Originally Published: October 5, 2003 10 a.m.
There are more than 40,000 bicycles in the tri-city area. More than 5,000 bicycles are sold locally each year. One of America's greatest traditions is teaching kids to ride bicycles. Bicycles remain our favorite gifts for birthdays and Christmas. We must make it safe to use them.
Bicycles continue to gain popularity when gas prices hover at $2 per gallon and the gap between average wages and cost of living grows. More overweight, middle age people look to change lifestyles because health is on a downward spiral. Bicycles offer high-value, efficient transportation, and low-impact cardiovascular exercise in one compact package. We must make roadways safer, encourage more people to ride and walk, pollute less, and make bicycles a viable option for transportation.
Year 2000 census data quoted by the Courier was used to "justify" the opinion that tax dollars should not be used for safe bicycle routes. Many of us disagree. The data specifically states that of 13,321 respondents, 2.1 percent ride bicycles to work. This does not include children and adults riding to school, other bicycle transportation, and fitness-recreational riders, all who have the same legal rights to use roadways as motor vehicles. About 40 percent of all private vehicle trips are less than two miles, and by far the most common response to "why I don't ride or walk more" is "the roads are not safe."
If we facilitate safe transportation routes for bicyclists and pedestrians, there will be more bicyclists and pedestrians. It is inappropriate to assume that because we don't see an abundance of bicyclists and pedestrians today, they don't exist or would not use facilities when built. Residents did not go to concerts at Yavapai College before there was a Performance Hall, city sports leagues before facilities were built, or use parks for dogs before there were parks for dogs. We rightfully invested tax dollars in each of these.
The consequences of not creating safe routes for bicyclists and pedestrians are dangerous and deadly. I am a safe, knowledgeable and assertive bicyclist. I try to pick routes that minimize risk, but have no choice in some cases. When I ride on narrow, high volume roads such as Copper Basin, or Road 3 North in Chino Valley, I rightfully ride on the roadway to be safe. If cyclists ride the edge of roads, they encourage motorists to ignore them. Vehicle draft alone can blow a cyclist off the road. Or worse, a flat tire or pothole can make the bicycle swerve into traffic. If a cyclist rides in a traffic lane, which is legal and appropriate, traffic has no choice but to slow down and pass when safe, as they would if another car were going 15 miles per hour. Although annoying to motorists, this is the safest option.
These dangers are real. The Courier reported a car-bicycle collision on East Gurley last week. A 17-year-old Prescott High School student was rear-ended on her bike on Ruth Street in front of the school a year ago. A pedestrian was hit while running along a roadway where there was no other place to run. There are many more examples. Our legal and moral liability increases with each incident.
With all that said, general plans are not designed as law, but as guidelines for detailed development. While Prescott's plan clearly calls for the inclusion of safe routes on major arterials, it mandates nothing. Nowhere in the plan are there requirements for "expensive, five-foot-wide bicycle lanes on all roads" as opponents have stated or implied. While lanes are appropriate on many major routes, the fact is that frequently, simple striping or signage meets the need for safe bicycle and pedestrian transportation routes.
Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley can count on local advocates as facilitators and enablers. We don't just talk. Prescott Alternative Transportation has directly or cooperatively raised more than $3 million for projects such as the Peavine Trail, West Granite Creek Greenway, and for making the 89/69 interchange safe for all users. We will continue to help in the future. A goal for all citizens should be to help our communities become healthier, happier and safer. This includes making them bicycle and pedestrian friendly.
John Coomer owns a local business, and is active with several community organizations including volunteer President of Prescott Alternative Transportation.