Cyclists seek more infrastructure, safer measures on common routes

CORNELIUS – In the wake of losing someone in the cycling community to a hit and run in Statesville, The Cycle Path Manager Evan St. Clair and others area cyclists are getting the word out about the importance of bike safety.

Kyle Clifton Eller, 53, was killed after being struck by a truck while cycling in mid-June on Barnhill Road. The truck driver, Robert Kyle Harkey, also of Statesville, was later arrested and charged with hit and run causing serious injury or death.

“It was a road they had a weekly training ride for 20 years and everyone knew to look out for the cyclists,” St. Clair said, comparing it to Davidson’s Shearer Road.

Huntersville cyclist Richard Kirkman said it’s always upsetting to hear news like that, especially considering he knew Eller and his brother, who is also an avid cyclist in the Lake Norman area. 

“When I heard that horrendous news, you just can’t prepare for that,” Kirkman said. “You don’t think it will happen to you.”

National Highway Traffic Administration statistics show in 2012, 726 pedalcyclists were killed with an additional 49,000 injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the country. That was 6 percent higher than the 682 reportedly killed in 2011.

“I’m a father, a husband, a son – and every cyclist has a family member waiting for them at home,” Kirkman said. “We all just want to get a workout and get home.”

Mooresville’s recent Lake Norman Excursion boasted more than 1,000 cyclists, though Kirkman remembers a decade ago when it was only 300. He also noted the growing number of Mooresville Area Cyclist participants, triathlon clubs, rides hosted by area bike shops and the North Meck group outings.

“Sadly, the infrastructure is not keeping up,” he said.

In 2008, Kirkman started a campaign to raise awareness about the need for better infrastructure to support the growing cycling population.

Life got in the way, but he picked up the effort again at the end of May, creating a SAFE North Meck Facebook page and getting copies of towns’ bike path, greenway and road improvement plans.

The goal of SAFE North Meck is to help towns and the N.C. Department of Transportation be more aware of the cyclist community and make roads safer for them – and not simply adding bike lanes. By law, cyclists are allowed to take the whole lane regardless of a bike lane.

“Bike lanes are a good start, but they can be dangerous because most of the road debris gets in there,” he said, adding, “Wider roads would be safer for motorists so they don’t have to cross the yellow line to pass us or brake to a stop.”

Greenways are great too, he said, but don’t cater to cyclists’ distances and speeds, which could put pedestrian safety at risk, he said.

Current common thoroughfares are Shearer Road, N.C. 115 and McCord Road, among others. Shearer offers access to Mooresville and further northeast to Kannapolis and Statesville, Kirkman explained.

With talks of future N.C. 115 widening and other road projects, Kirkman hopes he can get cyclists’ needs considered in the planning stages.

In the meantime, there are things both drivers and cyclists can do to have a better relationship. The key, both Kirkman and St. Clair say, is patience.

“People are more hostile now,” St. Clair said of cyclists being threatened by drivers, run off the road or had things thrown at them. “Society is in a rush to get home and back. We could all use slowing down a bit.”

St. Clair said it’s also a misunderstanding when drivers are upset because cyclists are in the middle of the road, saying it’s for their safety.

Common recommendations are to give three feet of clearance from a bicycle, but St. Clair said that isn’t enough.

“I try to give cars the same respect as they should give me on the road,” St. Clair said, adding he motions if he feels cars can pass him or their group. “If you’ve never been on a highway when an SUV passes you at 60 miles an hour, 18 inches away from you – you are that close to death.”

He recommends cyclists wear reflective clothing, have blinking lights and be smart about which roads they choose to ride on, not use headphones, be aware and have a constant escape route. Riding alone is more dangerous than group rides, though those commonly agitate drivers.

The conversation between drivers and cyclists is ongoing.

Mickey Pettus, River Run HOA president who organized a discussion at the River Run subdivision in April, said, “The dialogue between cyclists and automobile operators was superb. I believe we now have a better understanding of the issues that annoy and are unsafe,” but added not much as changed.

Pettus said he’d like to keep the dialogue open in hopes each group learns to work together better. “Folks don’t realize the passion we have for cycling,” Kirkman said in agreement. “It’s addictive. Regardless of the state infrastructure, regardless if you honk at them, cyclists are going to be there. … The effort is so that we can coexist.”