Biking advocates on Hilton Head Island see encouraging news in a decline in accidents involving bicycles and cars reported in the first half of the year.
Through the end of July, nine wrecks between bicyclists and motorists were reported to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and S.C. Highway Patrol, according to numbers released Tuesday by the town.
That compares to 16 incidents reported during the first half of last year and an average of 14 reported between January and July of each year since 2007.
Of the nine wrecks this year, five resulted in injuries. Only one was serious: a broken leg. No fatalities were reported.
Town traffic engineer Darrin Shoemaker cautioned against drawing conclusions from the numbers, though he, too, was encouraged by them.
"It's not a substantial change, but it is a positive one," Shoemaker said. "Numbers down are a lot better than numbers being up."
Cyclists, however, say conditions for bikers on the island have improved significantly during the past several years, and the numbers prove town investment in new, improved pathways has paid off.
The town spends about $1 million annually, adding two miles of new pathway a year, Shoemaker said.
Once-dangerous intersections also have been improved with signs, signals and crosswalks, said Frank Babel, founder of Squeaky Wheels Cycling Advocacy Group and co-chairman of a recently formed bicycle advisory committee.
"When we started five or six years ago, there were four pedestrian-crossing signals," Babel said. "There are now 39. All of the major intersections on the island now, for the most part, have a push-button signal that stops traffic and gets pedestrians and bicyclists safely across the road. That's a huge improvement."
And what used to be the town's most dangerous intersection, William Hilton Parkway at Northridge Drive, has been free of bicycle wrecks for two years.
The town replaced an old, rusty pedestrian-crossing sign at that intersection with a green reflective sign farther ahead of the crosswalk to give motorists more reaction time, Shoemaker said. Landscaping also was cleared to give drivers and bikers better views.
Signs have been added, as well, at key intersections along Pope Avenue alerting bicyclists to turning vehicles and vice versa.
And recently completed paths and crosswalks have provided safer access to shopping and residential areas along William Hilton Parkway, Babel said.
"What we learned is there is no silver bullet in bike safety," he said. "It's a lot of little things that when put together add up and make a positive impact on behavior and safety."
Hilton Head earned a silver medal from the League of American Bicyclists last year, becoming the state's only community -- and one of a few in the Southeast -- to earn that distinction as a Bicycle Friendly Community.
Babel estimates that 20,000 to 30,000 people ride bikes on Hilton Head in June and July, peak tourism months, based on bike rentals.
"Not only do you want to make that ride memorable for the visitors who come here, you want to make it safe," he said. "We're making real progress, and that's a boon for our tourist economy and public safety."