Death of Cyclist Raises Questions About Township’s Bike Accessibility
After a fatal accident involving a cyclist and two motorists in September, questions loom about the township’s bike-ability.
The section of road along Seven Mile Road between Silver Springs Drive and Haggerty Road is an often-traveled thoroughfare, one of the few easy entries in and out of Northville.
The stretch of road has its share of visual challenges, even in the best of weather. It’s a place where joggers and cyclists are a fairly common sight, and sadly, a place where motorist-non motorist collisions have occurred.
The most recent of these took place Sept. 9, when 53-year old cyclist Jerry Ashby was killed after he was struck on Seven Mile near the state police station. Police announced Tuesday that criminal charges would not be filed in the case. In late July, a pedestrian traveling on foot on Seven Mile near Fry was struck and killed by a motorist. Police have since learned that alcohol was a factor in that accident.
That two fatal accidents occurred on the same stretch of road so close together begs a few questions: are Northville Township’s streets safe for those who choose to travel without a vehicle? And, what are the rights and responsibilities of drivers and cyclists, which under law have equal access to Michigan’s roads?
Northville Township’s non-motorized plan has been partially implemented with the goal of providing new trails throughout the community. Local cycling advocates are happy that there’s a plan that’s moving forward, but that doesn’t mean roadways are entirely safe for cyclists, said David Duffield, a Northville resident and avid cyclist.
“One thing that I think continues to be a problem is that on many of the township’s roads, the shoulders aren’t paved,” he said. “That would go a long way to help."
Duffield rides his bike to work every day – weather permitting – from his home at Six Mile Road and Winchester Street to work at Twelve Mile and Haggerty. He said drivers in all communities, not just Northville Township, need to be better educated in terms of dealing with cyclists on the road.
“I think the reason we don’t see more cyclists is because many people just don’t feel safe on the roads,” he said. “I think we could all benefit from some education.”
Duffield added that the safest place for a cyclist is in the lane because that increases visibility for drivers. He added that drivers need to slow down and understand the rules of the road, while cyclists need to make sure they have reflective equipment and clothing so drivers can see them. Duffield also said he doesn’t bike in inclement weather because he thinks it’s too difficult for drivers to see him.
Jennifer Frey, the township’s community development director, said that a non-motorized plan put into place several years ago had vastly improved how non-motorized travelers navigate the city.
“We’ve made progress,” she said. “It’s a priority for the township.”
Frey said the plan is a complex series of paths meant to connect neighborhoods, and make Downtown Northville accessible from the township.
Township Manager Chip Snider said that some changes could come with new construction, especially as the Seven Mile project near the Hospital gets moving.
Snider said, "There is a growing consensus at the county that bike lanes should be added with new construction, but it would be difficult even in a healthy economy to add lanes to existing roads."
The Seven Mile project, when it gets underway, could have those paths in that area only, but it’s unclear when that project will begin, Snider said. There also are not any imminent plans to increase lighting in the area.
Dennis Niemiec, a spokesman for Wayne County, said there are no upcoming plans for changes to the road, and no call for it from the township. But he said if they were asked to look at, they would.
But John Lindenmayer, the associate director of the League of Michigan Bicyclists in Lansing, said accidents that end in injury and death for a cyclist are often the result of something more insidious: a lack of understanding regarding shared roadways and traffic rules.
“We need to foster a more respectful relationship between drivers and cyclists about using our roads,” he said. “Everyone has a responsibility to use the roads in a safe way.”