I'm angry. This is a call to action about the W Club Blvd Hit-and-Run.

Hi Friends,
If you're a new Bike Durham member, welcome and thanks for joining us! This is a special edition of the monthly newsletter due to a tragic hit-and-run crash that triggered some strong emotions for me personally. Durham needs to do better. Please read on, and thanks for your support.

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When will Durham get serious about Vision Zero?

Friday, May 3rd was a night of contrasts. First came the successful Bike Month kick-off party—a chance for our community to come together over a shared commitment to advocating for safer streets. A few hours later, a dark reality woke me up at 1 am in the form of police lights and caution tape outside my window. Just a few steps from my front door, I could see the mangled bike on W Club Boulevard at the intersection of N Duke Street. I watched the police measuring distances and trying to recreate the scene of this horrific hit-and-run. I didn’t dare walk closer for fear I’d see a body.

My mother was killed in a bike crash three years ago this May 25th. Seeing that mangled bike Saturday morning made me feel so angry and helpless. Just the day before I had purchased a sign to place at this same dangerous intersection where Brooke Lyn Maynard died last year in a car crash. It will read: “Drive like your mother died here” from the organization called OursDid.org. I thought maybe this would remind drivers as they approach this unsafe intersection that lives are at stake. Maybe it would make me feel like I’ve done something to help when the systemic changes we need to keep pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers safe on our streets seem so far off.

There are many differences between these two tragic crashes, and the numerous other fender-benders and “accidents” that occur at this intersection. Some may point to the victims or survivors and say they should have been safer; they shouldn’t have been walking or biking there at all; or, it was just an “accident”. I vividly recall reading the stinging comments in the coverage of my mom’s fatal bike crash—unkind and uninformed remarks about how she shouldn’t have been riding on that road. Like she didn’t deserve to be there.

The problem is: we know better.

We know that people are going to make mistakes. We know that educating the public with driver safety, or encouraging more lights for bicyclists, or putting up signs to raise awareness are all just ban-daids that won’t bring about the changes to infrastructure we so desperately need to save lives and prevent injury.

One of the key tenets of Vision Zero, a commitment that the City of Durham Transportation Department has adopted, is to shift away from the assumptions of perfect human behavior and individual responsibility and towards a model where we assume people make mistakes and the built environment should be physically designed to keep people safe (all modes: driving, biking, walking). This model de-emphasizes enforcement and education (though of course there will always be a place for education), and instead focuses on system/street design and policy improvements as proven, data-driven ways to reduce fatalities and injuries on the streets.

When cities take Vision Zero seriously they create a roadmap for action that is concrete and contains proactive strategies and policies such as:

  • Address unsafe street design with measurable goals and clear timeline for implementation.

  • Bring a paradigm shift regarding speed management, ensuring enforcement is equitable.

  • Deploy rapid response teams to urgently address safety concerns and raise awareness at crash sites.

  • Create a task force, act with transparency, and invite third party assessment of progress toward stated project goals.

Where is Durham’s actionable roadmap for Vision Zero?

In the two years since Durham adopted Vision Zero, we have not seen a plan outlining strategies, implementation timeline, or evaluation process. Where is our leadership? Yes, the City is in the midst of a national search for a new Transportation Director as the position is currently vacant. We do have an Interim Director and a capable staff and they should have two years of Vision Zero planning behind them. Why hasn’t City Council demanded action and provided the necessary resources to move Durham towards its goal of zero fatalities on our streets? (Note, the Interim Director of the Portland, OR Bureau of Transportation took impressive action on April 24th with his directive for a new, accelerated crash response protocol.)

The change is too slow.

The hit-and-run crash this weekend was on a section of W Club (between Broad and Washington) listed as a critical priority in the 2017 Bike+Walk Implementation Plan. That plan, developed by the Transportation Department, called for reducing W Club down to a two-lane road with buffered bike lanes (which should be physically protected from vehicles like the one that hit Jessica Bridger on Saturday morning) running from Broad all the way to Washington. It has been two years since this plan was adopted, why haven’t these improvements been made yet? Thirteen years ago, W Club was also listed as a "Top 20" corridor in the 2006 Comprehensive Bicycle Transportation Plan. How many more plans will it be featured in and how many more collisions will happen there before it is made safer?

We will never know if things would have turned out differently early Saturday morning had there been a protected bike lane, but we know for sure that these tragic crashes will continue if nothing changes at this intersection.

What we can do right now

Support the woman who was hit.

Jessica Bridgers is in the ICU with numerous broken bones and lacerations in addition to brain swelling. She will require multiple surgeries, and will be out of work for months, if not longer. Donate to her GoFundMe site to help her raise funds for medical expenses and a long recovery.

Join and contribute to Bike Durham.

