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More bicyclists, more safety concerns in Canandaigua

The Messenger Post: More bicyclists, more safety concerns in Canandaigua

By Alysa Stryker, staff writer
Messenger Post
Posted Aug 08, 2011 

Canandaigua, N.Y. —
There may be more wheels on local roads, but a lot of them are propelled by people power, rather than horsepower.

More and more people are now using bicycles to travel, said Lt. Scott Ferguson of the Canandaigua Police Department. He said Canandaigua has seen a “bike boom” in the past 10 years or so, which includes both adults and children.

But with more people choosing alternative forms of transportation, there comes a need to re-design roadways into a more all-encompassing space — where bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians can safely co-exist.

Legislative action

Proponents of active transportation gained major momentum July 24 when the state Senate passed “Complete Streets” legislation, requiring all state, county and local transportation agencies to consider roadway design features, like paved shoulders, bicycle lanes, “share the road” signage, crosswalks and pedestrian control signalization, to increase the safety of all who are traveling. The bill made it through the state Assembly on June 21, and it now awaits action from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Canandaigua took an active stance on the issue in 2009 when it approved a resolution defining new road designs standards for the city in support of active transportation. In the resolution, the City Council pledged to allow more pedestrian and cycling paths, while also favoring urban design that reduces the distances that people have to travel to get to work, retail areas, schools and recreational/leisure pursuits.

Bringing these types of designs to life, however, doesn’t happen overnight. And in the meantime, Shortsville resident Eric Williams says he’s concerned about safety.

“While our legislators have good intentions to increase the safety on our roads, it is essentially up to the people to adhere to the traffic laws and police to monitor and cite the violators,” said Williams. But Williams says several bicyclists in the Canandaigua area, mostly on Main Street, “are either unaware of these laws or are disregarding them.”

Local enforcement

Williams says he frequently sees bicyclists making unsafe lane changes, riding across pedestrian crosswalks and not making complete stops — but unlike motorists, he says bicyclists do not get punished.

“If I were to take my car and drive across the pedestrian crosswalk or blow through a red light like the bicyclists do, I assure you that I would be pulled over instantly. However, if a bicyclist commits one of these acts, they won’t be touched.”

Canandaigua Police Chief Jon Welch said officers are routinely citing violators, and does not see any cause for concern.

“I don’t think we’re seeing a rise in bike accidents, and I don’t have any cause for alarm,” he said.

Bill Taylor, an advocate for active transportation and a member of both the Canandaigua Walkers and Cyclists (CWC) and the Canandaigua Planning Commission, says bicyclists and motorists need to move toward gaining each other’s respect.

“Motorists and bicyclists need to respect each other,” he said. “To gain that respect, both need to be aware of the rules of the road and look at themselves as ambassadors for their mode of transportation. Motorists and bicyclists need to think outside of themselves and remember that the person they just cut off, yelled at or saw them break the law will tell other people, which will form their opinion based on that information, whether right or wrong.”

He says bicyclists, however, need to have more power to defend themselves in the event of a serious accident.

Taking a stand

City council’s in other parts of the country have recently taken action on behalf of bicyclists. On July 22, the L.A. City Council introduced an anti-harassment ordinance for bicyclists, who can now sue drivers who physically assault or threaten to assault bikers, force them off the road, throw objects or cause injury.

Taylor will run this year in the 2011 City Council election, vying for an at-large seat on the council. In January, he said, he will introduce legislation to the council, whether or not he is elected, which calls for a complete streets policy in Canandaigua. He wrote the legislation, he says, using the Buffalo City Council’s legislation as a template, which calls for more all-encompassing design features.

Beyond the legislation, Taylor says he’d like the council to create a 10-year plan for active transportation that would include a line item in the budget for things specific to active transportation — signage, striping etc. — a massive public information campaign to make drivers and bicyclists aware of their rights and a commitment by city council to invest in more infrastructure.

“In the long run it’s going to save people money,” said Taylor, by decreasing the amount of accidents and combating obesity.

“There isn’t a faction of society that isn’t bettered by active transportation,” he said.