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Bike Safety in Iowa

The Des Moines Register is publishing a series of articles on bicycling in Iowa. My understanding is that they had planned the series, but the highly publicized hit-and run-death of Gregary “Wade” Franck brought bicycling safety issues to the forefront of many minds in Iowa.The current article is titled, “Why does Iowa have so many bike-car crashes?” The media often turns to horror stories about bicycling and talks about how unsafe it is to ride a bicycle. While we certainly need roads to be safer for use by bicyclists, we also need to convert Iowans to the idea that bicycling is a form of transportation. In order to do that bicycling needs to be seen as a safe alternative for of transportation.The article states that, “Iowa’s bicycle fatality rate remains relatively low compared with other states, ranking 40th at just under one fatality per million residents, according to federal figures.” There are things to fix in Iowa with respect to bicycle policy and infrastructure, but it isn’t as if it’s unsafe to ride a bicycle. I’d like to see stats on collisions per trip across different modes of transportation.

I’ve often called bicycling “the new golf,” rather than attributing an increase in mature riders to the “Lance Armstrong Effect.” My experience suggests that there are an increasing number of older people riding bicycles in the last few years, which would explain an increase in the number of older riders involved in collisions.

Finally, a number of states have seen bicycle infrastructure plans fester in recent years. Often this goes back to the Department of Transportation being all about moving cars. Bicycles are viewed as mere recreation.

Consider the comparison to the motorcycle. I have a motorcycle I love to ride. Sometimes I ride it to work. Sometimes I ride it to run errands. Sometimes on weekends I ride with my father-in-law down to Cantril for lunch, then back through Lacey-Keosaqua State Park. Sometimes, he likes to ride in the rolling hills north of Iowa city. When we make these trips it is for no purpose other than recreational riding. If not for the fact that we were riding motorcycles, we wouldn’t go. We ride for the joy of riding. In fact, I’d have to admit that most of the motorcycle riding I do is for pure enjoyment and recreation, but no one would ever tell me that my motorcycle isn’t a form of transportation. The bicycle is no different.

Just because people ride bicycles for recreational purposes doesn’t mean the bicycle isn’t a valid form of transportation. The more we come to recognize the bicycle as a form of transportation the easier it will be to secure infrastructure dollars and get meaningful policy changes our of our government. Real change starts with the recognition of the value of the bicycle as a mode of transportation.

I’ll be talking about these issues and more this Wednesday night at Firetrucker Brewery from 6-10. Anyone interested in bicycle safety, policy or issues is welcome to attend.

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