On Sept. 19, 2013, the bodies of two cyclists were found on U.S. Highway 15-501. A hit-and-run driver struck and killed Ivin Scurlock, 41, of Carrboro and Alexandria Simou, 40, of Chapel Hill.
Since then, on that same highway, drivers might have noticed two ghost bikes marked with the names of the victims and decorated with flowers in the grassy median near where they were found. These bikes serve as memorials and reminders of the threats cyclists face on town streets.
“When you pit cars against a bicyclist, the cyclist is always going to lose,” said Chapel Hill resident Nancy Oates, owner of Nancy Oates & Co. “The ghost bikes are poignant symbols that will hopefully force drivers to remember that bikers need to be paid attention to.”
Ghost bikes are a tradition in the biking community.
Jason Merrill, an owner of Carrboro’s Back Alley Bikes, said although the individuals who construct these memorials are anonymous, they are most likely members of Chapel Hill’s cyclist community.
“In this town, the odds you know someone who was involved in these types of accidents are high,” Merrill said. “We’re a small community of cyclists and when one of us is killed, it hits close to home.”
Three ghost bikes have been placed in Chapel Hill to remember the victims of the three driver-caused cyclist fatalities that have occurred since 2013. The third is located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in honor of Pamela Lane, 57, a Chapel Hill cyclist who was killed in an accident in October.
North Carolina has the country’s ninth highest rate of bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities, according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s 2014 report.
Oates, who often rode bikes with her husband, said certain streets in Chapel Hill, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Estes Drive, are more dangerous than others as drivers often do not pay attention to bike lanes or give cyclists room on the road.
Oates said she and her husband had stopped biking after her husband was involved in an accident that left him injured.
“Riding down streets most cars will give you space, but there are always those that don’t pay much attention to you and you’ll be riding with your heart in your throat,” Oates said.
Bicycle accidents are more likely in high-traffic urban areas, said James Gallagher, a spokesman for Watch For Me N.C.
Watch for Me N.C. is a campaign that seeks to educate drivers, pedestrians and cyclists on the rules of the road and work with law enforcers to crack down on traffic safety violations. He said most cyclists and motorists are not aware of the laws of the road.
“Cyclists have legal access to the road just as any other driver but they are also subject to all of the same rules as drivers,” Gallagher said. “The campaign’s goal is to reduce crashes that can result from this type of misinformation. Everyone can do more and do better.”