Saturday, October 04, 2008
Since I wrote about local bicycle safety issues in last Sunday's column, some things have changed - and all for the better. But there's a lot of work to be done.
In the wake of the bicycling death of a 20-year-old University of Alabama in Huntsville student on Sept. 15, Mayor Loretta Spencer held a news conference last week. She announced that several city initiatives on bicycling and bicycling safety are being speeded up.
The city is rushing into production a new bikeways-greenways map. It's adding more bike-route and bike-safety signs. It's preparing a series of public service announcements. And it's adding bike racks (those, too, tell motorists that cyclists are in the area) downtown and in Five Points, the latter the home to three of the city's four bicycle shops.
Most important to me is the formation of a committee of bicyclists that will work with city departments, including the police, on safety issues.
In the long run, the work of that committee could determine the success of the whole effort.
As a bicyclist, I have a few recommendations for the committee and for others who might be interested:
Bicyclists are riding the public roads and will do so far into the future. The new committee should recognize that the issue is communitywide, not just confined to Huntsville. The May 2007 death of a young woman engineering student occurred outside the city limits. The new committee should include a representative of the Madison County sheriff's office.
The public, cycling and noncycling, must be informed about traffic laws and dealing with bicyclists and safety issues in general, and that information must be widely disseminated: on any Web site appropriate and in the form of easy-to-read brochures distributed to bicycle shops, car dealerships, high-school driver's education classes, county license department offices, automobile insurers and the like.
The dangers inherent in bicyclists and cars sharing the same road are not confined to North Alabama. I suggest the governor create a statewide task force that would include the Huntsville-based bicycling advocacy group the Alabama Bicycle Coalition (alabike.org) and the state departments of public safety, transportation and travel and tourism, among others.
Any and all efforts to raise public awareness should recognize that the world is not divided into two camps - motorists and bicyclists. The vast majority of cyclists also drive cars, and a lot of drivers have bikes in their garages even if they don't ride them often. That can always change.
My ideas aren't necessarily new. But I'm pleased that - with the exception of the brochures - they can be implemented at little or no cost. It just takes the will.
To repeat, bicyclists will use the public roads. Their safety affects the safety of everyone. Bicycling is healthful, energy efficient and nonpolluting. If it's promoted properly, it can be a significant source of tourist dollars.
In other words, something that the Huntsville area and the state as a whole view as a problem can be converted into an advantage - and even as a reason people might visit (or even move to) Alabama from other parts of the country.
It's happened elsewhere. It can happen here.
John Ehinger's e-mail: email@example.com
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Saturday, October 04, 2008