Friends and teammates of Kent Winberry, who died Oct. 27 after being hit by a car while riding his bicycle on Duke University Road Oct. 18, rode in his memory Sunday.
About 15 to 18 members of the Triangle Velo cycling team met at Wilson Park in Carrboro to ride to the funeral in Durham and then to the cemetery. Some wearing black ribbons, the riders served as a graphic reminder of the perils that face cyclists in Durham and elsewhere, a problem that civic and nonprofit leaders here are working to confront.
“For me, this is just about Kent,” said Paul Smith of Chapel Hill, a Velo member. “He was one of ours. It could have been me out there.”
Philip Azar opened the most recent meeting of Durham’s InterNeighborhood Council with a moment of silence for Winberry.
A few minutes later, the group heard Assistant Police Chief Ed Sarvis describe the department’s efforts to make Durham’s streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
There is a new emphasis on enforcing traffic laws, Sarvis said. For one thing, the department is spreading responsibility for traffic enforcement across all five of the city’s police districts.
“Everything right now is done primarily in the central district,” he said. That district covers downtown and the neighborhoods around it.
“The central district has a very small (geographic) beat,” he said but it also has had authority over specialized traffic services such as the motorcycle unit (most often seen as funeral escorts) the bicycle patrol and a traffic and crash unit.
“We see the need to really start to broaden that,” Sarvis said.
“We’re going to design and implement more enforcement operations in neighborhood crosswalks,” he said. A recent project was extra enforcement on crosswalks near the high schools.
“We wrote a good number of citations; hopefully they got a lot of attention,” Sarvis said. “Hopefully that visibility helped, and (drivers) realizing that we do take that seriously and they’re rolling the dice if they go through there fast.”
John Martin, representing the Old North Durham neighborhood, said he sees motorists generally heed signs at mid-block crosswalks that state “Yield to pedestrians in crosswalk state law.”
However, he said he knew of only three – at Brightleaf Square, on Ninth Street and on Foster Street at the Durham convention center – and suggested installing more.
Dale McKeel, the city traffic department’s bicycle-pedestrian coordinator who attended the INC meeting, said rules restrict where those signs may be placed: for example, only in the middle of blocks and where speed limits are 35 miles per hour or less.
After the moment of silence there was no more mention of Winberry’s death, nor that of Durham resident Pamela Lane, who was hit and killed while riding her bicycle in Chapel Hill Oct. 3.
Nearly a month after Lane’s death on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Chapel Hill has begun making several changes, including digital “high-crash area” warning signs, a WikiMap application, pedestrian-activated crosswalk lights and cutting back brush at intersections.
In Durham, the INC, the city-county Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission and individual citizens have been pressing police for stricter enforcement of speed limits and right-of-way rules, particularly on major roads through long-established residential areas.
The current pressure began building in 2012 when a Durham School of the Arts student was hit by a car as she was crossing Gregson Street in Trinity Park. In 2013, bicyclist Seth Vidal died after being hit by a car on Hillandale Road, a primary connector between Interstate 85 and the Duke and VA medical centers.
According to the latest state DOT pedestrian and bicycle crash statistics ( bit.ly/1zKpp5a), the city of Durham had four cyclists killed and 30 disabled in collisions with motor vehicles from 1997 through 2012. In the same time, there were 62 pedestrian traffic fatalities and 192 who suffered disabling injuries.
Both figures have trended upward. In 1997, Durham had 76 pedestrian-motor vehicle crashes and 27 involving bicycles; in 2012 there were 149 and 48. Most took place in zones with speed limits of 30 or 35 miles per hour, and in very few cases was the motorist intoxicated.