10 Aug 2020
Have you noticed there are more bikes on Arkansas roads than ever before, and fewer bikes left in stores? As the number of COVID cases in Arkansas has jumped, thousands of people turned to an activity that naturally offers socially distanced exercise. All of these new riders are a reminder that cycling is increasingly part of our collective DNA. More people riding is good for local transportation, regional economies and for health in general, but the increase also highlights a growing need to address a genuine public safety issue.
Many of us have not left the house much since March, and there has never been a more emotionally difficult time for many families. We don’t know what the new normal will be, but we all have a greater appreciation of being outdoors with loved ones enjoying fresh air on a beautiful Ozark morning. The chance for people to walk and run has never mattered more in terms of both physical and mental well-being. Our bicycle infrastructure is certainly more important today than it was five years ago when no one talked about a pandemic.
More bicycle riders on the roads means more accidents involving bicycles and vehicles. It is because of this growing threat to public safety that the Arkansas Good Roads Foundation, an organization focused on promoting safe and efficient roadways throughout the state, is expanding our work to remind both drivers, and bikers, that they need to work together to reduce cycling accidents. A road and bridge culture that supports transportation enhancements for bike riders, is a culture that is thinking about the future in the right way.
County judges, mayors, planning commission members and tourism leaders across the state understand that a robust bike culture in any community is a way to increase quality of life, and drive the local economy. The increased emphasis on this newly popular mode of transportation will help any community attract and retain the talent that is vital to the success of any region. We all should celebrate this growth, but it is time we had a realistic discussion about making the sport as safe as possible: safe for the pickup driver who has never been on a bike, and safe for the new rider out for a five-mile ride on a Saturday morning.
We will be working to make sure everyone learns about new transportation enhancements affecting cyclists and motorists alike. In 2019 Arkansas became the second state in the country to make it legal for cyclists to treat stop lights as stop signs and stop signs as yield signs. This forward-thinking legislation is intended to reduce collisions between cyclists and vehicles by causing both groups to approach intersections, and other high traffic areas, with more awareness of each other. It will also allow cyclists to move through intersections more quickly, decreasing the amount of time they are exposed to traffic.
Despite the law’s existence for more than a year, research indicates 90 percent of Arkansans are unfamiliar with the new bicycle traffic law, putting too many at risk for injury or even death. We have a vision of reducing the number of accidents and reducing the often-seen tension between motorists and cyclists. That relationship has to improve if we are to succeed in making roads safer for all of us. The solution to the problem can be found through education.
Ask any veteran cyclist and they probably have a story to tell about a close call with a vehicle. Ask any driver and they can tell you about a cyclist that “came out of nowhere.” It is safe to say none of us are perfect, but the simple fact remains we can all do better in understanding the rules of the road.
If ever there was a time to put the focus on bike safety, this is that moment. We are on the precipice of real change in what feels like an unreal time, and we need to seize upon this moment to ensure a better future for all those who use our roadways.
Joe Quinn of Rogers is the executive director of the Arkansas Good Roads Foundation.