FIRST the good news: The number of fatalities resulting from traffic crashes in Georgia fell again in 2013, a decline that has continued for the past eight years.
Now the bad news: The number of bicyclists killed on our state’s roads is increasing. Chatham County has been a particular area of concern for a number of years and has been identified as a priority for state agencies working to make our streets safer and prevent tragedies like the one that occurred on July 26, 2012.
Matt Kohler was riding his bike in Bloomingdale when he was struck and killed by a driver. He had been married to his wife Kori for just a few months. Last year she reached out to John Pinkerton, brewmaster at Moon River Brewing Company, where she and Matt had been loyal customers.
“Matt was a huge participant in life and our community. He was that kid everyone wanted to meet and I was blessed to get to marry,” Kori said. “I wanted everyone to know his story. More importantly, I wanted people to realize that when you neglect the road, for even one minute, you could take away someone’s everything.”
Pinkerton saw the opportunity to educate the public on the critical need to safely share the road with people who ride bikes. The first Matt’s Moon River Cruise event was held in June of last year. The second annual event is scheduled for Saturday, May 3 from 2-5 p.m. in the Moon River Brewing Company Beer Garden at 21 W. Bay Street.
One of the aims of last year’s event was to promote awareness of Georgia’s “3-foot passing law.” When you’re riding a bicycle and a car or truck zooms past very close to your left elbow, it’s hard not to feel a jolt of alarm, followed by anger at the driver for being so thoughtless. While a minority of drivers may intentionally “buzz” cyclists, many more are impatiently trying to slip past a person riding a bike, unaware of the potentially deadly results. Others are simply not paying attention.
Signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2011, HB101 requires motorists to, “leave a safe distance between such vehicle and the bicycle and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle,” when passing people on bikes. What’s a safe distance? “Not less than three feet,” according to the law.
Raising awareness of HB101 remains a priority, but Pinkerton hopes to touch on new messages and reach new audiences this year.
“We’re going to even greater lengths this year to not only raise public awareness but also directly engage local elected officials and law enforcement to improve bicycle safety on our roads,” Pinkerton said.
There are a variety of ways to reduce bicyclist deaths and injuries, according to Brent Buice, executive director of Georgia Bikes!, a statewide advocacy organization.
“Improved infrastructure, along with education of existing traffic laws and increased penalties for motorists who injure or kill more vulnerable road users, is the best strategy for reversing this disturbing trend,” he said.
While Matt’s Moon River Cruise is meant to focus attention on improving roadway safety, there’s plenty of fun to be had, too. A casual bike ride and social media scavenger hunt will leave Ellis Square at 1 p.m. and wind through the historic district arriving at Moon River at 2 p.m. Free valet parking for bicycles will be provided.
The event will also feature live music from the Jimmy Wolling Band, a raffle and a silent auction. One of the auction items is a limited edition cruiser bicycle donated by New Belgium Brewing Company, one of the event’s sponsors.
Pinkerton is again preparing a special beer for the occasion.
“We’re excited to be brewing Matt’s Moon Cruise commemorative beer again this year,” Pinkerton said. “Just like the original, the Moon Cruise is a Belgo-American Pale Ale, which marries the complex fruity flavors of Belgian yeast with the pungent, floral/fruity aroma of American hops.”
(See Lee Heidel’s ‘Brew/Drink/Run’ column in this week’s issue for more about Pinkerton’s latest efforts.)
Proceeds from the event will support the Savannah Bicycle Campaign and Georgia Bikes as they continue their efforts to improve conditions for people who ride bikes in Savannah and around the state.