Close to Home: Safety Education Program Manager, Justin Bristol, shares his experience when his friend and teammate, Maggie Evans, was struck by a vehicle

I moved to Savannah at the end of 2014 from Columbia, SC. I left a city with a small cyclocross scene and moved somewhere with an even smaller one. It was easy to feel isolated when I was riding my bike with the skinny tires and curly handlebars in the woods.

 

I was taking a break during a ride one afternoon in the big grass field at the Whitemarsh Island Nature Preserve trail in Savannah. It’s the trail behind the YMCA on Johnny Mercer Blvd., not far from the intersection with Highway 80. Another bike with curly handlebars and skinny tires came rolling out of the woods. This was a few short years before the gravel bike boom, another bike like this wasn’t the most common sighting. 

 

I had known Jackson Evans just through occasional group rides around Savannah. Every now and then, he would pop up at a local road race or Wednesday night ride, but his work schedule prevented him from riding too often. As a professional jazz guitarist, Jackson’s work started around the same time most people’s days ended. His ride schedule didn’t match up with everyone else’s. As a graduate student, I wasn’t bound to a nine to five schedule. It was easy for us to ride together during the day.

 

We exchanged phone numbers in the field that day to coordinate some rides together. Since the Georgia Cyclocross Series events happened on Sunday afternoons, he could usually get to those races after playing a Saturday night gig and a slightly abbreviated sleep schedule. Within a few years, we were regular travel and training partners. 

 

We became fast friends after all of that time on the saddle and in the car together. We had nearly the complete opposite taste in music. The absence of song in the car to break the silence meant a lot of silly conversations on Interstate 16 heading northwest. It’s easy to grow close to someone in that environment. 

 

Of course, it’s easy to grow close to someone’s family like that too. 

 

Where there’s Jackson, there’s Maggie. Maggie was a runner when I first became friends with them. When I would show up to their house for a coffee before a local race or training ride, Maggie was usually getting ready to go for a run. Those quick conversations around the coffee table turned into real friendship. I rushed home from a mountain bike race in 2019 to make sure I got to the Evans family holiday party in time. Maggie had arranged to have a birthday cake for me at their holiday party, letting me take the spotlight from their own event for a brief period of time. I’ll never forget her “31 is tons of fun” mantra that she repeated throughout the evening. 

 

I only knew Maggie the runner for a few years. I usually teased her for her sport of choice. She commuted by bike to her job at SCAD, so clearly she understood how great bikes were. She just hadn’t embraced them as a recreational activity quite yet. 

 

When Maggie got her first gravel bike, it was clear that she was hooked. She practically quit running overnight and became a cyclist. Jackson and Justin car trips became Jackson, Maggie, and Justin car trips to explore new dirt roads and sometimes new taco shops. We raced in Hillsboro, GA and rushed home so that they could play their Saturday night gig. We rode a loop of Lake Moultrie in South Carolina, and meandered home after a big meal. Maggie often posted the hashtag, “will travel for gravel” on her Instagram stories. It was hard to keep her away from any dirt road event that she could find.

 

I joked that the three of us were a gravel tricycle.

 

 

I got home from my lunch ride a little bit later than normal on Tuesday, April 12th. As was typical, when I got back from my ride, I sat back down at my desk for a few minutes still in my bike clothes and began to catch up on emails. I checked the work social media and saw that someone had posted a link about a bicyclist who had been hit by a car in our local cycling Facebook group. The last line jumped out at me. 

 

“Officials say the bicyclist has been taken to the hospital but are not sure of her condition.”

 

“Her.”

 

I texted Maggie immediately. When she didn’t answer, I called Jackson. He told me that he was sitting in the waiting room at the ER. I kicked something in my living room—I don’t remember what, but it was hard—and began pacing around our house. I had never felt so helpless. 

 

Eventually, I got dressed and got in my car and drove to the scene of the collision: Highway 80, near the intersection with Johnny Mercer Blvd. Not far from the grassy field where I first teased Jackson for having a flip phone in 2017. 

