Public Safety

Bike fatalities spotlight challenge

Alfred Gorman, 73, was killed while bicycling near uptown Charlotte.
Alfred Gorman, 73, was killed while bicycling near uptown Charlotte. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Whether you feel Charlotte is a safe city for bicyclists probably depends on whether your preferred method of getting around town has two wheels or four.

Charlotte averages one to four bike-related fatalities each year, though the 140 bike crashes reported last year was the highest since 2002. But the question about cycling safety was revived in September, after two bicyclists were killed during collisions 10 days apart.

Charles Adkins, 74, was riding north on Statesville Road near West W.T. Harris Road on Sept. 23 when police say he turned into the path of a city bus. The bus driver unsuccessfully swerved to avoid him.

Ten days earlier, Alfred “Al” Gorman, 73, was killed in a chain-reaction wreck at Parkwood Avenue and Hawthorne Lane. Gorman, a former Cub Scout leader, had been homeless for seven years when he finally found a way to move into housing this year, using benefits earned from multiple stints in the military. A memorial for him drew 100 people and a white “ghost bike” has been placed at the wreck site to remind motorists of his death.

Ann Croninger, a lawyer who represents cyclists who are involved in collisions, said there are similarities in the crashes. “It seems to me that both of those individuals didn’t have a great place to ride,” she said.

Croninger, who had a close-call while riding with her daughter on Tremont Avenue earlier this year, said she doesn’t believe most drivers are antagonistic toward cyclists, they just haven’t acclimated themselves to the thought that people on bikes are a part of everyday travel.

“One of the things we need to do is change people’s mindset so that they’re expecting bicyclists and they’re expecting pedestrians,” she said. “The problem with the efforts that are going on now through government is that they’re pretty one-dimensional – let’s try to separate bicyclists from the rest of traffic.”

The city is becoming more bike-friendly every day, said Linda Durrett, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte Department of Transportation.

In 2003 the city had one mile of bike lane, she said. In 2014, Charlotte had 180 miles of bikeways, signed routes on low volume streets and off-street lanes.

And more infrastructure improvements are on the way, she said – green bike lanes, bike detection signals, and shared bike lanes.

The culmination of the city’s bike plan is the Cross Charlotte Trail, 26 car-free miles that will stretch from I-485 near Pineville to the Cabarrus County line.

Some of the trail is already completed, and other segments could be complete in two to three years.

Because of the city’s efforts, Durrett said, Charlotte has been recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as a 2008-2012 Bicycle Friendly Community at the bronze level.

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