Some might think it’s distasteful or opportunistic to ask for contributions to Bike Durham in the wake of a horrible crash. I respect that everyone can feel differently about these complicated and emotional moments. Personally, I believe that building up Bike Durham to make safe street advocacy more powerful is one concrete thing we can do right now to productively channel feelings of helplessness and rage into action.

When people get cancer, we raise money for cancer research. We donate to the organizations that are fighting to find a cure. When our family, friends, and neighbors are being killed in crashes on our streets, we should be supporting the organizations like Bike Durham that are fighting to hold the City, the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO), and the State DOT accountable to their own plans for Complete Streets and Vision Zero.

Here’s where my analogy falls short: we don't know the precise cause of every cancer and we are still seeking cures. The same is not true for preventing crashes. We do have data and proven street designs, and we do know how to lower the incidence of injuries and deaths caused by crashes on our streets:

We need to hold the City accountable for Vision Zero.

Bike Durham is trying to fund a paid staff position so we can better hold the City accountable to the Vision Zero commitment, so these tragic events don’t keep happening. Please become a member or donate today. We’re fighting to cure our streets so we can stay alive.

Ride to remember and honor those impacted

Wednesday, May 15 at 6:30 PM, CCB Plaza

Join us for the Ride of Silence: a social but silent bike ride around downtown (5 miles) to honor and remember those killed or injured while biking. All are welcome to show solidarity for the community of bicyclists and walkers who have lost their lives and whose families are forever changed because our streets are not good enough.

This ride occurs in hundreds of locations worldwide on the third Wednesday in May. This year will mark the 17th annual Ride of Silence.

Our Position on Helmets and Police at Rides

Bike Durham board members and volunteers have been grappling with tough questions and instead of keeping the conversation to ourselves, we think it’s important to create dialogue around these sensitive and sometimes deeply personal issues. Recently, in planning the annual Ride of Silence, two topics came up that gave us pause and forced us to work through some differences in perspective and experience:

  • Should we require helmets on the ride? Who would that exclude?

  • Would a police escort for the ride add to the feeling of safety or detract from it?

Ultimately, through productive discussion and open-mindedness all around, we’ve settled on some positions for the Ride of Silence that can guide us for other events as well. We encourage healthy, respectful conversation around these topics and welcome members and the biking community to talk about these things, because that’s how we can learn and grow.


Our position on helmets

We consider wearing a helmet while biking a good idea.

Many of the Bike Durham leadership wear helmets habitually. Many of us have been in crashes where helmets have helped prevent serious injury. Like bicycle lights, which are required by law at night in North Carolina, wearing a helmet helps keep your noggin safe when it hits something hard. The foundation of Bike Durham is the desire to prevent senseless deaths and foster liveable streets. Helmets and lights are part of that.

However, a lot of the time, when helmets are promoted by advocates, legislators, or transportation departments, they are pitched as a cure-all for safety, often ignoring the larger, systemic, and more obvious threats to safety. There is a simple truth that if a vehicle hits you while you are walking or biking, a helmet is usually not enough to prevent injury.  

Helmets are not the ultimate solution. Helmets provide a foam cushion when something smacks your head— they do not prevent all head injuries, they don’t stop cars, they don’t protect the rest of your body. If Bike Durham put helmets on everyone biking in Durham people would still die because of car crashes. So while we encourage helmet use, we put most of our time and effort into preventing crashes in the first place and believe that those who design our roads need to do the same.

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We have chosen to prioritize changing and improving the built environment (ex: streets, sidewalks, crosswalks) over changing individual behavior. Encouraging helmet use will probably protect some noggins— just like teaching drivers the Dutch Reach probably prevents some doorings. We certainly believe in a world where everyone who wants a helmet has access to one, especially children. But we are concerned with making the biggest change with the longest effect. That’s why we’re focused on building a low-stress network that keeps you, grandma, your little nephew, everybody safe throughout the city. If you look at cities with strong bicycle infrastructure, you’ll notice that helmet usage is not the norm and it can be quite rare. Why? Because it is safe for young and old to ride their bikes without a helmet— the built environment is what creates safety.

Public education campaigns that focus on wearing helmets and reflective clothing (or pedestrians looking up from their phones) place the burden of safety on the individual biking or walking. Intended or not, these campaigns are apologetics for a car-dominant transportation system and contribute to a culture of victim-blaming in media coverage of crashes. ‘If you get hit, it was because you didn’t respect the car’s space.’ Bike Durham has a vision where it’s pleasant and normal to walk and bike to work in Durham and our advocacy should reflect that future rather than preparing everyone merely to survive the streets.

