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Sharing the roads

Posted: November 19, 2013 11:40 a.m.
Updated: November 20, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Safety seems to be one of those things we talk about and know to be important, but don’t really consider until it has been compromised. At least, in my experience, that tends to be the way it goes. This summer, when I was living in Mount Pleasant, a close friend of mine was part of a situation where his safety was really compromised. I was recently reminded of this situation and wanted to share it with others.

My friend and coworker, Kevin, had the luck of finding a beautiful, affordable home on the Isle of Palms that was only two miles from work. He and his wife had few complaints living at the beach, other than the inordinate amount of traffic on the roads in the mornings during their commutes to work. Kevin’s wife didn’t work with us and travelled in a completely different direction to work, but still encountered a great deal of traffic daily.

Kevin decided he would start riding his bike to work to save time and gas money. He did all of the things to ensure his safety on the bike, including wearing a helmet and a bright yellow jacket with reflective strips on it every time he rode it.

I’ve heard from a few bike riders that Charleston is not the most bicycle-friendly city, especially in its outskirts and surrounding areas. I assumed a small beach town like the Isle of Palms that has a posted speed limit of 35 mph throughout the majority of the island would offer more safety to pedestrians and bike riders.

I learned that this was not necessarily the case. One Monday morning, Kevin left his house and began the bike trip to work, the same as he would any other day. For some reason, a gentleman driving a Jeep was in a major hurry to pass Kevin. When the driver passed my friend, he didn’t check to make sure no oncoming traffic was approaching. Kevin later told me that a large garbage truck was coming towards them. The Jeep driver braked and swerved back into his own lane, but swerved too far and struck my friend.

The force of the Jeep’s hit knocked Kevin off his bike and threw him forward about 50 feet. He landed in some gravel on the side of the road, badly scraping his knees and elbows and even his chin. The worse thing that happened was that he broke his right wrist and he happens to be right-handed.

He said the driver did stop and the police were called and the driver tried to say Kevin wasn’t in the bike lane and that it was somehow his fault that he’d been struck. Kevin said the police didn’t buy that story and the guy was charged with negligence or something along those lines, but that part of the story is rather perfunctory in my opinion.

I saw Kevin and his wife when I visited Charleston over Halloween. Of course, all his scraped knees and elbows have long since healed as well as the broken wrist. However, there is some lasting damage. He said he’s had to find different ways to hold his hands when typing because his wrist easily gets tired and sore. He has to get monthly massage treatments for his wrist and even said that shaking someone’s hand (who has an excessively firm handshake) makes him wince.

There is also the fact that he hardly ever rides his bike anymore. He said he has a real fear for his safety when riding a bike and he rarely chances it anymore.

When I think about his accident, it makes me angry because it was completely avoidable had the driver simply been patient enough to make sure he had a clear lane before trying to pass. I have become more careful myself when driving near bicyclists. They deserve the same attention someone on foot would get from someone in a car. While we may have to slow down somewhat to accommodate them, that’s OK. The roads are big enough that we can and should be able to share them.

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