Friday, September 19, 2008

Progress toward a more bike-friendly SLC

I've heard other cyclists speak longingly of Portland (now ranked number 2 in the world's friendliest bike cities) and other places like Boulder, Davis, and San Franciso. Unfortunately, Salt Lake is rarely considered by locals to be safe for cyclists. This is rather incongruent with the fact that Salt Lake is generally considered one of the outdoor meccas of the United States, if not the world. I was surprised to find that the typical reaction of my friends and family after learning of my decision to bike commute to work was a mixture of shock and concern. Apparently, the streets here are perceived by most as harrowing and dangerous places- owing to the preponderance of drivers who range from the uneducated (and thus don't know how to safely react to cyclists) to the inconsiderate to the down-right pathological. In my own experience, a hand-full of drivers have frightened me well enough so that I am especially appreciative of the exemplary drivers who are observant, considerate, and safe. And yes, such drivers do exist in Salt Lake. My sincere thanks goes to each and every one of them.

However, recent events like last week's horrible crash involving Andy Chapman, a local climber and cyclist and all-around great guy have given me much to think about. Andy was Life Flighted to Provo Hospital for treatment of several major injuries after going through the window of a van whose (uninsured!) driver had cut him off. Thanks to the heroic actions of Adrienne Burke, Andy survived and is currently recovering quickly, but past tragic incidents have proven fatal. Reading through the online comments to the KSL and Deseret news coverage of the incident, it is clear that the cycling and motorist communities are rather polarized. The the solution to bring these two groups together and dispel the animosity underlying the fight over sharing the road is as yet elusive. However, this "problem" deserves our immediate attention as is not likely to go away (as some groups might hope). Indeed, continuing gas price hikes ensure that collisions involving motor vehicles and bicycles are, unfortunately, more likely to increase in frequency.

Image of Ralph Becker from the Deseret NewsStill, there is hope for Salt Lake. I was surprised (and delighted) to see new green bike lanes downtown this afternoon. These bright green swaths were introduced on September 17th by Salt Lake's mayor, Ralph Becker, and appear square in the middle of the right-hand lane. They serve as a reminder to drivers that it is, in fact, legal for cyclists to ride in the center of a travel lane. These markings are not meant to replace bike lanes and will be kept as a year long experiment. Of course, we will have to wait to see if they help to increase motorist's awareness of cyclists, but it's definitely a good to see of the city admit that sharing the road is an issue worthy of attention and is taking steps to improve the situation.

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