Ned Barnett

Barnett: More bikes claim a share of the road

Center lanes on many Raleigh streets have been moved to left here, to the right there. Automobile lanes have been made fewer or narrower. All to make room for miles and miles of new bike lanes on Raleigh city streets, like this one on Hillsborough St. near McDowell St. in downtown Raleigh.
Center lanes on many Raleigh streets have been moved to left here, to the right there. Automobile lanes have been made fewer or narrower. All to make room for miles and miles of new bike lanes on Raleigh city streets, like this one on Hillsborough St. near McDowell St. in downtown Raleigh. cseward@newsobserver.com

There’s a revolution coming to the Triangle. It’s arriving on two wheels.

It is not, with apologies to Lance Armstrong, about the bike. It is about the bicyclists. In a movement that mirrors the cut-the-cord rebellion against cable TV, people are choosing to bike rather than drive. With the change, they shed the cost of car payments, insurance payments, state fees and personal property taxes. They also reduce their carbon footprint and get healthier.

But this revolution is not without resistance, especially from motorists who see the rise in cyclists as a rising road hazard. Some drivers think it’s more than simply getting around people on bikes. It’s an active challenge when cyclists blow through traffic lights, cut across lanes and present opportunities for a terrible collision.

Into this contested terrain ride Mike Dayton, 60, of Raleigh and Steve Goodridge, 46, of Cary. Between them, they have 70 years of cycling without a serious crash. They’d like that to be true of all who ride, but it’s not. On average, 19 cyclists die and more than 600 are injured in North Carolina crashes annually, according to the Department of Transportation.

Dayton and Goodridge want to strike a balance in which motorists and cyclists not only share the road, but share a goal: Respect each other and get where you’re going without incident.

“I don’t think anyone wants to hold up traffic. We are part of the traffic,” said Dayton, a lawyer and a former chairman of the Raleigh bicycle and pedestrian advisory commission.

Goodridge, who has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from N.C. State, takes an analytical approach to bike safety. He’s a certified cycling safety instructor, he publishes a blog, NC Bike Ed, and he recently served on a state Department of Transportation working group that proposed changes in traffic laws regarding cyclists.

Improving cycling safety is counterintuitive, Goodridge said. Hugging the right-hand side of the road on a bike actually increases the chance of getting hit, he said, as motorists think there is enough room to pass without getting out of the lane. It’s safer, he said, to be farther into the lane where you’re more visible and passing cars will wait until they can give the cyclist a wider berth.

Goodridge acknowledges that some cyclists flout traffic laws, ride on sidewalks and ride at night without lights. But he said police can and do ticket cyclists. The larger problem, he said, is a perception that cyclists should stay out of the way. He argues that roadways are not motorways. They belong to all travelers.

The NCDOT working group has recommended that drivers be allowed to cross a solid yellow line to pass someone on a bike, a change Goodridge supports. But he was frustrated that state staff recommended changing a current law which allows cyclists to take up a wider share of the lane. DOT staff wants cyclists to be restricted to the right half of the lane.

“Our culture wants cyclists to follow the rules for cyclists, but our culture doesn’t want to make room for cyclists,” Goodridge said.

Raleigh has tried to better define road space for cyclists with lane markings. Last year, the city used $700,000 in city and federal funds to add bike lanes to 27 miles of roadway, said Eric J. Lamb, the city’s transportation planning manager.

There are now 65 miles of bike lanes in Raleigh, up from four miles in 2009. The bike lanes combined with the city’s 114 miles of greenway trails have made commuting by bike a more inviting option, Lamb said.

Some motorists no doubt feel that giving more room to cyclists further slows traffic in an increasingly crowded area. But Dayton said cyclists take cars off the roads and usually try to take routes where they are not in traffic.

“There’s frustration. It’s easy to point to cyclists, but it’s suburban sprawl. You’ve got too many cars on too few roads,” he said.

A solution to that tension is more courtesy on the road, Goodridge said. Cyclists and motorists should give way to one another according to a natural respect and a sense of practical functioning.

“Driving is a social activity,” he said. “People need to be predictable, just like getting in line at Starbucks.”

Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett@newsobserver. com

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