Recently, Deborah Ann Wilkowski, at 62 a newly retired Savannah anesthesiologist, was spending a Saturday morning in rural Effingham County doing one of the things she loved.
She was taking a quiet bicycle ride alongside a country road when, just before noon, a pickup truck traveling in the same direction swerved rightward toward her, crossed the white line separating the road from the shoulder and struck Dr. Wilkowski, who was riding on the paved shoulder beyond that white line. She was wearing reflective clothing as an extra precaution.
Troopers say the driver kept going while Dr. Wilkowski was taken to Memorial University Medical Center, where she died. The following day, Dennis Lee Stuart Jr., a 40-year-old Rincon man, turned himself in. He faces charges of vehicular homicide, hit-and-run and driving with a suspended license. A trooper said that if he’d been paying attention he should have seen her.
Her death serves as a tragic reminder of what can happen when motorists and bicyclists encounter each other on rural roads or city streets.
No driver should have to be reminded that bicyclists have a legal right to share the road with them. But here it is: they do have that right. The law says motorists must allow three feet between their vehicles and a bicyclist when passing. Nonetheless, bicyclists report that annoyed motorists sometimes intentionally menace them by pulling close, honking, cursing, even forcing them off the road.
Likewise, no bicyclist should need to be told that they must abide by traffic laws, but here it is: you do. Yes, you can use a full lane as cars do. But too often city pedalers dart through red lights or swerve around stopped cars, thus risking their own lives and unnerving motorists.
And then there are those easy-to-forget hazards. An automobile’s blind spots and a driver’s subconscious habit of not noticing anything smaller than a car make people on bikes and motorbikes less visible and more vulnerable. It’s a challenge to break that habit, but necessary to save lives.
Finally, it also should boil down to common sense. Motorists in their cars and trucks outweigh bicyclists and their bikes many times over. When there’s a collision, the cyclist is going to get the worst of it.
Savannah is a lovely place to pedal around. It offers flat roadways, charming neighborhoods, cycling clubs and events. Local governments have created bike paths and bike lanes with more planned and are adding racks and bike-sharing options to encourage and accommodate pedaling. With SCAD downtown and two more universities further out, students on bikes are a common sight, and a welcome one. The fewer cars that are on the road, the cleaner and less congested the city is and the less carbon floats into the air. That we all benefit is something for drivers to remember if annoyed that a bike is taking up part of the road.
And then, of course, there’s the nearby countryside offering longer, quieter stretches through bucolic farmland for cyclists and bike clubs fond of longer rides. That’s where Dr. Wilkowski, an accomplished M.D. active in cycling and touring clubs and beloved by those who knew her, should have had the peaceful Saturday she had planned and returned home looking forward to more cycling and a happy, active retirement. So take heed: Share the road. And be safe out there.