It was certainly a nice gesture by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners Thursday when it voted unanimously to name a bridge on the city’s new greenway connector after a bicycle rider killed nearly 25 years ago.
This was appropriate on several counts, including the fact Michael Gray York, 19, was fatally injured near that very same spot in December 1991. While attempting to cross U.S. 601 at the U.S. 52 intersection, York’s bicycle was struck by a pickup that knocked him into the path of a tractor-trailer. It, in turn, dragged him about 200 yards north up U.S. 52 to the area where the new connector begins.
When York died, the sport of cycling really hadn’t caught on in Mount Airy, a place where travel was, and still is, dominated by trucks and cars generally operated by narrow-minded people who believe they own the public streets and highways.
Though he was mentally challenged, York loved to work on bicycles and also riding them around town — which the road warrior/barbarian culture that prevails here just couldn’t accommodate.
I also appreciate how the Michael Gray York Memorial Bridge will honor a special-needs individual in our community rather than another politician, as is usually the case with bridge or building names. The special-needs population gets little or no attention in this area, although some talented people have existed among its ranks, including the late charity fundraiser extraordinaire Griggs Hampton in addition to Michael Gray York.
Yet there is another aspect of the bridge-naming effort which while appropriate, I find disturbing on many levels.
It was noted during Thursday’s board meeting that had the city’s greenway system been in place in 1991, York likely would have been riding on it rather than the highway where he was fatally struck.
Also mentioned was how one reason for putting the nearly seven-mile greenway network into place was to provide a safe venue for bicycle riders, as well as joggers and walkers.
What really troubles me is that, yes, the existence of the greenways does serve to safeguard those local residents and save lives — but it doesn’t let our really bad drivers off the hook.
The fact is, a pedestrian or bicyclist should be able to walk or ride ANYWHERE in this city — whether on a greenway or open road — and feel safe and comfortable.
However, anyone who dares do any walking or biking here will tell you that this is not the case. And those who don’t believe it should just try crossing one of the busy streets in “our fair city of Mayberry” on foot and see for themselves.
The problem is, we have too many hardheads locally who are trapped in a 1970s “Smokey and the Bandit” redneck/hillbilly world where the car culture prevailed. In their view, the roads are made for four-wheeled vehicles that are bigger and faster than you and if you don’t get out of their way, expect to get run over plain and simple.
In a recent 12-year period, statistics show that 34 pedestrian-related crashes occurred in Mount Airy, claiming four lives.
Much study has been given to implementing additional safety measures in town, such as installing pedestrian crosswalks at certain intersections. The problem is, drivers won’t respect this or any such measure (the ultimate solution is requiring these jerks to go back to school to learn how to become human beings).
It’s not just pedestrians and cyclists who are at risk, but other motorists who don’t cater to the Mad Max cutthroat mentality that is allowed to prevail on local streets, and retail parking lots where reckless driving often occurs.
Here again, if you don’t believe me, drive over to U.S. 601, get into the left lane and go 35 mph, the posted limit. It won’t be long until other motorists are all over your rear bumper and doing everything possible to intimidate you to go faster, or trying to pass in heavy traffic.
Where are all these people headed, you might ask, especially in the middle of the day or Sunday afternoon when they are likely not rushing to work? Maybe they’re trying to get their Rhodes Scholar applications to the post office on time.
The really sad part of this is, we are always promoting ourselves as a gentle, caring community and in some ways that’s actually true.
But we will never achieve, or deserve, such a label as long as our many disrespectful motorists remain entrenched not only in 1991 when Michael Gray York was killed, but the Dark Ages.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.