By Erin James
© August 14, 2011
KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C.
Tension between bicyclists and motorists is on the rise this summer, say some cycling enthusiasts who are urging fellow cyclists and hurried drivers to share the pavement.
Kill Devil Hills resident Jack McCombs asked 50 people gathered for an informal meeting last week to raise their hands if they’d been recently harassed by a motorist while riding their bike. About 25 hands reached upward.
McCombs, a cyclist who organized the meeting, said more motorists have been taking out their frustrations on bikers.
“The cyclist has as much right to the road as the motor vehicle operator,” he said.
Some of the problems stem from a general misunderstanding about the purpose of the multiuse path along parts of Virginia Dare Trail. The path functions as a sidewalk for dog walkers, skateboarders and pedestrians pushing baby strollers, but it is too congested to be used by cyclists traveling at high speeds, Kitty Hawk resident Skip Saunders said.
“I can’t go over there with my bike,” but that doesn’t stop some motorists from yelling at cyclists to “use the bike path,” he said.
“It’s total chaos on the Beach Road,” Saunders said. “Unless the towns take a look at enforcement… there are going to be some accidents and people are going to die.”
Conflicts between cyclists and motorists typically generate a few complaints every year, and they come from both sides, Kitty Hawk Police Chief David Ward said. This year is no different, he said.
Verbal harassment directed at cyclists also happens, usually from motorists who wrongly think a biker is breaking the law by riding on the road. To resolve such conflicts, Kitty Hawk police officers explain to motorists the rules of the road, Ward said.
“Most of the time we don’t have repeat offenders,” he said.
Saunders said he is also concerned about seasonal workers who hail from different countries where cycling is more widespread.
“They come with an expectation of safety for cyclists on roads,” he said. “They don’t get that here.”
Cyclists also have some bad habits, like joyriding in the middle of the road or ignoring stop signs, that heighten tensions, McCombs said, adding that he’s in favor of police officers enforcing laws on bikers to curb such problems.
McCombs said he wants the local cycling community to start spreading the word about cycling’s economic impact on the northern Outer Banks, estimated in a 2003 North Carolina Department of Transportation study to total $60 million. The study also found about 17 percent of tourists – or 680,000 people – bicycle while visiting.