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Other Voices: Improving road safety for cyclists, pedestrians

The Union: Other Voices: Improving road safety for cyclists, pedestrians — one step at a time

The tragedy on state Route 174 involving Jim Rogers and a motorist once again has stirred the growing controversy regarding bicycle use on our roadways. Advocating alternative means of transportation in a rural area such as Nevada County presents unique challenges that most urban areas do not encounter because many urban communities do not have the same obstacles to overcome that impact our county.

The basic roadway infrastructures of the last 50 years in our area have been designed with no regard to other forms of transportation besides the automobile. Nonetheless, bicycling or walking are no less viable than a car.

Nevada County's challenging topography and existing roadway infrastructure (narrow corridors, lack of shoulders) prevent most bicycle and pedestrian safety considerations from being implemented. In some cases, it is just not physically possible.

Incorporating safe bicycling and walking facilities into existing roadways is just now being considered as useful and practical components for transportation corridors. Safe Street legislation (AB 1358) commencing Jan. 1, 2011, mandates that any new multimodal transportation networks meet the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways, defined to include motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, children, persons with disabilities, etc.

It's certainly a step in the right direction, but how do we improve pedestrian and bicycling facilities in existing transportation corridors such as Route 174?

Searching for feasible solutions to this issue is anything but a simple undertaking for any one group. Agencies, such as Caltrans, which are not only equipped to make the necessary physical changes to these corridors, but also are responsible for such changes, are bogged down in a bureaucratic machine that is barely able to keep current roadways maintained.

Perhaps infrastructure improvements may not be a reality due to the current state of our economy and not nearly as obtainable or important as educating the public and raising awareness in our community. Everyone has a right to use whatever form of transportation he or she chooses, whether it be for “recreation” or “commuting.”

Whether a person's choice is motivated by economics, environmental considerations, or is health-inspired, there is no doubt a shift in our country regarding what we perceive as a viable means of transportation. We are no doubt a car culture, but for how long can we continue to afford and maintain this lifestyle?

Obesity in our children is on the rise; less than 25 years ago over 50 percent of children walked or rode their bicycles to school. Now, it is less that 12 percent. Distance and traffic safety are noted as the top reasons for not allowing little “Suzie” to walk or bicycle to school. So what is our solution?

The paradox is we add to the problem by joining other parents already driving their children to school. If there are no safe walking and bicycling facilities to use, then why would we consider taking such a chance with our children's safety? Why should we spend taxpayer revenue designing, improving and creating safe pedestrian and bicycling facilities when there is really no evidence of the need for such?

One of the problems of bicycle and pedestrian safety is rooted in how we allocate transportation dollars at the national level. Nationwide, just 1.2 percent of funds authorized under the federal transportation law, SAFETEA-LU, have been allocated for projects to improve the safety of walking and bicycling, even though pedestrians and bicyclists comprise 13 percent of all traffic deaths and 12 percent of total trips.

Reconnecting and discovering our heritage may very well be the first step to changing this way of thinking. Start walking to work; begin using a bicycle for more than recreation; start a walking school bus in your neighborhood; use public transportation; carpool with neighbors; take less trips to town; consider that your current mode of transportation is contributing to a lesser quality of life for not just you but your fellow man kind as well.

The Alliance for People Powered Transportation is a local advocacy group based here in western Nevada County. APPT's goal is to educate the community in the health and environmental benefits of choosing alternative means of transportation.

We work to raise public awareness in walking and bicycle safety including inspiring people to incorporate walking or bicycling into their daily routine.

Please visit our Web site if you are interested in becoming involved in the APPT movement: www.nevcoappt.org.

Rich Looney is writing on behalf of The Alliance for People Powered Transportation. He lives in Nevada City.