Car-centric safety campaigns on the left and political cartoons satirizing them on the right

All this leads to our last point: we are not just committed to preventing senseless deaths and injuries, but also to creating more livable streets. That happens when we build the street for everyone who uses it (all modes). And we cannot build livable streets while prioritizing car speeds. We want to build a Durham where you don’t have to gear up and wear a helmet to be safe on the roads— because those safety accessories aren’t solving the problem now anyway.

So, we don’t require helmets on our rides, though we do recommend them because we are more focused on the important factors of infrastructure and cars.

For more reading on this subject check out:
The Bike Helmet Paradox - The Atlantic
Enough With The Helmet Shaming Already - Outside Magazine

 

Our position on the police


Bike Durham is seeking to become more equity-focused, inclusive, and diverse. We’re living that out in various ways. We made this commitment essential to our formal statement of purpose. We are actively recruiting board members of color to better represent and advocate for Durham’s diversity. The leadership is attending seminars and workshops as part of our ongoing anti-racism work, and we’re challenging ourselves to think differently about everything the organization does. One way this has come up recently is around the presence of police at our events.

Every year Bike Durham hosts the Ride of Silence, as part of an international community of nearly 400 cities worldwide who organize these grassroots memorial rides on the third Wednesday every May. The slow group ride is held in complete silence to honor and remember victims of traffic violence. Traditionally, in many cities, this ride is held with the assistance of law enforcement personnel. Since the ride is silent and ride marshals cannot address the group or announce a change of plans at the moment, the police have served as escorts, commanding the respect of motor traffic on the route.  

For some, the presence of police at rides like these offers comfort and a feeling of safety as they may be already hyper-conscious of the threat cars pose to vulnerable street users. For others, police presence causes anxiety and fear. For those who live in Durham without documentation, the police often embody the ubiquitous threat of capture, deportation, and separation from their family and community. For many, especially people of color and those in poverty, the police personify a long history of excessive force and community terrorism, playing crucial roles in the mechanics of institutional racism such as the school to prison pipeline and the war on drugs.  

The reputation of violence is so deeply entangled with police that people of color and vulnerable communities avoid events where law enforcement is present. Mending those relationships and improving that reputation are worthwhile goals, but the responsibility for that reconciliation lies with the police, not with Bike Durham. This is an instance when we are not able to satisfy everyone.  

We have decided that being true to our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion means creating a welcoming environment for those who are usually ignored or unwelcomed in these environments. In this case, it means that we will not invite or pay the police to attend our events.

Without sacrificing safety and to ensure participants feel comfortable, we will have informed volunteer ride marshals supporting the Durham Ride of Silence. We hope you will join us!

Durham's First Protected Bike Lane

 

The Background

Broad Street is being resurfaced by NCDOT this summer.  The Transportation Department, in collaboration with Alta Planning + Design, is taking this opportunity to re-stripe the street to improve safety for all users.  Broad Street is a key link in the bicycle network in Durham, connecting important destinations like Duke’s East Campus, the North Carolina School of Science and Math and commercial districts along the street. It would also connect to bike lanes further north on Broad Street, and to ones on Main Street and Club Boulevard.  The project is moving very quickly and you should know about a critical issue with designs proposed by staff.

Bike Durham has followed this design process closely from the beginning.  Two of the three initial designs included some variation of current best practice— protected bike lanes.  Protected bike lanes have been shown to increase cycling rates and reduce crash rates. Bike Durham and the larger bicycle community supported those two designs, one of which included parking-protected bike lanes— a common design for streets with retail businesses like those along Broad Street.

The Problem: No Physical Protection

At the latest public meeting, Bike Durham and others in the bicycle community were surprised to see that neither of the preferred designs were chosen.  Instead, the City advanced the only design that offered no physical protection for cyclists. While the new design does include bike lanes, they are not protected from the regular travel lanes.

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Additionally, the bike lanes are not carried all the way through the corridor, ending before they reach Main Street (and its bike lanes) to the south, and not continuing through the Guess Road intersection to the north.  With the current design, every time someone parallel parks or double parks on Broad, a cyclist will be pushed into 35 mph traffic or faster.  This design does little to help the “interested but concerned” category of cyclists feel safe on our streets.  Without this group, bicycling will not become the mode of choice for Durham’s citizens.

Protected lane in SF

Protected lane in SF

The Solution: Parking Protection

The great news is, we can increase bicycling levels and safety on Broad Street by striping the road slightly differently to create protected bike lanes throughout the entire corridor.  As mentioned earlier, this design was already one of the options for Broad Street. The Transportation Department has kindly produced a memo describing their design process, including the rationale against the parking-protected lane the City initially proposed to the public.  This rationale, which we contest in detail here, hinges mostly on the initial learning curve of a parking-protected lane because this design has yet to be implemented in Durham.  Although parking protection is novel in Durham, the minor concerns raised by the Transportation Department have been non-issues in US and international implementations.  

