Spring is here and we’ll all be heading outdoors for the first long walks and bicycle rides of the year. In this piece MichiganTrailMaps.com blogger Jim DuFresne says it long overdue that motorized and non-motorized travelers acknowledge each other and accommodate each other on roads, crosswalks and whenever else they meet. National statistics say he’s right.
Don’t forget our e-shop is open 24/7 and includes last year bestseller, The Trails of M-22. You can order the full-color guidebook to 40 trails along Michigan’s most beautiful highway and then begin planning your spring get-away to that incredible corner of the Lower Peninsula.
By Jim DuFresne
I was once riding my bicycle through downtown Clarkston, the small, historical town where I live near, and was as close to the curb of main street as possible. I wanted to give passing vehicles every inch I could because it was afternoon rush hour.
It didn’t matter. A driver in a vehicle slowed to a crawl, rolled down her passenger window and screamed through her car at me to “get off the road and on the x#d$4%$ sidewalk!”
I never had time to tell her that it was illegal for cyclists, or skateboarders or inline skaters or any two-wheeler for that matter, to use the narrow sidewalks in this part of town. The local law is spray painted on every intersection corner to remind us of that … but obviously not motorists.
I thought about that incident when I recently read annual reports from ranging from Smart Growth America to The Governors Highway Safety Association. The stats in them made it seem like it’s us — the non-motorized travelers — against them — those in cars and trucks — and we’re not winning.
Nobody in Michigan has to be reminded of the horrific bicycle deaths we’ve experienced in the past year or so; the Kalamazoo incident when five cyclists died last June being merely the worse but hardily the only one.
It used to be when you walked away from motorized transportation, you felt a lot safer. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2015 (latest figures available) traffic deaths increased 7.7 percent over 2014 and pedestrians and cyclists saw the biggest increase.
Pedestrian deaths shot up 10 percent that year and bicyclist deaths 13 percent — more than any other type of victims, including those driving the cars.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) said in 2016 pedestrian deaths increased more than 20 percent to almost 6,000 nationally in just two years. This is the steepest year-to-year increase since GHSA began keeping records. Every day two people get hit by a vehicle in the crosswalk of an intersection.
In its annual Dangerous by Design report, Smart Growth America ranks the worse and best cities for walkers by assigning them a “Pedestrian Danger Index.” PDI is a calculation of the share of local commuters who walk to work and the most recent data on pedestrian deaths.
The worse city with a PDI of 283.1 is Cape Coral-Fort Myers. In fact, the top seven cities on the list are all in Florida with the streak not broken until Jackson, Miss. comes in at No. 8 with a PDI of 189.6. The worse Michigan city is labeled as Detroit-Warren-Dearborn at No. 17 with a PDI of 124.2.
Overall, the most dangerous state for pedestrian deaths in 2016, according to the NHTSA, was Delaware at 3.38 deaths per 100,000 of population, closely followed by Florida. We shouldn’t cheer too much as Michigan is in the top third at 19th place with 1.71 deaths.
Some reasons for the increases are obvious say these organizations. There are more cars on the road thanks to cheaper gas and a better economy. But there are also more people walking and cycling due to concerns about better health or just to save a buck or two.
Drivers will always tell you that pedestrians and cyclists are too blame because they don’t obey traffic laws, zipping through stop signs at intersections as if they don’t apply to them. There is definitely some truth to that.
On the other hand, two-wheelers will reply that the biggest problem is “distracted drivers” with far too many of them on their smart phones talking, or god forbid, texting rather than looking at the road. No argument here but you better add pedestrians at crosswalks who also have phones glues to the side of their head.
In Florida, I suspect it’s a case of poor infrastructure design, streets without sidewalks or even wide paved shoulders, and an abundance of snowbirds and retirees, a large number of them who probably should have had their license withdrawn years ago.
At the other end of the age spectrum, says NHTSA, are teenagers; new and inexperienced drivers who are more crash prone. In 2015, crashes involving young drivers — ages 15 to 20 — increased 10 percent from the previous year.
All this would normally make me swear off roads forever and just stick to wooded paths when I need to escape outdoors and exercise. That was until last October when TART reported that an attempted assault occurred on their Boardman Lake Trail south of Traverse City. TART has ambassadors on some of its most popular trails to encourage safe usage and maintains an Incident Report Form on its web site where you can share what you’re experiencing in terms of safety and maintenance issues.
Still the best advice they passed along was this: Be aware of your surroundings and keep using the trails.
Good advice for all of us this spring whether we’re heading out on dirt trails, paved paths or an extension of a road. Look both ways, be alert but keeping walking, riding and hiking. Because what are the alternatives?