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Safer Streets for Everyone

Last week two of the more important events for advocates took place: the Alliance for Biking & Walking Leadership Retreat and the Pro Walk Pro Bike: Pro Place conference. It was a great opportunity to learn about all the exciting things happening across the country. We also had the opportunity to enjoy Long Beach, a Silver Bicycle Friendly Community, aiming to become the most bike-friendly city in the nation.

One of the key themes of the week was how to reclaim our streets for everyone, not just motorists. State advocates stressed the need to for innovative approaches. Many are embracing legislation that addresses safety as a whole, not just as it relates to bicyclists. Along with comprehensive legislation comes new partnerships that create the momentum needed to get legislators to pass the laws.

Slower Speeds on Neighborhood Streets

Speeding and its negative impacts on community safety came up in multiple sessions at both events. Research shows that at 20 miles per hour, a person has a 95 percent chance of surviving a crash. As the speed increases, the chance for survival decreases. Many communities already have slower speed limits near schools for this reason.

In 2011, the Oregon State Legislature passed a law allowing transportation agencies greater control of speed limits on neighborhood greenways. Under certain conditions, a 20mph speed limit can be posted on these streets, five miles per hour less than the normal state-mandated limit.

The law was championed by the Portland Bureau of Transportation as a way to make its neighborhood greenway network safer, more enjoyable streets for walking and biking. PBOT released a map of streets that will receive the 20mph speed limit and has already started posting the new signs.

Removing the Incentive for DUI Hit and Runs

This is an issue that the media has been reporting on for years. Many states have harsher penalties for hit and run fatalities resulting from a drunk driver than a sober driver. This creates a legal incentive for a drunk (or even buzzed) driver to flee the scene of a collision. Victims cannot receive immediate aid, and no one can be held accountable.

Several states recently undertook efforts to close this legal loophole.

  • In Colorado, the legislature approved a bill that treated both a drunk and sober hit and run as a Class 5 felony. Attendees at the Colorado Bike Summit gave a big boost as they met with legislators and spoke of the law’s importance. Bicycle Colorado also made this bill a legislative priority.
  • Pennsylvania passed similar legislation in 2011, though political compromise created an imperfect solution. The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia sought the change in response to a fatality, giving their members a positive way to respond to the tragedy.

These types of legislation are another tool for advocates to create safer streets. Talk to your neighbors tonight and ask them – do you want lower speeds on our street? Chances are they’ll say yes, and that you’ll have a new advocate (even if they don’t ride a bike). Expect to see these types of innovative approaches on the 2013 Bicycle Friendly States survey!

Elsewhere in cycling advocacy…

  • Kudos to the Colorado State Patrol for ticketing a driver who followed two cyclists down a road, honking at them and impeding vehicle traffic. Meaningful enforcement like this is a necessary part of upholding laws that protect cyclists. The video has been uploaded to YouTube and the riders say they’ll be donating any money raised through the footage to Bicycle Colorado.
  • The Georgia Department of Transportation has just adopted a statewide Complete Streets policy. It’s the first in the country to reference the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide as a prominent reference for engineers. The policy was born when at the 2012 Ride to the Capitol, where a GDOT official wondered why advocates were chanting “Complete the Streets!”  Georgia Bikes! and and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition pointed out it was because GDOT didn’t have a policy, and the rest is history.
  • The Kansas Department of Transportation is asking communities about their transportation priorities.  This is a great opportunity to speak up for safe biking!  The state just opted out of the Recreational Trails program, but committed to spending $2 million for trails.  Head over to KanBikeWalk to learn more.
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