Should Greenville Residents Focus On Bicycle Safety?
Posted on behalf of Harbin & Burnett on May 01, 2014 in General Interest
All it takes is a drive through downtown Greenville or a ride in the northern part of the county to drive home the point that people with bicycles love this part of the country. Any nice day, and some not so nice, you can see cyclists in downtown Greenville over their lunch hour or after work. More serious riders looking for more of a challenge are especially fond of northern Greenville with its back roads and rolling terrain.
As Greenville has become more attractive to cyclists, conflicts between cars and bikes have become more common. Some of this plays out in tragic ways with accidents that inevitably take a higher toll on the cyclist than on the driver of a car or truck.
South Carolina has its own challenges when it comes to many measures of highway safety, and it has gained notoriety when it comes to bicycle safety, too. More cyclists die on South Carolina roads per capita than all but five states, according to the 2014 Benchmarking Report released by the Alliance for Biking and Walking that was cited in a recent Greenville News story by Nathaniel Cary. The states ranking has actually improved a bit from the 49th spot two years earlier.
Even worse news is that the states rate of bicycling deaths is climbing. In the 2012 report there were 13.5 deaths per 10,000 bike riders in South Carolina, Cary reported in The News, and that number jumped in 2014 to 21.2.
State Rep. Wendy Nanney fired up a controversy last month when she surprised the cycling community with legislation that was heavy handed and at least appeared punitive to those who travel on two wheels. The bill would have required several things including permits and insurance when someone is riding a bicycle on roads with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or greater. Cyclists would have had to pass a bicycle safety written exam and eyesight test at the DMV in order to get a permit that came with a $5 fee. And children under 15 would have been banned from cycling on roads with speed limits 35 mph or greater.
The cycling community responded with a loud uproar one so powerful that Nanney dropped the bill quickly after word of it started leaking out on a weekend. Nanney since has followed through with a town hall meeting where people on all sides of this issue were allowed to voice their opinion.
Whats clear is that when bicycles are discussed in Greenville County there is no shortage of opinions. Nanney noted she had filed the bill after seeing several near collisions. Anyone who has spent time on city streets surely has had the same experience, and while the cyclist may be at fault on occasion, an observation is that many drivers do not look for bicycles and some demonstrate outright hostility toward them.
Greenville County Councilman Joe Dill, who represents much of northern Greenville County, has spoken out about the increased frustration from longtime residents of his district as it becomes more popular with the cycling community.
In many cases, whats needed is more patience from drivers who dont want to be inconvenienced, and more respect flowing between drivers and cyclists. In any accident involving a bike and a vehicle, there's no doubt as to which one will suffer greater damage. Barry Peters told The News Cary about an accident on State 101 when he was hit from behind by what a witness later described as a blue pickup truck. Peters was seriously injured and could have died.
In South Carolina, a bicycle has as much right to be on any road, except the interstate, as any vehicle. Bicycles must follow the rules of the road, but the legal right to be there is beyond dispute. That goes for a poor person using a single-speed bike for transportation to and from work, or a cyclist who pays thousands of dollars for a sleek high-performance bike.
The city of Greenville has spent time and resources recently on making many areas more bike-friendly and also safer. As City Councilwoman Amy Ryberg Doyle, who also is a bike advocate, told Cary, cyclists are legally allowed on the roads, and its up to the cities to take responsibility and work on how to reconcile these issues within the city limits.
Greenville County, and indeed all counties with an active cycling community, should have the same attitude. The states role can be to encourage enforcement of existing laws and push for more education.
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