic rules – you’ll see brazen types blow through stop signs when they feel like it – there were a few jerks who couldn’t be bothered with wait-your-turn work zone etiquette. The flaggers said stop, but they chose to go.

Nobody got hurt, but the pilot truck driver was alarmed when he met cyclists coming head-on toward him in the narrow lane.

So the contractor, Riley Paving of Carthage, posted signs with a bicycle covered by a circle and slash mark. Dumb idea.

“It said something to the effect of ‘cyclists prohibited on Dairyland during repaving due to safety concerns,’” said cyclist Tina Weiler, 39, of Carrboro, who saw the signs on an evening ride.

“When I looked down Dairyland, it was down to one lane and the cars were backed up. I had so little time to ride after work, I decided to turn around.” Weiler said.

There were bursts of outrage for a few days on a cyclists email list, with some riders convinced that DOT had declared war on two-wheel travelers.

Not so, said DOT engineer Chuck Edwards, who oversees road maintenance in Orange County. He ordered Riley to remove the no-bikes signs.

“Those signs were not authorized, and certainly NCDOT did not direct any restrictions on cyclists or anybody else,” Edwards told the Road Worrier. “Obviously we want everyone to go through the work zone safely.”

DOT issued a news release Friday asking drivers and cyclists to be careful on Dairyland. “Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities on the road as motorists and are required to obey all traffic signs and signals, including traffic control measures in a work zone,” the release said.

Now some cyclists are looking for alternate routes until the work is finished on their beloved Dairyland Road.

And they’re debating the value of the road project itself:

Will the new two-foot paved shoulders be good for cyclists?

No, Klee said. Shoulders aren’t bike lanes, but sometimes motorists expect cyclists to ride on the shoulder. And, without automobile traffic to sweep them clean, the shoulders accumulate broken glass and other debris that pose hazards for cyclists.

“I think it’s a bad idea to put that white line two feet from the edge of the pavement,” Klee said.

Weiler disagreed. She sees the wide shoulders as an extra safety zone for bike riders.

“I’m grateful where there’s a little more road surface, because it adds more of a buffer,” Weiler said. “I’ve had enough near misses with cars out there.

“I’ve had people throw things at me. I’ve had people swerve across the road to play chicken with me – and force me off the road. There are people who pass you by as close as possible, and some who are just distracted.”

Love it or hate it, DOT says, the Dairyland paving project will be finished by July 27. Drivers and cyclists should watch for flaggers and expect delays on weekdays between 9 a.m. and sundown. On weekends there are no flaggers and no lanes closed.

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