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A bicyclist captured a driver hitting another bicyclist and leaving the scene Saturday, July 8, 2017 on Natchez Trace in Williamson County.
Video courtesy of Greg Goodman

The driver who seriously injured a cyclist on Natchez Trace Parkway in Williamson County on July 8 either ignored, dismissed or targeted the rider.

It is unclear yet whether motorist Marshall Grant Neely III was impaired, distracted or malicious, but the hit-and-run that seriously injured Tyler Noe could have been easily prevented.

Noe had the right to ride on the road in the national park, and video footage from his riding partner Greg Goodman showed the driver had plenty of room to maneuver around Noe. No one threw a bicycle at the car, as Neely claimed in the National Park Service incident report, and Noe is lucky to be alive.

While the justice system will sort out the details of the crash, the situation is symptomatic of an antipathy toward non-motorists on the roads — cyclists and pedestrians — that has led to too many senseless deaths over the past decade.

This also has poisoned conversations about creating “complete streets” that would add bike lanes and sidewalks to areas that presently see only through traffic.

As congestion continues to grow in Middle Tennessee and commute times increase, tensions are rising.

That is precisely why moving forward with a strategy that helps alleviate congestion and protects the public safety of riders, runners and walkers is important. It is as much a safety concern as it is a health imperative in Tennessee, a state that ranks near the bottom nationwide in health outcomes such as hypertension and obesity.

Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security crash data show that 1,238 pedestrians and 373 cyclists died statewide on roads from 2007 to June 30, 2017.

The highest numbers were in Shelby County, with 372 pedestrian and 98 cyclist deaths.

Other notable pedestrian and cyclist death figures:

  • Davidson County: 236 and 52, respectively
  • Knox County: 99 and 39
  • Hamilton County: 71 and 29

Williamson County, where Noe was injured, reported 12 pedestrian and three cyclist deaths during that same period.

► Read More: A cyclist survivor’s tale: How it feels to be cycling again on Natchez Trace

► Read More: How the Natchez Trace hit-and-run is rallying cyclists to the roads

Anthony C. Siracusa, president of Bike Walk TN, said he worries that the victims are too often vilified in cases of deaths or injuries that involve drivers hitting them.

“What concerns me is that people blame pedestrians and cyclists,” Siracusa said. “We’ve got to shift blame from individuals who are hit to people who are hitting people while they’re driving.”

He also thinks that authorities could do more to enforce existing laws that make it a misdemeanor to hit a non-motorist while failing to exercise due care.

“Without equivocation what happened on Natchez Trace Parkway was clearly preventable,” he said.

Neely, the driver of the black Volvo that clipped Noe, is charged with felony reckless endangerment, leaving the scene of an accident, failure to immediately notify of an accident and failure to render aid.

The 444-mile scenic road where the collision occurred is a designated bike route.

Neely told a Tennessean reporter: “I did not know I hit him. I’m so sorry it happened.”

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Accused Natchez Trace hit-and-run driver speaks to the Tennessean about the incident.
Video edited by Michael Schwab

Create safe, reliable roads for all

The Nashville area is growing by about 100 people a day, and growth has led to a rise in motor vehicle accidents as well as a rise in commute times, according to the Vital Signs Report 2016, prepared by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

The days of the 20-minute drive from one part of town to another are over.

One-way commute times have risen progressively from a mean of 26.1 minutes in 2010 to 27 minutes in 2014. While that seems modest, as people move to areas outside of Nashville — either by choice or because of the rising cost of living — drivers are feeling it more.

That is likely leading to some of the hostility toward cyclists and pedestrians, who are seen by some to take up space that could be used for roadways.

However, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has made protected bike lanes a transportation priority, and different plans are under consideration to address needs of all road users, including the Nashville WalknBike Plan and the 8th Avenue South Multimodal Study.

A final draft of the WalknBike Plan should be out soon, said Nora Kern, executive director of Walk Bike Nashville, who has pushed for keeping the public informed on bike lane and sidewalk projects.

“I’m hopeful transparency will continue to grow,” she said.

The Eighth Avenue study has generated conversation and some controversy because there is a proposal to reduce Eighth Avenue from four lanes to two lanes, which has riled some business owners and residents along the corridor who have stood up in opposition and have formed Citizens Against 8th Avenue Gridlock. The group’s signs are along the road.

The final design, however, is not finalized, and in a few weeks, a counter-campaign, Vibrant Safe 8th, will launch, Kern said.

While some drivers use the road as a thruway, the community growing around the road is looking for safe ways to walk and ride around it, she added.

“In order for our transportation system to change, we need to have patience,” she said. “We’re going through growing pains.”

Whatever is finalized around Nashville and specific corridors should provide safe, reliable options for motorists and non-motorists alike.

Pedestrians and cyclists need to be alert, but motorists should not think they can compromise someone’s safety.

If a driver is unwilling to watch the road while driving, he or she should not be on the road.

Opinion and Engagement Editor David Plazas wrote this editorial on behalf of The Tennessean Editorial Board and the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee. Call him at 615-259-8063, email him at dplazas@tennessean.com or tweet to him at @davidplazas.

 

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