Most people who live in Crozet and Albemarle County have no idea that some of our roads comprise a portion of the TransAmerica Trail—a bicycle route that stretches from Yorktown, Virginia all the way across our country to Astoria, Oregon. It is marked by the unfortunately infrequent signs showing a “76” with a silhouette of a bike below those numbers. There are cyclists that I have met from around the world riding on our local roads—their ultimate goal of getting to Oregon and the Pacific Ocean. Most of them apparently choose the route traveling from east to west, which means almost all these people on bikes that I meet are just in the first few days of riding. So I go out of my way to encourage them, knowing that the hilliest and often most difficult part of the journey involves getting through the Blue Ridge starting in western Albemarle via Garth, Whitehall, Jarmans and Greenwood Roads and up to Afton Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Roads that I bike on every week—weather permitting.
Last May I had the pleasure of meeting and riding with one of these amazing people, quickly discovering that she was on her way to Oregon. Ann had just graduated from William and Mary and her bike was loaded with panniers filled with the necessary gear and supplies. She was riding the complete 4,228 miles of the trail to help raise money for a charity. I had caught up with her just south of Whitehall near Grace Estate Vineyard when someone in a speeding car yelled for us to “get off the road”. I was embarrassed. This was not the local hospitality that I was hoping to share. Although I was disappointed that this might be her lasting impression, I was not terribly surprised as I unfortunately but regularly have these types of experiences out on our local county roads. Recently, I had a driver yell at me as he stopped his car and told me that I had no right to be on Jarmans Gap Road and “on these back roads”, adding that I needed to ride on the roads in Crozet with marked bike lanes. These recurring incidents of cyclists being told to stay off the roads and on marked bike paths is either disingenuous, ignorant or both, but nothing less.
From my experience of biking over 4,000 miles a year on our local roads, I would say that over 90% of the people I encounter in cars and trucks passing me in either direction are courteous, cautious and patient with me and other cyclists as we get exercise, fresh air and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds us on our roads. They slow down for me or wait for a clear view of the road ahead to pass me and other cyclists as they often give more than enough safe clearance when passing. And I always try reciprocate and to be considerate of these and other drivers. I ride my bike with a flashing red light on the back for increased visibility and safety. I’m empathetic with drivers (I am one myself!) so I invariably wave them past me when hearing that they have slowed behind me around curves and hills when I often have a better vantage point of being able to see that they do not have oncoming traffic.
For those of you who do indeed drive too fast and too close, “buzzing” me and other people on bikes—please stop this very dangerous practice and realize that you are both breaking the law and endangering our lives. You travel within the safe confines of a car or truck – surrounded by the steel of a two ton vehicle. However, cyclists on the other hand, have much less stability on two wheels and sometimes just inches from your comparatively massive vehicle as it speeds past. The Virginia Three-Foot Passing Law was passed by the General Assembly in Richmond on March 8, 2014. It requires vehicles to give three feet of space when passing bicyclists. This was an improvement over the previous two feet and brought our state in line with laws in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and 21 other states. I would like to note here that the law does allow for drivers to cross a double yellow in order to pass cyclists.
Although I had been very pleased that this much needed legislation was passed, the number of close calls I have had while cycling on Jarmans Gap Road, Greenwood Road Whitehall Road and other local roads have recently become too numerous to count on one hand. People are simply driving too fast, often times very obviously beyond the posted speed limit. They are distracted by their smartphones (I’ve witnessed drivers holding and looking at their phones as they pass me) and other high-tech conveniences in their vehicles. Perhaps, as some of my encounters that include their yelling and verbal abuse would point to, they just plainly don’t like cyclists using our roads.
While reading the Richmond Times last July I had one of those awful experiences that I will never forget. I abruptly noticed a picture of someone I thought I recognized, who as the caption tragically reported, had been killed. This was heartbreaking news. Ann Davis, the young woman I met while riding just north of Crozet in May, had been hit and killed on her bike while still on her journey in Idaho just a few days away from her destination of the Pacific Coast.
Please drive carefully. The lives of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers and your neighbors depend on your vigilance and kindness.