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.
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.