GREENFIELD — They climbed on their bikes, many wearing brightly colored clothing, each with a helmet strapped to their head.
They said her name softly and paused for a moment of silence before pedaling away along the very same path where a 36-year-old mother of two lost her life.
Theresa Burris could have been any of them — the notion wasn’t lost on Nancy Tibbett of New Palestine as she led the ride, shouting out warnings and safety tips as a group of about 20 cyclists headed east on U.S. 40 Friday to remember a life cut short.
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Burris’ death last month sparked a bigger conversation about bike safety in Hancock County, where two cyclists have been struck and killed by passing cars in the past year. As county officials stress the need for bike-friendly paths to attract families in their economic development plans, avid riders call for safety restrictions to make riders more comfortable sharing the road with motor vehicles.
Burris was killed July 18 while riding her bike to work along U.S. 40 just east of County Road 250W. She was hit by a semitrailer carrying a wide load that stretched into the shoulder of the roadway. Carla McCloud, 23, of New Palestine, died Aug. 12, 2015, after being hit by a drunken driver while riding her bike along County Road 300S.
Their deaths highlight the need for legislation aimed at protecting cyclists, said Allan Henderson of statewide advocacy group Bicycle Indiana — and their names will be evoked as the group fights for a law to put a safe distance, at least 3 feet, between cyclists and cars.
The organization wants to see laws put on the books that require drivers to leave 3 feet of space between themselves and cyclists riding along the shoulder — a bill proposing such a measure died in committee earlier this year. In the upcoming legislative session, members plan to widen their efforts to include pedestrians and any other vulnerable vehicle, such as farm equipment, Henderson said.
On Friday, a group of approximately 20 riders traced Burris’ path during what organizers call a Ride of Silence. None of the riders who joined in the trek had ever met Burris, but they understand a fear Burris had expressed to others before her death — that cars whizzing by sometimes drove too close for comfort.
Nearly 750 cyclists were killed in the United States in 2013, an 18 percent increase compared with the 628 who lost their lives in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In the same year, emergency rooms across the country saw more than 494,000 visits because of bicycle-related injuries, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
These are tragedies Bicycle Indiana fights to prevent, Henderson said.
The organization works to educate bikers and drivers around the state about safe practices for sharing the roadway and will continue to push legislators to enact stricter laws aimed at keeping cyclists safe, Henderson said.
In a perfect world, all major roadways in the state would feature bike lanes, Henderson said, noting such additions not only give riders their own traffic lane but help to draw drivers’ attention to the possibility cyclists might be in the area.
But Bicycle Indiana’s leaders realize constructing bike lanes is a costly endeavor for any community, Henderson said. Instead of petitioning leaders at the county level to take on such an expense, group leaders focus their efforts within the Statehouse, he said.
Bicycle Indiana has fought for years to see sensible bike-safety legislation passed in Indiana, though their efforts have so far been fruitless, Henderson said.
A 2016 senate bill would have allowed police officers to pull over and ticket drivers who did not leave at least 3 feet of clearance when passing a bicycle.
The bill was assigned to a transportation committee but never advanced because legislators worried it would be difficult for officers to enforce, said Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield.
But lawmakers recognize how vulnerable bikers can be, and discussions on how to improve Hoosier roadways to protect riders are ongoing, Crider said.
A few years ago the Indiana Department of Transportation agreed to conduct studies on the cost of including bike lanes along all new highways in the state, Crider said. Those discussions and the department’s research, however, are ongoing, he said.
For now, a bicycle painted bright white sits at the corner of U.S. 40 and County Road 250W, placed their by members of Bicycle Indiana.
Its purpose is twofold, Tibbett said — to keep Burris’ memory alive and also to remind drivers people like her could be just ahead.
“The road is there for all to share,” she said.
More than 600 cyclists lose their lives while riding along roadways in the United States. There has been an 18 percent increase in fatalities since 2009, national records show.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Bicycles riders have the same rights and responsibilities on the roads as other vehicles, officials say. Here are some tips on how to safely share the road:
- Stay alert; be aware of all vehicles or pedestrians along the roadway
- Drivers should slow down when approaching bicyclists and leave a safe amount of space when passing
- Keep a safe distance when traveling behind bicyclists
- Cyclists should always wear properly fitted helmets and bright colors when riding
- Ride bikes in the same direction as vehicle traffic
Source: Indiana State Police