 

Yellow flags scattered around the site caught my eye. And then I saw a Cannondale Synapse laying just off of the shoulder in the grass. And then a shoe. Glasses. A helmet. Everything was still just sitting there. 

 

I drove to the Bike Walk Savannah office downtown. Caila Brown, the Executive Director, called the Chatham County Police Department. They released the items to be collected as the collision investigation had already concluded on site. We called Jackson, spoke with his lawyer, and returned to collect the items. 

 

 

Scattered amongst the grass, the roadside litter, and the shattered bits of pickup truck headlights were my friend’s belongings. I bounced between feelings of anger, sadness, and fear as I picked up her phone and her emergency flat kit. 

 

Maggie is currently stable in the hospital, but has a long road to recovery. Jackson was lucky that he was able to find her in the ER, but it wasn’t without effort. 

 

I personally rarely ride with my wallet. I’m too afraid of losing it, ironically, if I crash. I have a crash notification on my bike computer and have my wife listed as my emergency contact on my phone. I always assumed that, if I crashed, it would be easy to identify me that way. 

 

Maggie’s phone was lost at the scene (and later recovered by Caila and me) but it wasn’t functional. Her cycling computer was not recovered. 

 

I ordered a new identification tag today to wear while I ride so that I can be identified in the case of a collision or crash. Luckily, this also includes information like my blood type and any known allergies. A precaution that makes my family a bit more comfortable. There’s a popular brand of ID tags available for active folks that offers an interactive database online that you can update to change contact information, medical history, and allergies without replacing the physical tag. Smaller, more independent makers and brands can also be found on websites like Etsy. 

 

Of course, for a collision like this to happen, something has gone horribly wrong. Highway 80 may not be as safe as a cycle lane in Amsterdam, but there are certainly worse places to ride. On a clear, sunny day like it was, this four-lane road with a shoulder should be shared easily by all road users.

 

While I can’t speak to charges or decisions made by the police, it seems to me that there was a violation made during this attempted pass. The updated passing law in Georgia (§ 40-6-56, effective July 1, 2021) mandates that motorists change lanes if feasible (there are two lanes of westbound traffic available on Highway 80) or slow down at least 10 miles per hour, and “proceed around the bicycle with at least three feet between such vehicle and the  bicycle at all times.” This strengthened our previous three-foot passing law in that it requires a three-foot buffer and encourages changing lanes completely when possible. 

 

Consulting with legal counsel is always advised in the event of a crash, but with health being our first priority, it can sometimes be easy to overlook legal concerns. An experienced and knowledgeable counsel will be able to fill in gaps and make sure that all of the boxes are being ticked, especially if a police investigation is ongoing, leaving you and your family able to focus on healing and recovery (both physically and emotionally).

 

 

It’s important to know how to react and what to do in the event of a crash (Georgia Bikes has resources available on our website). Of course, riding predictably and visibly is the best that we can do to prevent a collision. It was a clear, sunny morning the day that Maggie was hit but she was still riding with a red rear light for increased visibility. Even when we take every precaution to be safe out on the road, we are still at the mercy of other road users. That is why the most important thing, especially when we operate a motor vehicle, is to be attentive at all times. A large pickup truck could weigh nearly 6,000 lbs., but even the smallest car traveling at speed could easily cause serious injury or death to a person on a bike. Every road user should take proper care to be aware of their responsibilities on the road, and work to remain vigilant of those more vulnerable road users out there. 

 

 

 

Local Club Spotlight: The GOAT RIDERS

Georgia Bikes spoke with Diane Seale of the GOAT RIDERS to highlight the efforts of this local cycling club. The GOAT RIDERS are a social riding group in Cumming, GA who focus on no-drop rides with a welcoming atmosphere and weekly goat-farm rest stops. 

To have your club featured in our Local Club Spotlight, email justin@georgiabikes.org.

Georgia Bikes: When did you originally organize the group? 

Diane: It officially became a group in 2014. A few years prior to that, we were a group of runners who decided we needed to do something more than run so we started cycling on Sundays.

