Keep safety for cyclists top-of-mind

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By Sue Minter

Another tragic bicycle fatality in our state in June — the third in one year — compels me to write to express my deep sorrow, and to express a plea that we all drive more safely on our roadways.

I receive the news of every highway fatality in our state, and each tragedy strikes me personally. As an avid cyclist and as Vermont’s Secretary of Transportation, I share the collective mourning for these losses, and feel a special responsibility to find ways to prevent future tragedies.

These were the first bicycle fatalities in Vermont in many years. From 2005 to 2014, there was only one reported bicycle fatality involving a crash with a motor vehicle (2010). Nationally, there are about 700 cyclists killed each year.

It is not only cyclists who are vulnerable. In Vermont, 44 people died in highway crashes last year, including five pedestrians. Across the nation, nearly 90 people lose their lives each day in highway crashes — and more than 250 are injured every hour — due to drunk driving, excessive speed, driver distractions and not wearing a seatbelt.

As a leader in the Vermont Highway Safety Alliance, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) is working to drive down our highway crashes and to help save lives. In 2014 we saw the lowest number of fatalities on Vermont roads since before World War II. But this is not good enough; our goal is zero deaths. And it will take all of us focusing on safety when we are on the road — whether driving a car, riding a bike or taking a walk. The tragedies of this season must lead us all to become safer drivers and riders.

At VTrans we are dedicated to the mission of making our roadways safer for all users. Significantly, we have also changed our policy around roadway-shoulder paving and maintenance to make roads more bike-friendly. In our paving projects, we are increasing the miles of paved shoulders in the state that are 3 feet or greater. And this spring we met our new goal of shoulder sweeping on all bicycle-priority routes before Memorial Day.

Our “Safe Routes to Schools” program partners with over 80 schools to help kids learn how to ride safely and correctly. Our publications — Bicycle Commuter’s Guide, Share the Road Brochure and Parent’s Guide to Safe Bicycling — are distributed through DMV offices, bike shops and other venues. In addition, we fund Local Motion’s statewide bicycle safety education and outreach to law enforcement and driver education instructors, and the development of its one-stop-shop website for bike safety at: www.localmotion.org/education/safestreets

We are also working closely with the cycling community to prioritize our future on-road bicycle investments through an innovative planning process. This plan has already incorporated input from more than 2100 users through a “Wikimap” collected via Strava data. We will use that to help identify opportunities to improve roads for cyclists on the highest-ranked (read most trafficked) bicycle corridors in the state at: vtransplanning.vermont.gov/bikeplan

I recently spent a week with my bike on a solo exploration of Lake Champlain’s highways and byways in Vermont and New York. I marveled at my great fortune to live in this beautiful part of the world, and pondered what more we could do to improve the cycling experience and opportunity in Vermont. This year, I bike with fellow cyclists in my heart and on my mind. While we can never bring them back, we can ride in their honor.

Please, focus on safety.

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Sue Minter is secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.