Durham County

Forum urges Durham to improve bike safety

Durham deserves better.

That was the message delivered at Saturday’s public forum and memorial for three recently killed Durham bicyclists: Tony Morris Turner, Kent Winberry and Pamela Lane.

The event, hosted by advocacy group Bike Durham, was an attempt to brainstorm ways to improve cyclist safety as well as remember Turner, Winberry and Lane.

After a moment of silence, Bike Durham board Chairman Jack Warman spoke about the need for safety reform.

“Not enough is going on to mitigate the rise of these things happening,” Warman said. “We call on our city leaders to make things happen. Without any actions it’s just words on paper.”

At least 80 people crammed into the space at Bull City Coworking on South Duke Street, a mixture of young and old that included Councilman Steve Schewel and city bicycle and pedestrian coordinator Dale McKeel.

Friends and loved ones of Turner, Winberry and Lane also were in attendance. Tim Flynn, Lane’s fiancé, spoke to the frustrations of many in the room.

“I personally am not a cyclist but am here to warn you that there exists a real, innate political problem,” Flynn said.

As of 2012, North Carolina ranked 45th in number of cyclist commuters. Only 0.2 percent of daily commuters in the Tar Heel State were bicyclists, according to American Community Survey data.

In the same year there were 1,024 crashes and 27 deaths, according to the state Department of Transportation. The state averages about 20 bicyclist deaths per year.

On Nov. 15, Tony Morris Turner was killed in a hit-and-run while riding his bicycle on North Roxboro Street. Kent Winberry died Oct. 27 from injuries suffered Oct. 18 when he was hit cycling on Duke University Road. Pamela Lane was killed Oct. 3 while riding on a sidewalk on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. No one has been charged in these cases, and police are looking for a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee they think was involved in Turner’s death.

The Durham Police Department is emphasizing “traffic, pedestrian, and bicycle safety” in its strategic plan for the coming year. The plan includes communication with groups such as Bike Durham, Durham police public information officer Brandon Parrott wrote in an email.

However, many at Saturday’s event were unsatisfied by the response from the city, the police and the media.

Several spoke about the failed implementation of the 2006 Comprehensive Bicycle Plan, which highlighted the need for improved safety measures on Roxboro Sreet, where Turner was killed. They also bemoaned the sluggish movement of the DOT’s “Complete Streets” policy, which has seen few returns since its inception in 2009.

The groups circulated several ideas for improvement, including increasing the distance cars must use when passing cyclists from two to three feet.

McKeel, a cyclist himself, said he understood the frustration but added he believes the city is making strides to improving cyclist safety.

“The city is committing a lot of resources to making Durham more bike-friendly,” McKeel said. “People need to understand that the things that take the longest to accomplish are the infrastructure.”

At the end of the afternoon the focus shifted from policy change to remembrance. Dozens of community members honored the memories of Turner, Winberry and Lane in a manner befitting the three avid cyclists: a group ride through the streets of Durham.

“We all feel shaken by recent events, but no one wants to stop or see people stop riding because they are scared,” said Winberry’s friend and cyclist Elizabeth Hopkins. “We don’t want to take that away from anyone.”