Thoughts in light of Charleston’s recent bicycle tragedy

Yesterday’s tragedy in Charleston, where Mitch Hollon was killed after being struck by a van on the James Island Connector, has sent waves of sadness, frustration, anger, contempt–and many other emotions–into the community. The story has been covered by media outlets all over the state after AP released the story first covered by local sources. The comments sections of each source–the Post & Courier, Live 5, Spartanburg Herald-Journal, The State, WISTV, Charleston Digitel, and counting–are filling up with the usual motorist vs. bicyclist rhetoric that always rears its nasty head after a tragedy like this. Although unproductive, harmful and often exaggerated, this rhetoric reminds bicycle advocates like me just how much work remains in making our communities safer for bicycles and cars to coexist.

In light of all of this, our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the family and friends of Mitch during this very sad time.

There is no doubt that we face a significant uphill battle in the SC bicycle community. Not only are our roads some of the most unsafe nationally for bicycling, but tragedies such as Mitch’s death–which the media loves–paint a bleak and negative picture of bicycling in South Carolina. What we end up with is situation that is perpetually worsening. It is no wonder that there is a sentiment that only the most fearsome ride their bikes. Unbelievably, this is a sentiment that was expressed to me several months ago even by the former Director of South Carolina Department of Public Safety Mark Keel.

So, what are we to do? We keep on believing. And we keep on riding.

Study after study proves that the more people that ride their bikes, the safer the conditions become. Indeed, it sounds counter-intuitive, but as Portland, New York, Minneapolis, and countless other cities have shown, the more people on their bikes, the better cars and bicycles coexist (see more on the ‘safety in numbers’ theory on the League’s blog). And what is the #1 thing that will get more people on bikes? More places to bike, of course. Like bike lanes and multi-use paths.

That leaves us with two takeaways. One, keep riding your bike (and while you’re at it, be sure to obey the laws). Second: continue to advocate for more places to ride your bike–locally, statewide, and federally.

This is timely advice, because TOMORROW Congressional committee members are expected to lay out the transportation re-authorization bill (aka future transportation funding plan). And the future for bike/ped funding that comes to SC–to fund those projects that you love–is looking very bleak. We will need you to contact your members of Congress at a moment’s notice to make the case for this continued funding.

Stay tuned and thank you for all you do!

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6 responses to “Thoughts in light of Charleston’s recent bicycle tragedy”

  1. Great post. It is also important to be careful out there, especially on high traffic roads like the James Island Connector. I have ridden that before and even though there is a shoulder for bikes, people drive fast and reckless. Please be hyper-aware when riding on such a dangerous road. R.I.P. Mitch!

  2. Thanks everyone for the comments. I often agonize over this situation with the media–the saying ‘where it bleeds, it leads’ couldn’t be more true. But we do what we can; and for now we send our thoughts to Mitch’s family and trudge onward.

    As a Charleston native, I am also very familiar with the JI Connector. The fact is that the Connector is not a safe place to ride–in fact, it is illegal to travel by bike or foot on this bridge. This underscores, as many have discussed, the lack of a safe way to cross the Ashley River. This is a HUGE gap in the Charleston bicycling network that has been a long been a hot topic among local leaders, advocates, and citizens alike.

  3. In the course of riding 40 years in GA/SC, my sixth sense rates roads. I purposefully used JIC on a Sunday morning to see how it would register. After that I continued putting bike on CARTA for visiting friends on James Island/West Ashley. I knew in my bones that this was another horrible Faustian bargain SCDOT offered bike/ped users: refusing to either upgrade to functional facility or enforce non-bike/ped usage. All the while KNOWING the wide shoulder would invite dangerous exposure but choosing to do nothing out of concern for liability. How many more cyclists will be killed for what Elizabeth Mabry referred to years ago at a SCDOT-sponsored bike/ped conference: that the obstacle DOT presents to sane travel alternatives comes from the sheer inertia within its agency culture that is singularly devoted to motorized transport. Rachael’s involvement with the ongoing advisory group will hopefully yield progress.
    Meanwhile, comments are being taken till September 30 on the Mark Clark DEIS at

  4. And know how many people die every year driving, walking, drinking, catching baseballs etc. Everything is dangerous but you can’t live in fear of the things you love doing. Ride safe!