In a cycling shirt of highlighter yellow, with the words “Do you see me now?” printed on the back, Robert Jones can’t be missed. He has good reason to want to be seen. Six years ago a pickup truck hit him head-on while he rode his bike, putting him in intensive care for eight days, stuck in a bed for three months and taking five years to feel he had regained most of what he lost.
Jones joined more than 200 riders Sunday morning in the inaugural Capital Area Ride for Safety, an event shortened to CARS to single out what riders perceive as the greatest threat to life and limb out on the roadways. Riders, each with their own scars and close calls, completed a 28-mile loop from Wakefield High School in North Raleigh to the Halifax Mall downtown, stopping for nearly an hour at the government complex to listen to local cycling advocates and refuel on bagels and fruit.
Organizer Joe Whitehouse said the ride comes out of tragedy and hopes to serve as a reminder to drivers and cyclists to be careful out there. Earlier this year a car hit four cyclists from behind on a rural Johnston County road, including prominent local rider Mike Dayton, who remained unconscious for two days. The driver, Donnie Marie Williams of Angier, faces charges of reckless driving to endanger, improper passing in a curve and four counts of improper passing resulting in serious bodily injury. A trial date has not yet been set.
“This is just a little bit of a reminder to drivers to be aware of bikers on the road,” Whitehouse said. “A bicycle can only lose when going against a car.”
Often people in vehicles don’t understand bikes can be on the road, period.
Joe Whitehouse, Capital Area Ride for Safety organizer
North Carolina averages more than 20 cycling deaths per year, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, and Whitehouse believes that number can easily be cut down.
“There are too many accidents and tons and tons of close calls,” Whitehouse said. “I think we can improve things by just raising awareness and continuing to have a conversation. I hope this can be a bit of a springboard. Often people in vehicles don’t understand bikes can be on the road, period.”
Whitehouse mentioned his own close call, when, years ago while riding through Yellowstone National Park, the mirror of an RV clipped his helmet. He caught up with the RV down the road at a rest stop, prepared to unleash upon the driver the fury of someone believing he was nearly killed by carelessness.
“I was fit to be tied, but then I saw that they were this old couple, and I thought, ‘Oh shoot, I bet they just drive this thing once a year;’ so I let it go,” Whitehouse said. “Darned if that mirror didn’t pop me in the head again down the road.”
The phrase “share the road” has come to typify the basic expectations of cyclists, that in a 10-foot-wide lane, some space could be made for someone traveling on a pair of inch-wide rubber wheels. But sharing can get complicated, especially on the road, when the give and take holds a life in the balance and deals in only moments of time. Lisa Riegel, the executive director for Bike Walk North Carolina, a statewide cycling advocacy group, hopes drivers will think about what they’re really losing when they’re stuck behind a bicycle.
“How long was your delay? It was seconds really, maybe a minute, and it didn’t really hold you up,” Riegel said, recalling interactions with friends complaining of bikes. “If we could somehow, in addition to ‘share the road’ and safety culture, (develop) that mentality of a culture of patience.”
Jones said that he sees it both ways and that cyclists have work to do, too.
“I think that cyclists need to be more mindful,” Jones said, encouraging all riders to obey traffic laws. “It’s the cyclists that blast through the red lights, that don’t observe the same rules because they don’t want to lose momentum. This causes a great deal of resentment from people who are driving cars. It’s not good to have resentful drivers.”
Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson took part in the ride, donning traditional spandex cyclist clothing and seizing upon the political opportunity of his audience. Hutchinson noted that in recent years the Triangle has built up a 250-mile greenway system, bike lanes have increased from seven miles to 70 and a bike share program is on the way to Raleigh. He pitched this November’s $2.3 billion transit referendum as a way to hold it all together.
“As an advocate for 20 years I’ve been talking about how sidewalks should connect to bike lanes, bike lanes should connect to greenways, greenways should connect to transit, transit should connect to destinations you want to go every day,” Hutchinson said.
The term “bike friendly” has grown in importance as cities compete for millennials. Whitehouse believes Raleigh has done well in recent years, pointing to the bike lanes on Hillsborough Street and the growing number or cyclists.
“You’ve got more riders in the Triangle than I’ve ever seen,” he said.