 

GB: How did you come up with the idea? 

Diane: We would meet up at various places and someone always knew some of the roads and others we just explored. As the group of cyclists grew, everyone lived in different locations. We found the Forsyth County YMCA to be a centralized location for all to meet. We started exploring new roads from there and for some reason we always rode by the Goat Farm. At that time the goats actually had a Fisher Price play set in their field with country music blaring from the speakers. Since we never knew where we were going each week, one of the cyclists asked a particular Sunday if we were going to ride the Goat Route. We asked what she meant and she referred to the Goat Farm as being on the route and, from then on, every Sunday we made sure the farm was on our route and we stopped to share our snacks with the goats.

 

GB: How many people were involved initially? 

Diane: It initially started with about five of us and eventually others started asking to join in.

 

GB: How many are riding with you now?  

Diane: We have over 1,200 members with cyclists on Sundays numbering from 20 to over 100.

GB: I think no-drop rides are so important because they provide a welcoming and supportive entrance into riding. I’ve had friends that were dropped on rides and it really soured them on riding in groups. How important is the no-drop ethos to your group? 

Diane: That is THE most important aspect that we strive for as a group. Our motto, “No one left behind” is what makes the GOATS unique. There are leaders assigned to every group along with sweepers that make sure everyone in their group is accounted for along the whole route. I have seen sweepers actually turn around and ride back to be sure the LAST person is within eyesight. 

 

GB: Do you think it makes people more likely to join in rides? 

Diane: Yes, without a doubt. As long as a “new to the GOATS” cyclist joins a Sunday ride and does not jump in front of the leader, we try our best to prevent that cyclist from getting lost or left behind in the group. Not only are the leaders and sweepers looking out for the group, but the entire vibe of the club is to look out for others and help them in any way that they need help.

 

GB: And to come back? 

Diane: After the rides I encourage people to join us at Tanner’s Restaurant for not only food and hydration, but more so the camaraderie you get from sitting and talking to other cyclists. We are all at different stages in our lives, but share the common interest of loving to cycle outdoors.

 

GB: I really like the idea of “enjoying nature’s beauty from the seat of a bike” concept. How important is taking time to be present in nature to the members of your group?  

Diane: The routes that we have created are all on the rolling hills of country roads. We pass many farms and beautiful landscapes and homes. None of the routes from 21 to 40 miles have a traffic light so you really feel like you are out of the city and enjoying nature.

 

GB: If people were interested in starting similar rides in other parts of the state, what advice would you give them? 

Diane: Remember that it’s a ride and not a race. Always keep levity in 95% percent of the situations that happen, but of course be present when something does occur that needs the leader’s attention. Be consistent and concise in posting rides and information. Put yourself in the position that you have just moved to the area and this will be your first ride. Think of what information that you as a new rider needs to know and try to post that on every ride. Plan fun things for the group i.e. once a month have a field trip to another location to ride or pick a century ride to train for together as a group. We have done both of these things with the GOATS which was something out of the ordinary from the usual Sunday rides, but kept the enthusiasm going within the group.

 

Diane: One last thing I want to share with you was something I posted on the FB page in July 2020 after hearing that the GOAT RIDERS was MY group (note, this excerpt from Diane’s Facebook post has been edited for length):

 

“WHAT MAKES GOATS SO SPECIAL? Lately, when I’ve been giving my “safety briefing” on Sundays, I start off by saying, “Hello, my name is Diane Seale (yes, I have that in my notes to remember…) welcome to the GOATS…THIS IS NOT MY GROUP…”

 

I felt our group was more about having fun, meeting new people, enjoying being outside to exercise and most of all making EVERYONE feel welcome. We’ve never wanted anyone to be left behind with their kick-stand bike with no water, thinking that’s how group rides were structured.

 

So truly, the GOATS are special in that SO many of you help out to lead, to sweep, to share GOAT food, to organize the post-ride hydration, to encourage each other along the way. I am only the catalyst to post the ride and read a safety briefing which we borrowed from another club and restructured for our ride.

