Mount Airy’s greenways didn’t exist when Michael Gray York was fatally injured while riding his bicycle in 1991, but a movement is afoot to name a new bridge on the trail system after him.
That proposal will be discussed by the city Board of Commissioners during a meeting today at 2 p.m. in the Municipal Building.
Michael, who was 19 at the time of his accident, was a special-needs student and although mentally challenged, had a knack for fixing broken bicycles and loved riding them around town.
On the night of Dec. 23, 1991, he was on U.S. 601 (Rockford Street) at the U.S. 52 intersection when he was knocked from his bicycle by a pickup and into the path of a northbound tractor-trailer on U.S. 52. It dragged the youth 200 yards after striking him, to a point near the Worth Street intersection where a leg of a new greenway connector opened this past July.
Michael died of his injuries the next morning, Christmas Eve 1991.
In fast-forwarding almost 25 years, Mount Airy has nearly seven continuous miles of paved greenways to accommodate bicycle riders, walkers and joggers. These include the Emily B. Taylor and Ararat River greenways and the new connector.
Those trails provide a safer haven for cyclists compared to local streets and highways, and might have prevented Michael’s death in 1991 by providing him that alternative in getting around town.
But the greenway system could still be linked to the youth who died so tragically, due to the bridge-naming effort.
Not far from where Michael was fatally injured, the bridge was constructed earlier this year over Lovills Creek along U.S. 52 near the Slate Equipment site as part of the new connector.
The proposal before the commissioners calls for it to be named the Michael Gray York Memorial Bridge.
That suggestion was made by Jody Phillips, vice president of Smith-Rowe, LLC, which was the contractor for the greenway connector. Phillips knew Michael and was about the same age as he, with both attending the B.H. Tharrington school in the 1970s, when Michael was a special-needs student there.
Phillips recently disclosed that he formed friendships with many of the special-needs youths, and Michael stood out because he was always smiling, enjoyed making friends and especially loved bicycles. Phillips later graduated from Mount Airy High School and learned of Michael’s death while on Christmas break as a freshman in college in 1991.
The Smith-Rowe official wrote City Manager Barbara Jones to suggest that the bridge be named after Michael “in honor of a young man who enjoyed riding bicycles and enjoyed a simple life.”
Phillips mentioned that the greenway system provides “a perfect environment” for special-needs individuals in accessing recreation and a safe way for the public to reach one end of the city from another.
The Smith-Rowe official has offered to pay any costs associated with naming the bridge.
Among other items on the agenda for today’s meeting:
• A discussion is planned on the role of the mayor and board of commissioners. Mayor David Rowe explained Wednesday that this item arose from a recent council meeting when Commissioner Jon Cawley offered remarks about the board not pulling together.
In the interim, research was garnered from the University of North Carolina School of Government “just to determine what we are supposed to do and not supposed to do,” Rowe said.
The mayor indicated that the discussion set for today is not one officials enjoy engaging in, without elaborating. “We’ll see what happens,” Rowe said.
• A closed session is scheduled at the end of the meeting, related to the attorney-client privilege.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.