ROSWELL | Bicyclist dies after collision; son calls for park redesign

8:57 AM, Feb 19, 2012   |    comments
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Steven Nicholas, Barbara Nicholas' son, in Roswell's Big Creek Park, Friday, February 17, 2012

ROSWELL, Ga. -- Barbara Nicholas, a mother and grandmother and an experienced bicyclist, died February 4th of injuries she suffered nearly 17 months ago when she collided head-on with other cyclists at Big Creek Park and Greenway in Roswell.

Now her only son is fighting to save people from a similar tragedy.  He is trying to convince the City of Roswell to make some design changes to the park itself, to make similar accidents less likely.

"I worry that my mom's accident is one of others to come if something doesn't change," said Steven Nicholas, on Friday.

On September 22, 2010, at about 10:00 am, Barbara Nicholas, 66, was riding west on a section of the path that is not far from the Old Alabama Road entrance to the park.  That entrance is just north of Holcomb Bridge Road.

She was wearing her helmet and other safety gear.

She rode toward an S-curve, and must not have seen what was coming around the bend on her side of the path.

She collided head-on with two other cyclists.

"Someone was coming the other way and they just collided," Steven said. "She was paralyzed from the sternum down."

Her brain was uninjured, Steven said, so she was fully aware of her dire condition.

"Within days of finding out that the paralysis was permanent, she looked at me and said, 'I have to move on to my next, great adventure.' That's who she was. She didn't feel sorry for herself."

During the 17 months after the collision, Barbara Nicholas struggled against numerous, serious health crises as a result of the injuries -- injuries that nearly killed her more than once.  But she said, more than once, "I want to live for my grandchildren."

Steven remembered the vigorous, fit, active woman he knew all of his life, and he smiled.  He talked about how much she loved long-distance bicycling. She often went on "century" rides -- 100-mile rides -- and she went on longer rides, too.

"One of her biggest accomplishments was when she biked from Niagara Falls to Manhattan."

She and her family marked her 67th birthday, on October 28, 2011, painfully aware that health was beginning to decline rapidly, Steven said.

Steven has been urging the City of Roswell to redesign some safety aspects of Big Creek Park and Greenway, which opened in 2005.  He wants the city to implement a few, simple safety standards that he believes might have prevented his mother's accident.

"I've seen lots of near misses" of bicyclists almost colliding with each other -- and almost colliding with pedestrians, joggers, children, baby strollers -- before and since his mother's accident, Steven said.

The safety designs he is requesting are already in place on that path, a short distance away -- on the part of the path that is in the City of Alpharetta. They include a dashed, yellow "lane stripe" down the middle of the path, to help bicyclists stay on the right, even around blind curves; and speed-limit signs to try to remind bicyclists to throttle down their work-outs in this park, in order to prevent unsafe racing.

"This is a very dangerous bike path," said Attorney Keegan Federal, describing Roswell's portion of the path.

Federal is preparing a lawsuit -- against the City of Roswell and the engineers who designed Roswell's section of the park and bike path.

Multiple tire skids carpet the path's surface where cyclists constantly slam on the brakes at blind curves.

And at the blind S-curve where Barbara Nicholas crashed, the tree and other foliage that the City inexplicably planted there years ago, which blocked her line of sight, have still not been cleared.

"There are a lot of blind spots with brushes and trees, and they're all still here," Steven said. "And I just hope no one else gets hurt."

"They need to redesign this bikeway, they need to make it safe," Federal said. "They should have known better. The park was designed for beauty, not for safety."

Federal calls the design a race-track design, a speedway design.

The City has, since Barbara Nicholas' collision, installed a sign near the Old Alabama Road entrance that advises users that the path is not one-way, that there is two-way traffic on the path.

Roswell's City Attorney Bob Hulsey told 11Alive's Jon Shirek Friday that he has advised the City not to comment about any of the issues, because of the pending lawsuit -- a lawsuit over a park that Barbara Nicholas' family believes is a fatally flawed park. 

"They should at least have just used common sense and not planted a tree that blocks the vision of opposite-direction traffic," Federal said, as he listed the several design changes he is proposing.

"This is a very dangerous bike path, and an accident as serious as Ms. Nicholas' could happen any day."

"My [two] daughters won't have their grandmother anymore," Steven said, "and my unborn son, he'll never know her. I just don't want it to happen to anybody else."

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Link: CaringBridge website for Barbara Nicholas 

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