 

Each and every one of you are the reason why the GOATS continue to grow!!! It is OUR GROUP!!”

Georgia Bikes wants to thank Diane for taking the time to speak with us and for sharing photos!

Georgia Bikes is hiring! Accepting applications for full-time Planning and Engagement Manager

Now Hiring! 

The Planning and Engagement Manager (PEM) is a senior-level bike/walk professional who works to spark a new mobility discourse that shifts transportation decision-making and funding in Georgia. 

The PEM oversees local and statewide planning projects, stakeholder involvement, and analysis; increases modal shares; provides an expert voice, educates, and shares information; and assists the Executive Director by supporting the growth of both Georgia Bikes and our statewide bike/walk communities. The PEM is a highly responsible self-starter, has advanced technical skills, writes flawlessly, and has experience incorporating equity into planning projects.

Bike Walk Golden Isles, Georgia’s newest bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization, picks up speed

Bike Walk Golden Isles makes important progress in 2021, sets ambitious goals for the future

In December 2019, a public meeting was held in Brunswick to gauge interest in a new bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization on the Coast. Then the pandemic hit, stopping the effort in its tracks. But only temporarily. Bike Walk Golden Isles, Georgia’s newest bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization, is again rolling forward, having made significant progress this year.

Van Black, chair of the BWGI board of directors, said he’s proud of the speed with which the organization came together. A steering committee was formed and began meeting twice a month via Zoom, members started participating in socially-distanced outdoor activities, and a survey was conducted to identify priorities for the organization. 


“We built a board, we created a solid set of corporate bylaws, established financial systems, and we researched and implemented a comprehensive donor management system in just a few months,” he said.

Black is also pleased with the composition of the board of directors, which grew out of the steering committee, and the expertise that individual members bring to it.

“All of our board members are very knowledgeable and are experts in the roles that they have accepted. They have direct experience in running non-profit organizations, in maintaining and expanding infrastructure, and in creating educational and safety programs,” he said. “Additionally, everyone works well together and has fun as a group.”

Patti Sistrunk, program manager at the Georgia Safe Routes to School Resource Center, serves as BWGI secretary and is also enthused with the organization’s recent accomplishments.

“I’m proud that we’re seeing such an immediate interest from the community while being able to collaborate and partner with so many organizations and people already,” she said. “Every conversation I have about Bike Walk Golden Isles leads to more possibilities. This organization was needed.” 

Bike Walk Golden Isles, the Georgia Safe Routes to School Resource Center, Bike Walk Savannah, and Georgia Bikes teamed up to offer bicycle safety education programs to hundreds of students in Coastal Georgia.

 


One such opportunity for collaboration occurred in May when BWGI teamed up with Georgia Bikes and Bike Walk Savannah to develop a bicycle education program for hundreds of students at Burroughs-Molette Elementary School in Brunswick. The partnership continued when the organizations offered education programs in association with Loop it Up Savannah to students enrolled in Savannah-Chatham County Public School System summer programs. In all, nearly 400 students at seven schools participated in bicycle safety programs.

Bike Walk Savannah Executive Director Caila Brown said, “Having BWGI just down the road allows us to cooperate on issues throughout the coastal region. Our partnership with BWGI will also help us find opportunities to improve connectivity and expand mobility options in coastal communities — and amplify the effectiveness of both our organizations.”

Brown said she’s seen groups in Metro Atlanta work together and is glad to have similar opportunities for collaboration in Southeast Georgia. In addition to partnering with Bike Walk Savannah, BWGI has also worked with the Brunswick Downtown Development Authority, the Gullah Geechee Bicycle Ride Across Georgia Dream Team, the Golden Isles Track Club, the Camden Cycling Club, the East Coast Greenway Alliance, the Coastal Regional Commission, and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

BWGI served as a local host for the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Capital to Coast bicycle safety event in Brunswick.

 

Black said the organization is well positioned to promote the region’s reputation as a good place for walking and biking, while advocating for projects that improve safety.

