Cycling, a physically and environmentally beneficial mode of transportation, has become especially dangerous in the Triangle in the last few months, reaching a terrifying climax after a Durham cyclist was killed in a hit-and-run last month after a driver ran a red light and struck the cyclist in a crosswalk. This tragedy highlights the desperate need for drivers to exercise safety around cyclists and for safe infrastructure for cyclists in the Triangle.
Professional studies highlight the many benefits of using bicycles as a mode of transportation. Recent research at Leicester University has shown that people who cycle to work are exposed to less exposure to pollution than people who commute by car. Other research highlights the mental benefits of cycling, such as a YMCA study which found that people who have a physically active lifestyle had a mental wellbeing score 32% higher than people with inactive lifestyles. Along with these personal benefits, cycling as a means of transportation is a key step in slowing climate change, as each year in the U.S., motor vehicles are responsible for about 30% of carbon dioxide, over 80% of carbon monoxide and about 50% of nitrogen oxide emissions.
While shared-use or “sharrow” roads (marked by the bicycle icon with two arrows on top) along with North Carolina bike laws giving bicycles the same rights as cars, may seem like notable efforts to make cycling safer in urban environments, shared-use roads do exactly the opposite. With no designated bike lane, cyclists are forced to ride alongside and in traffic, where poor driver visibility and inattentiveness can prove dangerous or even fatal for cyclists. Instead, it would be wise for the city to construct more protected bike lanes and extend greenway trails in the future.
Charlie Osborn, a third-year studying electrical engineering, is a member of the cycling club and commutes regularly, explained the need for better cycling infrastructure.
“The problem is that cycle lanes aren’t really protected in Raleigh,” Osborn said. “You should really have some sort of division between cars and other traffic because you can’t really trust drivers on the road.”
According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, of the approximately 1,000 cyclists who are involved in crashes with motor vehicles each year, about 20 are fatally wounded and 60 are seriously injured. Without the threat of danger to themselves, drivers often subconsciously choose to be inattentive while driving alongside cyclists, when instead it is extremely important for them to remain cautious and aware as the slightest mistake could be fatal.
Over the last few years, Raleigh has begun to address these necessary changes, most notably with the addition of a few protected bike lanes downtown and on Hillsborough Street. While progress has been made, cyclists still have many concerns about the infrastructure.
“There’s marginal improvements, but I think the problem is you can’t get from some places in the city to others in dedicated cycle lanes, so what’s the point of just throwing this sporadically wherever it makes sense as opposed to creating dedicated bike routes?” Osborn said.
In addition to what the city can do to protect cyclists from drivers, drivers can also adopt a few habits to make cyclists feel safer on the road. The most important of these involve learning cycling laws in North Carolina, refraining from parking or temporarily moving into bike lanes and checking mirrors before opening car doors when parked on the side of the road.
In urban university communities, such as NC State, cycling has become a way of life for many students. A great deal of students use cycling as a means to go to class, dining halls, downtown, stores and to meet with friends. In a community where cycling is so vital, students and community members alike must demand safer cycling infrastructure and an expanse on cycling law education.
Cycling has now found itself in a crossroads, where the city and drivers must choose between negligence and making an efficient and effective mode of transportation viable in the Triangle. Cycling is the future of transportation, but is Raleigh willing to accept it?