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What you can do

The comment period has closed for this street.  To be notified earlier about pressing advocacy, sign up for our monthly newsletter below.

Durham Belt Line

The Durham Belt Line is a visionary project that borrows ideas from successful linear parks like the High Line in New York City and multi-use trails like the BeltLine in Atlanta. What makes the Durham Belt Line innovative is that not only will it act as a green and public place for the exchange of ideas and culture, it will create a valuable transportation connection for Durham residents traveling on foot or by bike.

 

We always advocate for physical separation of motor vehicles and bicyclists on public streets because different users that travel at different speeds work best when they’re given their own dedicated space to travel, and vulnerable bicyclists can expect a level of safety that mere paint does not afford them. This very same principle applies between bicyclists and pedestrians and the preferred design of the Belt Line conforms to this ideal wherever possible. The trail gives bicyclists a great deal of space to bike without the need to navigate joggers and walkers and vice versa.

 

At its widest, the bi-directional cycle path will be 12 feet across giving slower bicyclists plenty of space to meander while faster bicyclists will have enough room to safely pass without needing to drift into the oncoming lane. The best part about six foot wide travel lanes for bicyclists is that they’re not only sufficient for momentarily passing one other but they’re the minimum recommended width for bicyclists to comfortably travel side by side. This is fantastic for social bicycling, an activity that people tend to associate with the isolated road warrior or commuter. Promoting social bicycling can also help to diversify the demographics of bicyclists in Durham because studies have revealed a preference by Black and Hispanic residents to bike with family and friends. 

Unfortunately due to right-of-way constraints, the preferred cross section isn’t always possible. We ask that the designs at least be re-evaluated to find a way to maintain consistency so that users on all stretches of the park have an opportunity to experience the best possible designs. If we are to expand alternative and affordable transportation in Durham, we need to ensure consistency between all segments of the trail.

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The Belt Line has a number of at-grade crossings that need to be designed with care. Roxboro St in particular is dangerous because it has been designed for speed and thus many drivers on the stretch of road where the Belt Line will cross have been measured traveling well above the speed limit on that road. At these speeds, a driver hitting a pedestrian or a cyclist with their car has a near-certain chance of killing them. The project already incorporates some best practices like a raised crosswalk at Main St and Morgan St but fails to do so at Roxboro St and other intersections where the consequences of a collision are deadlier. We’re glad that the designs have embraced these techniques but the Belt Line will be most effective if the experience of using it is consistent. We recommend that the designs incorporate all of the best practices at all of the crossings to maximize the protection of those using the trail, especially when the stark contrast between the safety of the trail and the danger of the roads is greatest.

Finally, the Belt Line does not exist in a bubble. People still need to be able to reach the perimeter of the park in a safe and accessible manner. Once completed, the park will increase the number of Durham households with access to green space by 52%. This is really important for the equity of Durham’s public spaces but that equity will be wasted without a means by which residents of each neighborhood can access the park. The designs acknowledge this and have plans to improve sidewalks and transit stops along the trail but more can always be done. Once a bicyclist exits the park, they need to feed into bike connections that can maintain a consistent and comparable level of safety and comfort. We ask that the project team work closely with the Department of Transportation to expedite any future planned connections and generate new bike and pedestrian projects that can ensure accessibility to the Belt Line beyond just residents’ geographic proximity.

We also need to understand that with increased public amenities come increased financial pressures for the communities surrounding the proposed trail. We believe that all people, regardless of socioeconomic standing, deserve access to affordable transportation options and public spaces that facilitate cultural enrichment. However there are economic realities that residents will face when their neighborhoods, long starved of these facilities, suddenly become infused with private investment. We can't allow the Belt Line to act as a catalyst for displacement and the city needs to focus their efforts on maintaining housing affordability. The Belt Line Master Plan should be amended with creative strategies like value capture to raise funds for affordable housing. Durham must ensure that all Durham residents can enjoy the benefits of the Belt Line.

You can read more about the plan on the official website but at the very least if you feel inspired by the plan and want it to be the best that it can possibly be, complete the online survey and let the city know that you’re strongly in favor of the project and be sure to reinforce these concerns that the team has already identified so solving them becomes a priority. To reiterate:

  • The designs should re-evaluate the sections of the Belt Line that have been identified as too constrained to maintain the preferred cross section and instead be configured to maintain a consistently ideal experience for both bicyclists and pedestrians.
  • Road crossings need to be designed to prioritize the safety of trail users by adhering to identified best practices and maintaining a consistent feel through the crossing.
  • Connections to the trail should feed into and out of the Belt Line in a safe and comfortable manner to maximize the accessibility of the trail so it can be used by everyone.
  • The Belt Line Master Plan should make commitments to keep housing affordable in all the neighborhoods surrounding the trail.