JOHN L. PITTS: Natchez Trace too deadly for bicycles

By John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – How many more cyclists are going to have to die on the Natchez Trace Parkway before somebody in charge realizes that bikes and cars can’t co-exist on that road?
The latest death came last Tuesday, when a 52-year-old Alabama man was struck and killed in Raymond. It’s the second such death in a year – the most recent previous one was in May near Kosciusko.
Guess what? Within six months, sadly, somebody else will get killed out there. And it’s going to keep happening until we say enough is enough.
I’m especially sensitive about this issue, for a couple of reasons.
Before my wife and I moved to Corinth, I drove back and forth to our home on the Trace at least once a week. I’ve seen just about everything out there except Bigfoot – once, even an unmanned drone.
But nothing made me more nervous than a cyclist, alone or in a pack. The road simply isn’t built to accommodate traffic running both ways and cyclists, too.
Because of the Trace’s scenic design, with no passing lanes or shoulders, it’s impossible for a driver to safely observe the spirit of Mississippi’s John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act, which demands that cars and trucks give a cyclist three feet of room when passing.
That three feet in the Trace takes you into the oncoming traffic lane. (And yes, I know the Trace is federal property – I’ve paid a federal speeding ticket. Learned my lesson the first time.)
On Friday, I drove from Cherokee, Ala., to Tupelo. I had to get over for three cyclists, having to veer dangerously into the other lane – once in a spot where it would have been hard to see oncoming traffic quickly enough to react properly.
In 2009, I covered the King of the Hill Triathlon at Tombigbee State Park and talked with John Paul Frerer later that day about his participation on the winning relay team. Seemed like a great kid.
The next Thursday, out for a training ride on Highway 6, he was struck and killed by a pickup truck.
It was the day before his senior year at Tupelo High School would have begun.
I’m not sure how much thought I gave to cyclists before that. I’ve given them a lot of thought, and room, since.
I’m a free-market guy on just about every issue, but this is a case where the government needs to make a tough choice – no more cars and trucks or no more bikes. Whichever. It’s the only way to protect both cyclists and the four-wheel drivers.
Maybe once per season, the Trace could be closed to vehicles and make it bikes-only for a day.
Call it a day of remembrance – for those who could not take to their bikes on the Trace without putting their lives into someone else’s hands.
John L. Pitts (john.pitts@journalinc.com) is sports editor of the Daily Journal.