Give visiting cyclists extra time and space

A recent bicycle/vehicle wreck serves as an important reminder to look out for visitors on bikes.

newsroom@islandpacket.comJuly 7, 2014 

The June 30 incident during which a 6-year-old boy was struck by a driver is a sad reminder that high season is here, bikers are everywhere and drivers must be extra cautious.

About two dozen wrecks involving bikes and vehicles occur each year on Hilton Head Island, said Darrin Shoemaker, the town's traffic and transportation engineer. So far this year, about a dozen have occurred, he added.

In this case, a Hilton Head driver was turning right at a red light at the intersection of Office Park Road and Pope Avenue when he struck the boy. The driver had looked to his left before turning, but did not check the right side, according to the S.C. Highway Patrol.

Cyclists are everywhere year round on bike-friendly Hilton Head Island, which is a great thing. This time of the year, hundreds more are out and about, many of them unfamiliar with where they are and often paying more attention to figuring out how to navigate to their destination than heeding traffic laws and watching for vehicles.

Some of these cyclists lack control of their bikes. Many are children. And others are adults who haven't been on two wheels in years.

And their numbers are growing. About 30,000 people are riding bikes on Hilton Head during this peak month of July, estimates Frank Babel, chairman of the town's Bicycle Advisory Committee. That number appears to tick upward each year as the island's reputation as a biking destination grows.

"We just have so many more bicyclists. People don't just come here for golf anymore," Shoemaker said, noting the town has the rare distinction of being certified as a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists.

The distracted nature of many visiting cyclists requires additional vigilance on the part of drivers. While it's easy to get frazzled with these visitors, we must play the role of good hosts. Let's take a deep breath, count to 10 and give our visitors extra space and time to navigate the island. Look multiple times before making turns, even when the light is green. Make eye contact with bikers to determine their intent. And always assume that those bikers who look as if they're about to cross the road -- even though there's no crosswalk -- are indeed going to cross.

Safety improvements are made each year to reduce the number of wrecks. That includes additions to the town's public bike path system that gets bikers out of contact with cars, more pedestrian-crossing signals, and signs that alerts cyclists to turning drivers and vice versa. New rumble strips on the Charles Fraser Bridge should also help.

But safety improvements can only do so much. Drivers who keep a close eye on the sometimes-not-so-observant biking visitors is key.

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