Southeast Bicycling Symposium underway on Hilton Head Island - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Southeast Bicycling Symposium underway on Hilton Head Island

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

Dozens of people from across the Southeast are in Hilton Head this weekend to talk about the future of cycling in region, especially in towns and communities like Hilton Head. 

Cycling experts held a meeting Friday to discuss road improvements and most importantly, safety. The goal is to put the area in the position to be a world-class cycling destination. Hilton Head already has separate bike trails and cycling is a popular pastime, but Friday's session showed residents and bicyclists how to beef up safety and accessibility for all bicyclists. 

Cycling offers several benefits, ranging from health and fitness all the way to economic and transportation. For example, from an economic standpoint, cycling is a popular tourist and leisure activity, and while on their bike, people are more likely to ride and explore and stop by restaurants and shops along the way. It also promotes a healthy quality of life, where most places on the island are accessible by foot or two wheels. However, an increase of people on bicycles calls for some safety concerns, especially when dealing with island traffic. 

In 2016, 11 cyclists were killed on Beaufort County roads - a huge increase from 2015, when there weren't any fatal accidents involving a bicycle. As Hilton Head continues to grow and attract more visitors and residents, the conversation on sharing the road is a discussion that will have to be held daily. 

"That's the difference...pedestrians and bicyclists are vulnerable road users. At the end of the day, it's pure physics, they lose."

The chances of a pedestrian or bicyclist surviving a crash even at low speeds of 20 miles per hour is one out of 10, placing cycling safety as a top priority. 

"There are some areas of the island that are better than others in terms of infrastructure. I think the key is to make sure that infrastructure is well connected, high quality, consistent, there's good signage and markings," said Andy Clarke, Strategy Director, Toole Design Group. 

That's why Clarke suggested an immediate solution of connecting bike paths throughout the plantations, but for those cyclists actually maneuvering the roads, they say the biggest challenge is understanding the roles vehicles play on the pavement. 

"Motor vehicle operators need to understand that bicycles do belong and have those same responsibilities, but in the cocoon of a 3 to 6,000-pound vehicle, it's a lot different than on a 20-pound bicycle. 

An expert on biking systems and infrastructure explained the one thing Hilton Head can do on an immediate level to help improve the current system, which is permeability between the plantations.

"It's an incredibly flexible and incredibly versatile way of getting around, but at the moment, if you want to go to Palmetto Dunes to another part, you have to follow the same tortuous one-way in one way out, through the neighborhoods to get to the main road, and then deal with the main road traffic, but when the crow flies, you're actually a lot closer than that," Clarke said. 

Out of the 11 fatal bicycle accidents, seven of them involved the driver or bicyclist driving too fast, not paying attention or failing to yield to the right of way. 

Right now, there are 100 miles of bike systems on the island, but there aren't any designated bike lanes on the main road. 

After Friday's discussion, it's something Hilton Head officials are looking into. 

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