“The Golden Isles are one of the best places in the country for biking, walking, and rolling. Certain infrastructure elements designed to support these activities are currently in place, but there are tremendous opportunities for additional growth,” he said. “BWGI is striving to work with local officials to provide more trails, paths, and other opportunities to enjoy life in the Golden Isles. Additionally, there are many residents here — and tourists as well — who are new to biking, walking, and rolling and BWGI wants to help these people to learn to love these activities, to engage in relevant events, and to be safe while they are enjoying these undertakings.”

BWGI has big plans in 2021, including organizing fun, casual bike rides for people of all ages and abilities, growing its membership,  and becoming a, “trusted source in the community for delivering educational and safety programs,” Black said. This year BWGI has participated in and helped to promote the Gullah Geechee BRAG Dream Team’s monthly Justice for Ahmaud Community Bike Rides, staffed a booth at Brunswick PorchFest, and served as one of the local hosts for the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Capital to Coast bicycle safety tour.

BWGI members participate in the Gullah Geechee Bicycle Ride Across Georgia Dream Team’s Justice for Ahmaud Community Bike Rides and help tp promote the events.

 

The organization is also ready to represent coastal residents who want safer streets and public spaces, Black said, and members have been meeting with elected officials and other local government staff members.

“We want to be a resource for area politicians, the Georgia Department of Transportation representatives, Department of Natural Resources personnel, and other community officials as they focus on enhancing the local infrastructure by creating more biking, walking, and rolling opportunities for residents and visitors.”

Sistrunk has a similar vision for the organization’s role.

“BWGI will be a collective voice for people who want to bike and walk as well as people who have to bike and walk,” she said. “ I’m a project manager who works in bicycle and pedestrian programs for a living, and I value the important role bicycle and pedestrian advocates play around the state and country. I’ve seen the amazing things groups like Georgia Bikes, Bike Walk Savannah, BikeAthens, the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, Bike Coweta, and Bike Walk Macon do. I want that here where I live and I want to be a part of it. I hope a lot of other people want to be part of BWGI, too.” 

Georgia Bikes began providing administrative support to Bike Walk Golden Isles in October 2019, as part of its efforts to strengthen bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations throughout the state and help to launch new efforts. If you are interested in how Georgia Bikes can help organize advocacy initiatives in your community, email info@georgiabikes.org.

Meet John Devine, Georgia Bikes’ new executive director

Meet John Devine, Georgia Bikes' new executive director

Meet our new Executive Director, John Devine, AICP.  John lives in Athens and comes to Georgia Bikes with over twenty years of experience in transportation and community planning. 

When he’s not riding bikes, talking about bikes, tinkering with bikes, or advocating for people who bike, John enjoys music, soccer, disc golf, hiking, traveling, and spending time with his family.  

Learn more about John.

2021 Georgia Bike-Walk Summit Registration Now Available

Registration for the 2021 Georgia Bike-Walk Summit is now available

Registration for the virtual conference is free, but donations and Georgia Bikes memberships are encouraged

Now in its 12th year, Georgia Bikes’ annual summit is expanding to include sessions of interest to advocates seeking to make biking, walking, and rolling in our state safer and better for all of us. The summit is presented by Bike Walk GA supported by a grant from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

This year’s summit will be held entirely online, Oct. 20-22, with variety of session types, including single presentations, moderated panel discussions, and small-group interactive discussions. 

 

 

Biketober challenge kicks off Oct. 1

Biketober challenge begins Oct. 1, Atlanta area residents invited to participate

It’s time to gear up for the annual Biketober challenge!

Biketober is a fun, free competition that encourages all metro Atlantans to experience the joy of riding a bike. Throughout the month of October, the challenge offers participants opportunities to win prizes and offer to encourage each other to experience the joys and benefits of riding bikes. 

Prizes up for grabs include an electric bike from Edison Bicycles and, if you register by Sept. 30, you’ll have the chance to win a $1,000 REI gift card. Here’s how to get rolling:

You can ride anywhere, anytime in October – just a 10-minute ride is enough to take part.

