Driving from James Island to downtown for work, I pass a lot of cyclists. They range in age, and they generally follow the rules of the road, so I try to give them respectful distance even if it means slowing down until it is safe to pass.
In one block on a Tuesday morning, I counted nine cyclists. They were all loaded down with books and backpacks, and it was clear this was their major means of transportation. It is easy downtown to give them some breathing room because we are all moving slowly, although they are caught between parked cars and me. But other roads really are not as safe, even with marked bike paths.
I look at the bike lane recently marked on Folly Road as I'm driving to Harris Teeter and realize how easily cars swing across it with scarcely a glance behind them. The recently approved improvements to Harbor View Road leave me wondering if cyclists have made a bad bargain on that busy road. I have friends who live off Harbor View, and the distance from my house to theirs is only a few miles.
But in terms of the number of cars, tackling that road on a bike, even once the changes are made, is still not for the faint of heart.
When I bought a bike recently, I thought there would be easy routes around my home in Riverland Terrace. After all, James Island County Park is nearby, and so is the wide bridge to Johns Island. It seemed as if there would be plenty of places to ride with only a few tight squeezes.
But I find myself intimidated by zooming traffic, bike lanes and shoulders that suddenly narrow to no more than a bumpy ditch, with no place to move out of the way. For instance, it is impossible to stay out of the road coming from West Ashley right before the bridge. Even if you are trying to stay to the right side of the traffic lane, a large bush meets the edge of the pavement around a critical corner, so a cyclist is forced to stay in the fast-moving traffic lane.
Don't get me wrong. I rode everywhere when I was a younger soul. But these days, with more and more people riding as transportation, we need to rethink how the rules of the road are written. We need to incorporate bike lanes and sidewalks into all kinds of designs and rethink the safety angle. Just try to remember the last time you saw a sidewalk being built in a neighborhood, or if there is one, who is using it. I would rather see a youngster on a tricycle on the sidewalk than out in the street, no matter how wide the bike lane.
We want our children to grow up being able to venture to the grocery store or the soccer field on their bikes, knowing there are safe routes. Sure, it may take longer, but the enjoyment and freedom of using two wheels instead of four to get somewhere is empowering.
I'm not the only one wondering about how to solve these issues. If you want to read more about the rights of cyclists and motorists, there is a good site called Safe Streets Save Lives. It has a great fact sheet that gives practical advice about how to stay safe when riding and how to look out for cyclists if you are in a car: www.safestreetssavelives.org/faq.php.
Do you have bike issues in your neighborhood, or have you seen a solution that works for both motorists and cyclists? Write me about it and I will feature your answers in another column.
Reach Stephanie Harvin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5557.