Cyclists, motorists butt heads over roadways

June 4, 2008 6:21:40 PM PDT
The death of a Durham bicyclist is renewing the debate about transportation funding and who really has the right of way on narrow two-lane roads, bikes or cars?

59-year-old Clive Sweeney w

as peddling his bike on Pleasant Green Road in Orange County when an oncoming car crossed the center line and hit him head on Wednesday.

Erwin Road in Durham is also a busy road, and a very popular bicycle route between Durham and Chapel Hill.

And it's very typical of many state highways in North Carolina. No bicycle lanes and no paved shoulders.

So when cars and bikes try to share the road, there is often tension, sometimes fear and some illegal passing.

"Automobiles will honk, yell things at you. A lot of times, things have been thrown at us," said Brian Bergeler with the Bull City Cycling Club.

"You'll beep your horn at them sometimes when they're riding in those packs, and you get all kinds of one and two finger signals from them," Durham Resident, CW Mendenhall said.

As gas prices rise, more bicycles are taking to state roads. But the roads often do not have enough room for legal passing of slower bike traffic.

"They're set up for cars. If you don't know that getting on, then you are fooling yourself," said Will Morrow, a Carrboro cyclist.

Some motorists say bikes should not be on these roads. But state law does say a bicycle has as much right to the full lane as any speeding car.

"Bicycles are by state law, a vehicle," Bergeler said.

The state also says two-lane roads ideally should be 24 feet across. But they often are not. And the state also says these roads should have shoulders no less than two feet, but they are rarely paved.

"Most roads across the state really don't have shoulders," said Matt Hayes with Greenways.

But drivers who pay gas and car taxes say their money is paying for these roads.

"I don't mind sharing a portion of the road with them. I pay the tax on it, they don't," Mendenhall said.

But as more bikes take to narrow streets, more problems could lie ahead.

The state's transportation department does have an office which focuses solely on bicycle and pedestrian travel. But they are less than 1 percent of the highway budget.

$6 million a year for bike lanes has not increased in several years, even as construction inflation has spiraled.


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