That could have been me! I cried, when I heard that Pamela Lane had been struck by a car and killed Oct. 3 while riding her bike on the MLK Jr. Blvd. sidewalk just three blocks from where I live.
For I’ve ridden my bike dozens of times on that same stretch of sidewalk after leaving the Bolin Creek Trail. And indeed, as I walked down to contemplate the site where she’d been hit, a gray-haired male cyclist, who’d just come off the trail, passed me on the sidewalk at that very same gas station exit as he headed toward the Hillsborough Street intersection where the traffic light provides the only safe crossing.
Then I was further distressed when I read that no charges were filed against the driver who had struck and killed Pamela. How could it be that a cyclist on the sidewalk would not have the right-of-way over the driver of a car leaving a gas station?! Especially after the Chapel Hill Bike Plan adopted by the Town Council June 9 clearly states that the MLK Jr. Boulevard and East Franklin sidewalks need to be properly maintained “to provide a facility for those bicyclists who do not feel comfortable sharing the roadway with motor vehicles.”
So on Monday, I again walked to the spot where Pamela had been hit, then beyond just a few yards up the hill to the police station and asked to speak to whoever could explain why there had been no charges. In a few minutes, Chief Christopher Blue emerged to shake my hand and guide me into the front office where we shared our anguish over her death and I learned the story behind the news. It seems that the driver was a young mother with her child in the car, that she had stopped and was looking both ways to see that the traffic and the sidewalk were clear before she started to move (at no more than 3 mph, according to Blue) when suddenly Lane flew in front of her car ... whether from coming off the trail or zooming down the length of that MLK sidewalk, no one knows. So after two weeks of investigation and consultation, Blue concluded that no charges should be filed.
Still, our intense conversation continued for more than an hour as we discussed how MLK Jr. Blvd., as well as streets all over town could be made safe for cyclists and pedestrians. I know that riding on the sidewalks is no answer because I’ve nearly been run over by young cyclists zooming down behind me three times this year as I walked between my home and downtown.
First steps to safety
In February, I presented a petition to our Town Council proposing that the town take the first step toward making MLK Jr. Boulevard a safe place for cyclists and pedestrians by removing the center turn lane between Hillsborough and Rosemary streets in order to widen and divide the walks on both sides with lanes for each. At the same time, reduce the speed limit from 35 to 20 mph as it is on East Franklin approaching downtown. And our police chief is strongly behind efforts to change the “car culture” in this town and reduce the hazards on MLK Jr. Blvd. which was mistakenly designed as an “expressway.” As a result, his officers are endlessly writing tickets on drivers exceeding the limit, even running over 60 mph.
So in the wake of this tragedy, let’s start by reconfiguring this stretch of the boulevard, name the bike/ped-way for Pamela Lane and, at the same time, truly honor Martin Luther King, Jr.