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Rock Hill is called a ‘bicycle-friendly town.’ So where are the bike lanes?

Custom bike stolen from Rock Hill autistic boy; police find it broken behind store

Rock Hill police found a stolen bike that belongs to 11-year-old Austin Griffin, a boy with autism. The bike had been a gift from a motorcycle group made up of Marines and firefighters.
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Rock Hill police found a stolen bike that belongs to 11-year-old Austin Griffin, a boy with autism. The bike had been a gift from a motorcycle group made up of Marines and firefighters.

A Rock Hill man said he was riding his bicycle on Saluda Road, near Elizabeth Lane, when he saw a truck “barreling” toward him.

The street traffic was busy, so he had been biking on the empty sidewalk. He braked when he saw the truck, but it clipped his back tire, he said, causing him to fall. He had bruises and cuts on his knee, arm and head.

David Johnson said he had been biking about three times a week before the July 21 incident.

Johnson said police told him it was his fault. He was told cyclists shouldn’t ride on the sidewalk.

A Rock Hill traffic collision report said the truck was turning into a private driveway, and Johnson should have yielded. According to South Carolina law, bicycles are treated as vehicles and should follow all laws that apply to motorists.

There is no state law against riding a bike on the sidewalk, but the Safe Streets project, formed by the Palmetto Cycling Coalition and Bike Law, says bicyclists should avoid riding on sidewalks. When riding on roads, bikers should travel with traffic, in the right-hand lane.

Rock Hill police Lt. Scott Cribb said they often see bicyclists on sidewalks, but bikes are treated as vehicles under the law.

“It does tend to be more dangerous (riding on the sidewalk), because that’s not where people expect to see a bike,” he said.

He said bikes move much faster than pedestrians, and a car turning into a driveway may not have time to stop if a bike rides by on the sidewalk.

“A lot of times people assume because they’re on a bike or because they’re walking, they automatically have the right of way, and that’s just not the case,” Cribb said.

Johnson knows the accident could have been worse.

“I was lucky because I was paying attention enough to stop,” he said.

But he said he feels let down. He wants the city to make streets more bike friendly.

The Rock Hill traffic report says there was a bike lane on the road, but an online database of existing bike lanes in Rock Hill shows there are bike lanes on Elizabeth Lane, but none on Saluda Street.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” Johnson said. “There are more people in this town than it can hold. You’re going to have a lot more cyclists that don’t know where to ride a bike. And they’re probably, like I did, assuming that it’s OK to ride on the sidewalk, especially if there’s no one there and the street is busy with no bike lane.

“I could see this happening again and again and again.”

Rock Hill officials say they’re working on it. But fixing the problem will take money.

Bike lane plans

Bill Meyer, the planning and development director for Rock Hill, said the city has plans to add bike lanes to existing roadways, but timing depends on funding.

“There’s a plan for almost everything, as far as major routes for people to get across the city,” Meyer said.

He said the funding is “hit or miss.”

“It’s laid out in the plan,” he said. “But until someone finds a funding source, all we can do is have them on the shelf ready to go.”

Meyer said the city has polled residents on their top priorities, and every time, making the city more bike-friendly comes back as one of the top three.

“It’s a slow process, it’s a costly process,” Meyer said.

Rock Hill Mayor John Gettys said the city will soon put in new bike lanes on Wilson and West Main streets.

“So yes, there will be more (bike lanes),” Gettys said. “Would we like to find more money that we could designate to do that? Yes we would.”

Gettys said he eventually hopes to see bike lanes on Dave Lyle Boulevard toward Rock Hill Galleria. He said when the city’s free bus plan is implemented, people will be able to take their bikes to Riverwalk trails through the bus system.

“The bicycle plan for us as a city is bigger than just bike lanes,” he said.

But with more bike lanes appearing, Rock Hill Police Capt. Mark Bollinger said cyclists need to be cautious.

“Bicyclists are having more of the right of way with the bike lanes, but they should still drive defensively,” Bollinger said. “They should be aware of their surroundings and what automobiles and cars and trucks are around them.”

Invested in biking

Tom Bell, outdoor education supervisor at Rock Hill Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said his department is invested in encouraging bicycling in Rock Hill.

“Communities that encourage walking and biking tend to be healthier communities, tend to be more socially strong communities because people are out in the community, walking, biking,” Bell said. “Communities that are walkable and bike-able are desirable to live in.”

Bell said Rock Hill has been designated a bike-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists since 2012. Rock Hill is a bronze-level community, the lowest designation, under silver and gold.

The organization says Rock Hill spends 1 percent of the transportation budget on biking, compared to 14 percent for an average silver-level bike-friendly community.

The organization also shows the total biking network mileage in Rock Hill is equal to 8 percent of the total road network mileage, compared to the average silver-level community, which has a total biking network mileage that equals 51 percent of the total road network mileage.

The PRT department works to educate residents on bike safety by hosting monthly neighborhood rides and working with schools.

He said PRT is working with Rock Hill schools to build biking field trips that emphasize school curriculum while teaching biking safety skills, such as a ride along Catawba River trails learning about the area’s history.

“The stuff we’re doing with schools is so important because we feel like if we could get children educated on the rules of the road, and loving and riding a bicycle at a young age, hopefully they are more likely to pursue cycling as a lifestyle or even competitively in the future,” Bell said.

Gettys said the city’s facilities, such as the BMX Supercross track and Giordana Velodrome show that Rock Hill is dedicated to biking.

“When we had the world championship, one of the things I enjoyed most about it was coming back down Dave Lyle,” he said, “and seeing these people who were not from here riding bicycles everywhere. Anything we can do to encourage that is good. No other community has these world-class facilities.”

In April, Comporium launched a free bike program in downtown Rock Hill. The program has 25 bikes in five locations in Rock Hill.

Both Gettys and Shaun Barnes, director of external relations for Comporium, said Gotcha Bikes, the bike manufacturer, has told the city the roll out of the bike program in Rock Hill was “the best beginning month they’ve seen.”

From April 11 and Aug. 15, the bikes have been taken on 3,292 trips overall, according to a Comporium report. The report shows 1,735 new members have signed up for the program and 1,520 people have rented a bike at least once.

In just over four months, that breaks down to about 26 rides a day since the program’s start.

“We are a bicycle town,” Gettys said. “And it’s fun to see that sport grow.”

Hannah Smoot: 803-329-4068, @hgsmoot
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