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The following was originally published in the Austin American-Statesman on Sunday, May 27, 2012, and online at: http://www.statesman.com/opinion/respect-cyclists-needs-improve-our-community-2378575.html
Respect cyclists’ needs – improve our community
Robin Stallings, Local Contributor
On May 16, cyclists in cities all over America met for the Ride of Silence, a memorial ride for bicyclists who, like Austinites Verter Ginestra, Andrew Runciman and Gay Simmons-Posey, have been killed on our roadways.
Of Texas’ 3,500 traffic fatalities per year, approximately 50 are bicyclists and 400 are pedestrians, even though these groups usually make less than 2 percent of our overall trips.
Cyclists and pedestrians are not strangers messing up the morning commute, but rather fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. They are trying to stay healthy, help relieve traffic congestion, reduce our dependence on oil or just save a buck. Whether we as drivers blow by them in frustration or refuse to fund safe ways for them to get around when we plan big road projects, we risk the lives of our neighbors and families.
We can save lives and improve our cities by changing the way we approach traffic engineering, law enforcement and our citizens’ perception of how we use our roads.
By 2030, the population is projected to double in Central Texas. Communities will be struggling to handle more trucks, cars, buses, bicyclists, pedestrians — more everything. Part of the solution is better infrastructure, including a sidewalk network and an interconnected, family-friendly system for bicycles that includes separate “cycle tracks,” or bike roads, in particularly dangerous areas.
These roads protect cyclists and pedestrians with more than just paint, and make riding possible and inviting for people of all ages.
Austin has already begun by constructing a few blocks of cycle track on Rio Grande and East Fourth streets downtown and will begin more soon at Mueller, but we need a plan and a greater sense of urgency to complete the network.
Planning and funding safe public networks for bikes, pedestrians and electric scooters as we upgrade and expand our road system can make the future brighter for all of us.
Texans will have more and safer options for getting around, will enjoy the health benefits of regular activity and will help revitalize their communities.
The impact will be especially positive for children and the elderly — two groups that either cannot drive or face increased risks when trying to navigate public roadways as cyclists and pedestrians.
Children benefit from walking and biking to school in countless ways, but busy schedules, fear of “stranger danger,” and too few sidewalks and crosswalks are keeping parents from sending their kids to school on foot or bike. While 70 percent of adults in a recent survey said they walked or bicycled to school as kids, only 18 percent of their children do so.
Some Austin area schools and parent groups are fighting this trend by establishing Safe Routes to School initiatives in their communities. These initiatives tackle the issue from all angles: fixing hazards on the way to school; increasing traffic enforcement; and organizing “walking school buses” to encourage kids to walk to school together under adult supervision, and education to walk and bike safely.
Every user of the roadway — motorist and cyclist alike — has the responsibility to both know and obey traffic laws.
Bicycles are vehicles and are expected to behave as such: ride with traffic, follow all traffic signs and signals, and use appropriate safety gear, including lights at night and in bad weather. Children younger than 18 must wear helmets. Motorists should give adequate space when passing cyclists and respect their right to use the roads, too.
The Austin City Council is considering items for the November bond election. Shouldn’t aggressively completing our bike and pedestrian networks for the health, safety and quality of life of Austin residents be a priority?
Contact a council member and let him or her know that these issues are important to you. It might save your life.
Organizations such as BikeTexas are working to educate cyclists about their rights and responsibilities to obey traffic laws and improve relationships between cyclists and motorists.
I encourage readers to visit www.BikeTexas.org for guidance on traffic laws and safe bicycling and for information on the Safe Passing Bill, Complete Streets and Safe Routes to School.
Stallings has been the executive director of BikeTexas since 2003.