Durham cyclists advocate for more awareness
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As a commuting bicyclist, Tyagen Bolick is keenly aware of his surroundings riding to and from work.
Bolick said he generally feels safe riding in Durham, but he knows the consequences of bicycle-car collisions. Bolick every day sees the aftermath of a wreck between a car and bicycle.
Bolick works as a home health-care provider for a man severely injured more than a decade ago while on a bicycle ride. The man, a tri-athlete on a training ride, was struck by a car. The wreck left him a quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair unable to use his arms or legs.
Bolick thinks about it every day he rides to work. He has two route choices. He can ride on busy Fayetteville Road and make better time. Or he can take the American Tobacco Trail, which takes a little longer, but is mostly safer, he said.
Bolick joined other cyclists in downtown Durham Wednesday night to raise awareness about bicycling safely. Bike Durham’s “Ride of Silence” honored bicyclists killed or injured while riding. After a ceremony, riders planned to bike a five-mile route through downtown.
Bolick said he recently had a close call of his own. He was on the American Tobacco Trail waiting to cross N.C. 54. When he got the signal to cross, he said a driver in a pickup trail turning right on red did not see him in the crosswalk and struck him. Bolick said he suffered on bumps and bruises which did not need medical examination. It left him sore, he said.
“It could have been a lot worse,” he said. “When he hit me, it pushed me forward. If he hit me differently, I could have ended up under his truck or if it had been a car, I could have ended up on the hood.”
What the numbers say
The number of wrecks involving bicycles and cars statewide was fairly constant from 2013-16 but collisions and deaths jumped in 2017, according to the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Highway Safety Research Center.
Data for 2018 has not been released.
In 2013, there were 606 crashes and 18 deaths across the state involving bicyclists, according to the data. In 2014, there were 596 crashes and 17 deaths; in 2015, there were 620 crashes and 18 deaths. In 2016, the numbers fell slightly to 593 crashes and 16 deaths.
But in 2017, there were 724 reported bicycle-vehicle collisions and 28 deaths across the state.
In Durham County, there were 20 reported collisions but no deaths over the five years. In Orange County, the data showed 25 collisions with no deaths. Rural surrounding counties Chatham, Johnston and Granville reported fewer than five collisions each with no deaths.
Metropolitan counties accounted for most of the collisions. Mecklenburg County had 126 reported collisions, while Wake had 80. Guilford had 48, while New Hanover had 53.
Mecklenburg also reported the most deaths with five, while Robeson County, which is largely rural, had four deaths in 2017. Two bicyclists died in Wake.
Durham police are investigating a hit-and-run collision involving a bicyclist May 4.
Jessica Bridgers, 28, was riding her bike on Club Boulevard near Duke Street when she was struck, according to a police department news release. She was taken to the hospital with severe injuries, police say.
A friend told ABC11, The News & Observer’s news partner, that Bridgers has undergone nine surgeries since being hit.
Durham police are looking for 27-year-old Jose Luis Baltazar, who they say struck Bridgers and left the scene. Baltazar has been charged with felony hit-and-run involving serious injury or death and driving while his license was revoked for a DWI, police say.
Making it safer to ride
Bicycle activists in Durham are calling on city leaders to make riding safer.
The city has added more bike lanes as roads have been resurfaced. The City Council also agreed in 2017 to implement Vision Zero recommendations to reduce traffic fatalities involving bicyclists or pedestrians and cars.
Bicycle enthusiasts will gather downtown Wednesday night, May 15, to press the city to do more. A “Ride of Silence” through downtown will honor those killed or injured in Durham.
“It is an emotional protest to demand action by our elected leaders,” said Allison Shauger of Bike Durham. “It’s been two years since Durham City Council adopted the Vision Zero Resolution. We demand better.”
A page on the city’s website explains Vision Zero, which says there is a commitment to making streets in town safer for residents.
Bill Judge, Durham’s interim transportation director, said an action plan for Vision Zero was drafted in 2018 and it has undergone a revision to better address concerns.
“Since the adoption of the Vision Zero resolution, we have utilized the Vision Zero principles within the design of all our active bicycle and pedestrian projects,” he said. “Additionally, we have continued our transportation safety program which analyzes crash reports to identify and treat high-crash locations.”
Vision Zero is designed to eliminate roadway deaths and injuries by using data to find intersections and roadways with high incidence of collisions.