Originally Published: August 29, 2007 9:48 p.m.
PRESCOTT - For Lisa Barnes, the contrast could hardly have been more obvious.
After living for more than a year in the bike-and-pedestrian-friendly city of Amsterdam, Netherlands, Barnes moved with her family about two years ago to Prescott.
Virtually overnight, Barnes went from a city where thousands of bicycles regularly throng the paths and side streets, to a community where cyclists, walkers and runners can oftentimes feel vulnerable and conspicuous because of their scarcity.
In Amsterdam, Barnes said, about 40 percent of all trips occur on bicycles - a statistic that she said lends itself to safety in a variety of ways.
"The more people who bike, the safer they are," she said. "There's safety in numbers."
Not only do Prescott bicyclists not have that safety buffer, Barnes said, but the fact that fewer automobile drivers have cycling experience makes them less aware of bikes.
For example, she noted that even though Amsterdam has plenty of car traffic along with its bike traffic, "Because everybody has the experience of being a bicyclist, it makes them better motorists."
She added: "I really think educating the motorists and the bicyclists is going to be essential here."
Barnes is aware of local transportation safety issues on two levels. As a Prescott resident who eschews having a car, she uses a bicycle for the bulk of her transportation needs.
And as the associate director of the Prescott Alternative Transportation organization, Barnes deals regularly with issues such as safe routes to school, public transit, and bicycle paths.
"There are a lot of things this town could be doing to make (alternative transportation) safer," Barnes said. "This is actually a very compact city. Anything I need to get to is three or four miles away. That's very doable on a bike; it shouldn't be that hard."
The dangers became painfully obvious earlier this month, when experienced runner Jessica Martin died after a pickup truck hit her while she was crossing Highway 69, between Prescott and Prescott Valley in the Diamond Valley area.
Barnes and other serious cyclists and pedestrians agree that the busy stretch of highway is especially problematic for people who do not have access to a car.
"There just is no safe way down to that area (Prescott Valley)," Barnes said. "I do not go to any of the stores there or the movie theaters."
For 14-year Diamond Valley resident Rob Vannett, Martin's accident hit close to home. Although he knew Martin only in passing, Vannett said her death renewed for him the urgency of safety issues on the highway.
In his previous home of Fort Collins, Colo., Vannett said, multi-use trails throughout the community separate runners, walkers and bicyclists from car traffic - an idea he maintains is long overdue in Prescott.
"I think the time is right (for more multi-use trails)," Vannett said. "It would be a good thing that would benefit the community."
Janet Grossman, a Prescott resident who does not own a car and walks virtually everywhere she needs to go in Prescott, agrees that Highway 69 presents a challenge for people who choose alternative forms of transportation.
"I've walked to Prescott Valley once, and I really didn't enjoy it at all," Grossman said, noting that the highway appeared to be her only route option. "I could not think of a better way to do it," she said.
Even walking to Frontier Village on the Yavapai-Prescott Reservation can be difficult and uncomfortable, Grossman said, because of the noise and fumes from the heavy traffic.
Grossman pointed out that a path exists between the Gurley/Sheldon section of Prescott and Frontier Village, but she said it is narrow and in poor condition.
Conditions in that area should improve somewhat in coming months, because of a multi-use trail that the Arizona Department of Transportation has in its plans for the overhaul of the interchange of highways 69 and 89.
Even so, Barnes and Grossman see multi-use trails as just a part of the solution for Prescott's transportation dilemma. They both also mentioned the need for public transit, which would give people who cannot drive or choose not to own a vehicle a safe transportation option.
With the 2000 U.S. Census showing that 8 percent of Prescott residents use modes other than vehicles to get to work, Barnes maintains that the community is ready for some other transportation options.
"There is just a focus on roads and cars here," she said. "I think that's archaic in a way."