A year after cyclist’s death, city has plans for bike safety, but little infrastructure
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Jun 13, 2013 | 3749 views |  0 comments | 115 115 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Roadside memorial for Derek Jensen on the Eastern Bypass in Golden Springs. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Roadside memorial for Derek Jensen on the Eastern Bypass in Golden Springs. Photo by Stephen Gross.
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Derek Jensen
Derek Jensen
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Patrick Wigley said he thinks about Derek Jensen every day.

He thinks about Jensen while talking to fellow bikers who come into his shop, Wig’s Wheels, on Noble Street, or when he attends meetings of the Northeast Alabama Bicycling Association, and goes to biking events around the county.

But Wigley said he especially thinks about Jensen when he’s riding his bike on Veterans Memorial Parkway near the spot where Jensen, on his bike, was struck by a motorist a year ago while trying to reach his job at the Center for Domestic Preparedness.

“I think we all think about it,” Wigley said, about the cycling community that was shocked and saddened to hear about their fellow rider, who died on June 14, 2012. “Accidents like that are so infrequent, but they can happen. We’re all human.”

Jensen’s death highlighted the dangerous perils that often face bike riders in the community. But a year after the accident, a new mayor and council have tried to rebrand Anniston as a bike-friendly mecca, highlighting its efforts to extend the Chief Ladiga Trail through downtown and the construction of the Coldwater Mountain biking trails as proof the city is moving in the right direction when it comes to welcoming cyclists.

And according to Jack Plunk, a principal planner with the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, Anniston and Calhoun County are making positive changes when it comes to biking safety. The Calhoun County Metropolitan Planning Organization last year published an area-wide bike and pedestrian plan to encourage the construction of bike paths and lanes and sidewalks for safer travel.

“It pleases me that cities in the county are making an effort to use the plan,” Plunk said.

Toby Bennington, Anniston’s city planner, said there are several long-term projects in the works for Anniston as they look to create an infrastructure that connects all parts of the city through bike lanes and trails, as well as adding sidewalks to neighborhoods and heavy traffic areas. But smaller scale projects he said are underway include making clear “Share the Road” signs, adding bike lanes on roads wide enough to support them, and implementing educational programs about bike safety.

Trickier, though, might be changing a culture dominated by drivers, who might have an uneasy and impatient relationship with the bikers they share the road with.

“Derek would talk all the time about how dangerous it was,” said Mina Jensen, Derek’s widow. “People would throw bottles and cans at him, and he’d be on the shoulder of the road with so little room and people speeding by him.”

But Mina Jensen said the community outreach after the accident, both within and from outside the cycling community, has shown her changes are coming. People are becoming more aware of that growing community in Calhoun County.

“For every biker, you never want to see someone die like Derek did,” Mina said. “I would hope that there would be some positive change from this.”

But members of Anniston’s biking community said changes are slow-moving. Haley Gregg, the program development coordinator for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said talks about getting visitors at Coldwater to hang around in Anniston are hollow if bikers don’t feel OK crossing Alabama 202 to get there.

“There’s no safe way to get from Coldwater to downtown Anniston,” Gregg said. “There are signs everywhere that say ‘no biking’ and there are no bike lanes, or anything like that. We got a long way to go.”

Large infrastructure problems for cycling safety won’t go away overnight, but Wigley said he’s seen a change in awareness of bike safety. While he said he knew several riders who gave up on road biking after Jensen’s accident, others made sure to get bike reflectors and wear brighter clothes on the road.

But it isn’t just the biking community that was affected by Jensen’s death, Wigley said. About a month ago, he said, a customer came in his store and told him a motorist stopped him not too far from where Jensen was killed. The man got out of his truck to thank the bike rider for putting blinking reflectors on the front and back of his bike

“And that guy wasn’t even a cyclist,” Wigley said. “I don’t think anything better sums up how much awareness is out there now.”

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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