JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) — Hundreds of cyclists are killed by vehicles each year in the United States. North Alabama is no exception, and three families in Jackson County are making sure things change.
Roald Richard’s family remembers him, among many things, as an athlete. He ran triathlons and even completed an Iron Man.
“Throughout his whole life, he’s always exercised, it was kind of his outlet,” Richard’s daughter, Christina Richard told News 19.
Roald was killed on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020. He was hit while riding his bike for a workout along Highway 79. It’s a route his daughter Christine said he took often, as it’s a common one for many cyclists in the Scottsboro area.
“Just a normal bike ride in the morning, and it ended in tragedy,” she said.
Roald was killed by a driver under the influence. His fatal crash was not the only one in Jackson County in recent years.
“Since my father’s death, there’s been 2 more deaths in the community which has been absolutely tragic. Every time we hear about it its been absolutely heart breaking and its senseless,” Christina said.
John Cox and Dr. Wayne Patterson were killed in 2020 and 2021 by distracted drivers.
These tragedies, Alabama Cycling Coalition board member Jamie Miernik said, are happening more frequently across the state, especially in recent years.
“It happens every day that bikes are hit from behind more so now than before, and again I think its due to distraction,” Miernik told News 19.
Christina Richard’s family, along with the Cox’s and Patterson’s, are joining countless families around the world, leaving ‘Ghost Bikes’ along the routes their loved ones died.
The bikes are first painted completely white; many, decorated with signs or pieces of memorabilia personalizing them. Their purpose is to raise awareness about cyclist safety, and remind drivers to look out for them.
“With this, we hope we can help just bring some awareness for the community. They’ll see these white bikes on the side of the road and think, ‘right. I need to watch out for bikers,” Richard said.
Miernik said not only can Ghost Bikes serve as reminders of the consequences of distracted driving, they’re conversation starters.
“I’m not sure that drivers realize that bikes are supposed to be part of traffic like they are. They have the same rights and the same rules of the road,” Miernik said.
Creating Ghost Bikes is just the latest move on Christina Richard’s part to raise awareness. She first worked with the city of Scottsboro and the Alabama Department of Transportation to place “Share the Road” signs around town.
She hopes these symbols are just the beginning of change. Long term, she wishes for an all-around more bike-friendly community.
“We have so many outdoor activities. That’s what Scottsboro is known for is the lake, the hiking. We have really great walking trails, I think a biking trail would be icing on the cake for our city,” Richard said. “Hopefully they can take a path forward to install more bike lanes, maybe on the side of the road, an extra shoulder, an extra 12 inches. Maybe next time they pave a road, add that extra 12 inches so the biker can safely travel.”
This, Miernik echoes for all cities.
“Planning, unfortunately, has been mostly for most road users, which is cars, but bikes in some areas are getting up there in road usage and it needs to become part of the road formula,” Miernik said.