Bridges tend to honor political leaders or other well-known figures, but the latest naming effort in Mount Airy is targeting a relatively unknown individual who died doing something he loved.
The city Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 Thursday afternoon to name a bridge on Mount Airy’s new greenway connector for Michael Gray York.
That bridge spanning Lovills Creek is located along U.S. 52 between Worth and Rockford streets near the site of Slate Equipment, not far from where York, a special-needs individual, was fatally injured while riding his bicycle in December 1991.
Discussion during Thursday’s council meeting which preceded the bridge-naming vote indicated that York was a pioneer who didn’t know that he was at the time of his death.
“He enjoyed riding his bicycle at a time when, I guess, riding a bicycle wasn’t cool,” Jody Phillips told the commissioners in officially requesting that the attractive wooden bridge be named the Michael Gray York Memorial Bridge. Phillips knew York from their days at B.H. Tharrington Elementary School, where York was a special-needs student.
Despite being mentally challenged, York had a talent for repairing bicycles which matched his love for using that conveyance to get around town.
When he was fatally injured in 1991, York, 19, was on Rockford Street (U.S. 601) trying to cross U.S. 52, the busiest intersection in town. A pickup struck his rear tire, knocking the young man into the path of a tractor-trailer that dragged him about 200 yards to a spot near the bridge constructed earlier this year.
York died of his injuries the next morning.
In addition to being a childhood acquaintance of York’s, Phillips is a present-day official of Smith-Rowe, LLC, the company awarded the contract to build the connector linking the city’s Emily B. Taylor and Ararat River greenways.
Had that system been around in 1991, York might well have been riding on it rather than a busy highway and his life would’ve been saved — a notion not lost during Thursday afternoon’s meeting.
“When we had the groundbreaking for the greenway connector,” Phillips told municipal officials, “it dawned on me that this (York’s death) was the reason for the greenway.”
It has provided a safe venue for bicyclists, who can circle the entire city if desired.
“I think we’re lucky to have the greenway system,” Phillips said.
The commissioners enthusiastically supported the bridge-naming request he brought to the table.
“I couldn’t imagine anything more fitting — anything,” Commissioner Jim Armbrister said.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said fellow board member Dean Brown, who indicated that it was “a shame” a death had to occur as a precursor to the greenway system being developed.
Brown said it is now proper to honor York in such a manner.
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley agreed.
“It’s an appropriate idea to name it (the bridge) after someone I have grown to be close to,” Brinkley said of learning about Michael Gray York’s life and his cycling passion.
“I am excited about the naming of the bridge — I think that is just phenomenal.”
Commissioner Steve Yokeley suggested that along with having York’s name on the bridge, a plague should be placed there to inform greenway users about who he was.
The other board members agreed and that provision was part of their unanimous vote.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.