Monday, November 9, 2009

City should rethink stance on bike safety

Soapbox in the Coloradoan, Nov. 11, 2009
by Rick Price, Ph.D.
Safe Cycling Coordinator for the Fort Collins Bicycle Cooperative

Thanks go to City Council member Lisa Poppaw for questioning funding for bicycle safety at the Sept. 1 City Council meeting. That question, and the discussion that followed, gave us Traffic Engineer Joe Olsen's study of bike/car crashes, which appeared Nov. 1 on the front page of the Coloradoan.

Although data on bicycling are sparse and the statistics on bike/car crashes are preliminary, we can make some interesting inferences from the data we do have. Hopefully, these inferences will help the City Council rethink funding priorities for the city's bike program.

According to the estimates of the American Community Survey, a project of the U.S. Census, 5.4 percent of commuters rode their bicycles to work daily in Fort Collins in 2006 (about 3,800 people). In 2008, that percentage had risen to 7.4 percent (5,800 people), a jump of 37 percent. With this increase, we saw a 31 percent increase in bike/car crashes compared to annual growth in the single digits for most of the early part of the decade (one exception was the increase of 13.5 percent from 2003 to 2004). (We don't have data on the increases of cyclists during the early part of the decade as this information has been collected only since 2006.)

Based on these statistics and observations, most of us would agree that bicycling in Fort Collins is on the rise and so, it seems, are bike/car crashes. Is this because we reinstated the bike coordinator's position in 2006, or is it because there is a bicycle revolution going on across the country? Probably both, but the alarming increase in bike/car crashes and the deaths in the last year of two children suggest that we have an issue that needs the immediate attention of the City Council.

Our bike coordinator will be funded from federal monies at about $287,500 per year for two years beginning in 2010. Those funds are allocated as follows: $70,000 to promote bicycle events; $70,000 to fund the bike coordinator's position (including benefits and training); and $32,500 to fund "regional bicycle coordination and marketing" so we can help Loveland and Greeley become more bicycle friendly. Finally, $100,000 a year will continue to fund the Bike Library. By comparison, $38,500 of other federal funds will pay for a Safe Routes to School Program during 2009/10. As yet, no funds have been awarded for Safe Routes in 2010/11.

The council has scheduled a work session Feb. 9 to address "transportation safety." That session should focus on a review of the city's bicycle policies and take a serious look at reallocating funds from bicycle events and encouragement to bicycle education. And by education, I mean just that: "providing knowledge and training through formal schooling, teaching and learning," not through pamphlets and posters.

Is it not reasonable, given the present situation in Fort Collins, to suggest that federal funds be reallocated so that we are spending $250,000 annually on bicycle education and $38,500 on encouragement and events?

If you have an opinion on this, please let City Council know.

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