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Making the most of a tragedy

The League receives a lot of calls and emails about cyclists being killed while riding – too many of them actually. Each and every one makes us on staff take a moment and reflect on our own mortality while riding and the importance of our work in protecting cyclists’ rights and fighting for safer roads. But when I learned of the death of John Paul Frerer, my heart sunk a little lower than usual. Frerer, a young and talented cyclist, was a high school senior from my hometown of Tupelo, Miss. He was struck and killed by an overtaking truck on a road that I have ridden.

Cycling in Tupelo isn’t exactly like cycling in Portland. It’s not even Oxford, currently Mississippi’s only Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC). Despite fond memories of bike rodeos, safety checks and riding bike lanes on my way to elementary school years ago, there hasn’t been a lot of accommodations or encouragement for bicycling in the city since. In fact a 2007 survey found only 21 people biking to work.

However, that’s all starting to change. My grandmother regularly cuts out, scans and e-mails me local newspaper clippings about bike racing, planned bike trails and new city planning staff who want to promote bikes as transportation. I haven’t had the heart to tell her the articles are online.

Thanks to the efforts of Karen Mogridge with Bike Walk Mississippi, Tupelo Bicycle Club and Tupelo Senior Planner Renee Autumn Ray, bicycling is starting to improve in my hometown. While Frerer won’t be able to see the results of these efforts, his death has contributed towards this renewed energy. Bike Walk Mississippi has introduced a three foot passing legislation on the state level but local advocates weren’t waiting. Bolstered by testimony from Liria Frerer, the boy’s mother, Tupelo became the first community in the state to pass its own 3 foot passing law.

From NEMS Daily Journal:

“The importance of this law is about education and awareness,” Frerer said at the podium, where she paused more than once to maintain her composure. The measure passed unanimously and received a standing ovation from the numerous residents who had gathered to support Frerer at City Hall. According to the new ordinance, motorists must either switch lanes or provide a 3- to 6-foot buffer zone when passing someone on foot, horseback, bicycle, motorcycle, scooter or farm equipment.

Our BFC program includes model communities like Chicago, Portland and Boulder. We recognize that these cities are not indicative of most of the country but small and large communities accross the nation are becoming BFCs. Currently 124 of the 318 total applicants have a BFC four-year designation. While we think any place can learn from our BFCs’ examples and best practices, it is with great pleasure – and a whole lot of hometown pride – that I can now point to Tupelo as an example. If a town like Tupelo can work to create safer cycling, so can your community. See how your hometown stacks up using our quick scorecard.

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