DAVIDSON — Residents of a popular cut-through neighborhood and bicyclists who ride there may have come to a better understanding thanks to a recent community dialogue. But the message to drivers and riders everywhere is the importance of mutual respect.
The River Run Property Owners Association invited Davidson residents and cyclists for a community discussion, led by Police Chief Jeanne Miller, April 10. It was prompted by concern from motorists who had unpleasant experiences with cyclists.
Motorists offered stories of cyclists not letting cars pass, riding through stop signs and not alerting people when they plan to turn. Cyclists shared their experiences of being run off the road, having doors open on them or being unsafely passed.
“It’s an active discussion that needs to continue,” said Mickey Pettus, who organized the event. “A gentleman apologized on the behalf of the cyclists for any problems they have caused motorists in the neighborhood. But it’s not about River Run, this is for the entire community.”
“Be courteous and be respectful of each other’s use of the road,” he said was the prominent message. “Share the road is exactly what it means. One is not more right than the other. Share it.”
One of the key points Miller made is that bicycles are vehicles, too. Regardless of a bike lane, bicyclists have the right to have the whole lane to themselves. While it may add frustration for motorists behind a bike, they are not obligated to stay in the bike lane. Still, Miller said, cyclists should ride defensively and keep eye contact. She said it is better to move and be alive than be right and dead.
Cyclists must also adhere to the same laws – it is illegal to ride while under the influence, and stoplights and stop signs must still be followed. They were reminded to use proper hand gestures as turn signals.
The meeting also highlighted some of the faults in North Carolina law, which isn’t as clear regarding bicycles. Miller told attendees the way it is written, all cyclists should stop at a stop sign one-by-one even if they are riding in a group and it’s illegal for motorists to pass bikes on a double yellow line.
She admitted though, that at least in Davidson, officers are less likely to ticket if the vehicle passes a bike in a safe manner with no oncoming traffic. She noted that the recommended two-foot rule of space between a car and a bike is really too small, considering it is barely a person’s shoulder-length. Cars should give bikes wider room.
Miller also told the crowd, since becoming chief, she is unaware of a time a bicyclist has been ticketed for anything.
“It left a bad taste in folks’ mouth,” Pettus said after.
One gentleman challenged why officers ticket motorists for rolling through stop signs, but not bikes.
“Officers have to be there to observe it,” Miller clarified later. “They are not necessarily purposely going out to capture it as it happens.
“Officers have not observed it and if they have, they have stopped and warned people. Officers have that discretion.”
Miller received comments after the meeting about Davidson potentially changing ordinances to have better bike rules, but she said they can’t overstep state law.
“We’re talking about having a second forum at town hall. It’s important to talk to each other about issues,” Miller said. “It’s easy being inside a vehicle or on a bicycle to objectify people, but open forums get everyone in a room facing each other, seeing they are real people.”