Lafayette/West Lafayette enjoyed a successful May Bike Month thanks to Bicycle Lafayette, <a href=”http://www.thinklafayette.com/2013/05/31/beginners-guide-to-lafayette-all-bike-everything/” title=”area cycling shops and organizations” target=”_blank”>area cycling shops and organizations</a>, and the two cities’ Bike to Work Day meet-ups. The month was able to showcase what the area can offer for a variety of cyclists: we are family-oriented riders, we play hardcourt bike polo, we are commuters, we ride mountain bike trails, we are bike intellectuals. There was a lot of just plain fun to be had too, at the Annual Tricycle Race co-sponsored by Friends of Downtown and Bicycle Lafayette, and the fundraiser held at the Lafayette Theater where there were drawings, cookies, and performances from Cap’n Dangerous, snorb!, and Anthrop. Our excited cyclists enjoyed the support of these artists, aforementioned and other local businesses/organizations including People’s Brewing Company, D T Kirby’s, K. Dees Coffee and Roasting Company, and Jelly Entertainment, and their fellow community members who came out to participate with them.
While these May successes are full of bounty, in this same month the cycling community felt anger and loss over the hit and run accident wherein Gregorio Felipe knowingly left Rodney C. Smith on Ninth street and Smith then died less than a week later. Those who are cycling regularly know by the way motorists drive or yell things that don’t make sense like, “Get off of the sidewalk,” and “You’re blocking traffic,” that they are not always comfortable to share roads with non-motorized vehicles. Smith’s death brings up a cyclist’s greatest fear, because she knows that she cannot win in this match-up; that she will not return safely to those that love her, despite her best efforts to be aware and safe.
Perhaps a law regarding a safe-passing distance of three feet between a motorist and cyclist could have in some way helped to save Smith’s life. Maybe not, without knowing the details of how the collision transpired. West Lafayette Mayor Dennis seems to believe that such an ordinance has a place in the law book. At the second and final passing of the safe-distance law on Monday, Dennis explained that he had been passed with less than a distance of three feet over the weekend when helping his daughter move, and believed it was a matter of inches that barely kept him from crashing. Perhaps it is not ironic that on this evening I was passed by a speeding truck in a construction zone by less than three feet only to watch this unsafely-executed pass result in the truck rear-ending and totaling the car only a few feet in front of me. Luckily myself and my companion cyclists made it safely to the West Lafayette City Council meeting in time to hear the ordinance discussed and passed. There is hope that this new ordinance can reaffirm and reclaim the adult cyclists’ safe place in the road not only in West Lafayette but also Lafayette.
A continued challenge for improving bicycle culture in the greater Lafayette area is education for all who are using the road. This is not lost on your average cyclist, motorist, or Councilman Ann Hunt when she asked Bicycle Lafayette Co-Founder Aaron Madrid if he had any ideas about how to educate the public.
Let’s discuss some of the initiatives supported by Bicycle Lafayette and aligned with the Bicycle Friendly Community program.
Starting with education, family-oriented rides and workshops for youth and adults with instruction by Bicycle Lafayette, outreach to high school and college students, and an attempt to rekindle Safe Routes to School are ways to get cyclists riding safely. Educating motorists appears more tricky from the cyclist standpoint and may require changes in official driver education courses and bringing government-funded awareness campaigns into our locale. Some of the facts awareness campaigns may focus on include health benefits, encouraging fitness, economic savings, reduced air pollution, less traffic congestion, and other quality of life factors, in addition to obeying the law and increasing safety for all with rights to share the roads and sidewalks. Recognized Bicycle Friendly Communities often score highly in rankings as favorable places to live.
Another avenue that can be pursued to strengthen our local cycling experience is to further develop bike culture to encourage cyclists. We have two solid shops and community groups for just about any cycling interest. Executing and employing traffic counts, cyclists can work with the governments and local businesses so that we can come up with a map of preferred and safe cycling routes. This will be of special value to incoming Purdue students and Lafayette organizations and businesses thar would like to attract them across the bridge. Also, the cycling and business communities could both benefit from a program like <a href=”http://www.bicyclebenefits.org/” title=”Bicycle Benefits” target=”_blank”>Bicycle Benefits</a> where businesses offer discounts to patrons who show their helmets.
These imperatives are no guarantee to safety, but they are important steps. With an educated and integrated bike culture we can hope to assert a need for changes in traffic engineering and infrastructure; the more expensive, time-consuming goals. Both motorists and cyclists can feel more safe and aware of their surroundings with more bike lanes, a comprehensive system of linked trails and bike lanes, increased and easy-to-use bike parking, and improved implementation of traffic signal systems such as better vehicle detection and use of “head start” markings at certain intersections. Last year, Indianapolis made a commitment to the Complete Streets program. For Lafayette/West Lafayette to do so would not mean that every street would need to accommodate the best access for every mode of transportation, but instead would show a commitment to making the two cities accessibly networked for everyone.
The initiatives covered here only represent a core subset for a vibrant cycling community in the GLA. Let’s look forward to working together for a future that embraces what is good for cycling, motoring, and Lafayette/West Lafayette.