Spring is here, and that means more of us will probably venture out into the streets on foot or on a bike.
Walking and cycling are both great ways to be more physically active and can be fun for the whole family. The city’s Complete Streets Policy is making it safer and easier to get around Independence on foot or on a bike. This policy states that all new road construction should accommodate all forms of transportation. In addition to policy and infrastructure, in order to be safe, we must be aware of our responsibilities and our surroundings. Unfortunately, people are still injured and killed each year in motor vehicle crashes involving bicycles and pedestrians.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released data on the number of traffic accidents and deaths in 2011. The good news is that the numbers of deaths and injuries due to motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. decreased from the previous year. The number of deaths in Missouri from motor vehicle accidents also declined. However, there is also some bad news. Bicyclist fatalities increased by 8.7 percent, and pedestrian fatalities increased by 3 percent.
These numbers are a reminder that we must be cautious when we are on the road, and we must pay attention, both to what we are doing and to others around us.
Like drivers, pedestrians and cyclists should be aware of the laws that they need to follow while on city streets. Pedestrians should always walk on a sidewalk, if there is one available, and cross streets at designated crosswalks. If there is no sidewalk, pedestrians should walk facing traffic. Pedestrians should do everything they can to be visible to drivers, including wearing light-colored or reflective clothing. If you must walk after dark, carry a flashlight to be sure drivers can see you.
Cyclists should ride with traffic (going the same direction), obey traffic signs and lights, use lights/reflectors, and signal turns. Many drivers are not accustomed to sharing the road with bicycles, so cyclists should do their best to ride in a predictable manner, without swerving or other erratic behavior. Cyclists should also wear helmets when riding, which can reduce the risk of serious injury or death. For more information on laws governing cyclists on the roads, please visit MoBikeFed.org.
Motorists must also obey the rules of the road, of course, which means sharing the road with bicycles and giving them plenty of space. It may seem like common sense, but it is important for drivers to drive at or below the speed limit, especially in residential areas and around schools. Talking on the phone, texting, eating, drinking, or other activities take your attention away from the road. These things can wait until you reach your destination. If you really need to send or read a text, pull over. It is not worth risking your own safety or the safety of others around you.
Page 2 of 2 - As we move toward summer, many of us will take advantage of the warmer temperatures and longer days by going out for walks, jogs, or bike rides. Remember these tips, and stay safe while you’re enjoying the opportunity to be more active.
For more safety tips for pedestrians and cyclists, visit www.cdc.gov/features/pedestriansafety/ or www.marc.org/bikeped/safety.htm.
Larry Jones, MPH, is director of the Independence Health Department.