Despite increased advocacy for cycling awareness since the 2011 death of a surgeon struck while riding in Aiken County, Augusta-area cyclists say more could be done to enforce cycling laws in Georgia.
Matthew Burke, a 38-year-old orthopedic surgeon at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, was left in a coma in October 2010 after he and five other cyclists were struck by a vehicle on Beech Island Avenue. Burke died the following February.
The death had a ripple effect through the community and led to the formation of Wheel Movement CSRA, a nonprofit cycling advocacy group that aims to educate cyclists and motorists on Georgia’s bicycle laws.
“We’re generally trying to encourage safe cycling for all members of the community,” said Jim Ellington, a member of the group’s board of directors.
He said the group is putting together public service announcements to be distributed throughout the area to raise awareness of the laws.
Drew Jordan, the manager of Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse in Augusta, said authorities could do more to enforce current laws.
“You can have every perfect law made to protect cyclists, but if they’re not enforced, they’re no good,” he said. “That being said, I understand the police officers have a lot going on and it might be hard for them to enforce every little thing that they see.”
Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Ramone Lamkin said he doesn’t place blame on the cyclists or the motorists; he says both groups contain people ignorant of the law.
“Once you ride the bike and you’re an active vehicle, you have to follow all the same rules as a car,” he said. “At the same time, the motorists need to understand that cyclists have all the same rights they have. It’s not uncommon to see someone on a bicycle run a red light because they think that it doesn’t apply to them.”
Martinez cyclist Ryan Dillard said that, in his experience, most motorists ignore Georgia’s law requiring a 3-foot buffer zone between a cyclist and a vehicle attempting to pass them. Some motorists, and even some law enforcement officers, don’t recognize bicycles are vehicles in Georgia, he said, and are not allowed on sidewalks if the rider is older than 12.
“(Officers) just see us as a nuisance,” Dillard said.
Dillard rides his bicycle with a GoPro camera strapped to the handle bars, and he recorded an encounter with a motorist last month who he said passed too close. When the motorist became more aggressive with his driving, Dillard called police.
When Richmond County deputies arrived, one told Dillard that he doesn’t “necessarily have the right of way.”
The deputy also said cyclists must stay within five feet of the curb, though Georgia law doesn’t make any such designation. The law requires that cyclists “ride as near to the right side of the road as practicable, except when turning left or avoiding hazards to safe cycling.”
Wheel Movement CSRA has a plan to help law enforcement with the intricacies of the law, Ellington said.
“Law enforcement officers have to have a certain number of hours of continuing education each year,” he said. “What we would like to do is to work with some of our local law enforcement agencies and have some of
our folks help with that training.”
Lamkin said he would promote educating motorists and cyclists on the laws in order to have more cooperation.
“I would be more than happy to see educated cyclists and motorists on the road at the same time,” he said.