  1. Register – Login (if you’ve taken part before) or Sign-up
  2. Enjoy a bike ride/s
  3. Log it here or connect a cycling app (Strava or Map My Ride)
  4. Earn points, climb the leaderboards and win prizes!

You can also invite your coworkers to take part and compete against other workplaces on an Atlanta-wide workplace leaderboard.

More information and detailed instructions are available on the Biketober website.

Georgia Bikes Board of Directors thanks Elliott Caldwell for his service

Georgia Bikes Board of Directors thanks Elliott Caldwell for his service

The Georgia Bikes Board of Directors wishes to thank Elliott Caldwell for his service to the organization. Elliott joined the Georgia Bikes staff as complete streets coordinator in 2016 and served as executive director from June 2017 to September 2021. Elliott has returned to Washington, D.C. to pursue new opportunities.

“The work Elliott has done to create safer bicycling reaches throughout the state and touches beginning cyclists as well as more experienced,” said Georgia Bikes Board of Directors Chair Cheryl Burnette. “Georgia Bikes is thankful to have had the pleasure and honor of working with Elliott to move our organization and cycling in the state forward. We wish Elliott well as he moves on to the next chapter.”

Elliott worked tirelessly with partner organizations and lawmakers to pass important legislation, including Georgia’s new three-foot passing law, which went into effect July 1 of this year. He planned and produced the annual Georgia Bike Summit for four years, including the first-ever virtual summit in 2020. Throughout his tenure with Georgia Bikes, he provided support, guidance, and encouragement to bicycle advocacy organizations and individuals from all over the state.

He also undertook the difficult but necessary task of contacting friends and families of fatal crash victims to connect them with support services, while establishing partnerships with government agencies, other nonprofits, businesses, and community organizations to improve safety and access for people who bike, walk, and roll. Elliott was steadfast in his commitment to making the state a better place for all people who ride bikes, and all Georgians — no matter how they travel — have benefited from his work to make our state’s streets and roadways safer for everyone.

 

Georgia Bikes’ mission is to improve bicycling conditions and promote bicycling throughout the state of Georgia. Founded in 2006, the nonprofit has offices in Athens and Savannah. Support safer and better bicycling by joining or donating to Georgia Bikes today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Youth Bike Summit in Atlanta postponed until 2022

Registration now available for Youth Bike Summit

UPDATE:

Due to the spike in COVID-19 infections as a result of the Delta variant and the lack of vaccination options for youth under 12 years of age, the Youth Bike Summit (YBS) National Steering Committee has decided to postpone the 2021 Youth Bike Summit in Atlanta planned for October 8th – 10th.  In consultation with the BRAG Dream Team and the YBS Atlanta Youth Advisory Council the YBS National Steering Committee will select a new date for the 2022 Youth Bike Summit by December 2021. 

 

After a pandemic year of sheltering in place and maintaining social distance while wearing masks, the Youth Bike Summit is back and it will take place in Atlanta the weekend of Oct. 8 – 10. The BRAG (Bike Ride Across Georgia) Dream Team is the host organization for this national gathering and Wilderness Works is the host site. Due to the vaccination campaign limits, the 2021 Youth Bike Summit will be designed to maximize safety for the youth and adults who attend this special event.

Registration is now available and session proposals are being accepted. Find out more on the Youth Bike Summit website.

People for Bikes hosting VIP tent at Athens’ Twilight Criterium

Enjoy prime race views for the start and finish of the Athens Twilight Criterium, great hospitality, meet athletes and mingle with PeopleForBikes staff and industry colleagues at Athens Twilight on Aug. 21 from 5-10 p.m. The tent will be located at the corner of College Avenue and East Washington Street. Registration is required. 

Athens Twilight is the pinnacle of criterium racing in the United States. 

As CyclingTips.com puts it, “The streets of downtown Athens, Georgia, become a block party. Fireworks in the parking lot, bars overflowing, thousands of screaming college kids lining barriers. Oh, and there’s also a bike race happening.”