Short winter days prompt spike in bike accidents

Kansas City group, BikeWalkKC, call for greater winter awareness

The holidays may mean it’s the most wonderful time of the year, except if you’re on a bicycle, walking or running, alongside the road. With less daylight hours, and bad weather, the winter can be the most dangerous time of the year for non motorized users. Following a dramatic rise in bicycle and pedestrian fatalities in Kansas City, the local alternative transport group, BikeWalkKC, has called on motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians to practice greater awareness and to take safety precautions.

BikeWalkKC is calling on all parties sharing the road to be careful in the dark, during twilight, and when low sun makes visibility hard. The group recommend that pedestrians and cyclists wear reflective clothing or bright colors. Motorists are encouraged to slow down around schools, busy intersections and pedestrian areas, while bicyclists should use lights at nights according to state and local laws, and more importantly follow all traffic rules.

Pedestrians are encouraged to walk facing traffic when a sidewalk is not present. “Not only have pedestrian injuries and deaths spiked, they have risen while road crashes and fatalities have fallen overall,” Eric Rogers, executive director of BikeWalkKC told BikeRadar. “I don't think it's because more people have been walking, because there is good national data showing crash rates decrease as the total numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists increase—there is safety in numbers.”

Beyond the commonsense rules and suggestions, BikeWalkKC are also taking efforts up a notch as well. “We are helping to revive a group called the Share the Road Safety Task Force, which is a multidisciplinary safety initiative including law enforcement, advocates, traffic engineers, city planners, public health, and more,” added Rogers. “The group was formed in 2006 in response to a spike in bicycle fatalities, and had great success lower that number through education campaigns and law enforcement stings.”

 BikeWalkKC's goal of greater awareness is rooted in the goal of keeping non-motorized users safe

He says that this year’s numbers are loud signal that there is a need to redouble law enforcement efforts. “We are working hard to encourage police to enforce traffic laws designed to protect pedestrians and bicyclists,” said Rogers. “We are also working with our state advocacy organizations in Missouri and Kansas to toughen penalties for motorists who injure or kill people with their cars.”

Rogers adds that the group offers several free and low-cost classes every month that teach people how to bike and walk safely and confidently for transportation, recreation, and fitness.

And despite these warnings, or perhaps in part because of how serious the group is when it comes to safety, it should be remembered that Kansas City, Missouri has actually earned a Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly Community from the League of American Bicyclists. “We are already bike friendly,” said Rogers. “We also have one suburb with Bronze and two others with Honorable Mention. Plus, the suburb of Lee's Summit, MO is a Bronze Walk Friendly Community.”

Moving forward, and beyond the winter months, KC will only see greater improvement said Rogers. “The city itself has many plans and policies in place to improve bicycling. These include things like a bike route plan, trails plan, bike parking requirement for new developments, and a complete streets policy.”

While Rogers admitted that Kansas City has been very slow to implement these plans due to various obstacles such as budget cuts, red tape, staff layoffs, and silos of responsibility within the organization, that efforts are still being made. “Our Mayor and City Council have been very supportive on the planning and policy side, but now we are educating them about the critical need to make investments in tangible facilities like bike lanes, trails, sidewalks and crosswalks,” he said

Peter Suciu
Author: Peter Suciu

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