Hilton Head Island bikers are coasting into better riding conditions, with town officials reporting fewer accidents in 2012, more paths being built and better signs on the way.
The improvements come as more residents and visitors are taking to two-wheeled transit.
More than 20,000 bikes are available to rent from shops on the island. That's twice as many as Frank Babel remembers six or seven years ago. Babel is co-chairman of the town's Bicycle Advisory Committee and founder of Squeaky Wheels, a bicycle advocacy group.
"Biking has become an important part of our community," Babel said. "It's who we are."
Despite the island's bike paths becoming busier, riding might be getting safer.
Fewer cyclists were hit by cars in 2012 on Hilton Head than in any of the past six years, according to Beaufort County Sheriff's Office data. The frequency of accidents had been increasing each year since 2007. Last year, there were 16 bike-car accidents, a 38 percent drop from 2011, when there were 26 wrecks.
Darrin Shoemaker, town traffic and transportation engineer, attributes the decline to planning and safety-education work by the Bicycle Advisory Committee and to an ever-expanding public bike path system, which keeps bikers away from cars.
The town maintains 57 miles of public paths, which provide bicyclists safe routes and have expanded more than a mile per year since 2007, Shoemaker said.
By spring 2014, the town will have completed five more paths, totaling almost three miles. The paths -- to go along Leg O' Mutton Road, Pembroke Drive, Gardner Drive, Lemoyne Avenue, and routes connecting William Hilton Parkway to Honey Horn and Jarvis Creek Park -- are expected to cost $2.3 million and will be paid for with property tax and hospitality tax revenues, among other sources, Shoemaker said.
In addition to new routes, 30 new information kiosks will start popping up to help riders find their way.
The 20 current kiosks -- which provide information about nearby attractions, bicycle safety and maps of bike routes -- are outdated, and it's too expensive to make changes to them, according to senior town planner Jayme Lopko.
The town has added about six miles of bike paths since 2007, when the current kiosks were installed.
The town is replacing the maps and safety-information panels with a surface that's easier to update. Ten kiosks will be relocated to busier locations, and 10 more will be added.
The Hilton Head Island Rotary Club and Women's Association of Hilton Head Island are donating $11,000 and $10,000, respectively, to pay for the kiosks.
Don Veitch, owner of Road Fish Bike Shop, said such steps are needed to improve bike safety.
"The decrease in collisions is a result of the town being proactive. It's a reassuring result," Veitch said.
These improvements also support Hilton Head's reputation as a bicycle-friendly community, according to the League of American Bikers. The island was awarded a silver-level rating in 2011 from the national organization, making Hilton Head the highest-rated community in South Carolina.
"What we've found is that safety is a process of continuous improvement," Babel said. "There is no silver bullet in bike safety."
Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.