POV: Making walking and biking safe for all

When I first moved to Delmar with my family 11 years ago, I loved the old trees and the quiet streets. I saw basketball hoops turned toward the street and marveled when cars stopped to let a play continue. I told my son he’d be able to ride his bike to school.

I counseled my kids on how to walk and bike safely around our neighborhood, which has few sidewalks. I taught them to meet drivers’ eyes before crossing in front of a car whether they had a stop sign or not. As a family we learned to walk on the left and to wear reflective vests at night. Streetlights are also few.

Delmar, like many neighborhoods in Bethlehem, seems walkable and bikeable. And yet, my kids know which streets not to cross and where to be especially careful. Some people drive too fast and others seem oblivious to bikers or walkers who share the road. There will always be a driver to watch out for.

But what about the rest of us? If you walk your dog around the block, if you walk or run the streets for exercise, if you walk to run errands at the post office or the bank, do you follow safe practices? Do you walk on the left, meet drivers’ eyes? Heck, do you wave in thanks to the car who slows down and slides over to give you three feet of cushion? And when you are behind the wheel, do you offer the same courtesy to your walking neighbors?

I wonder if you make the same allowance for bikes. On the narrow streets of my neighborhood, two moving cars cannot pass if there’s a parked car on the road. I see drivers wait patiently in these situations, but rarely see drivers be that patient with a slow-moving biker. Why don’t they wait until it’s safe to pass, rather than put that biker’s safety at risk? Why won’t they accept that biker’s right to the road?

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teachdaddy 2 years, 6 months ago

Somehow I thought we took a pledge the day we got our drivers' licenses. The agreement was that, in exchange for the "right" to drive a car, we would obey they traffic laws, and be as watchful and respectful of other drivers, bikers, and walkers as we would have them be to us.

But now we're in a hurry, and many of us pilot big, powerful SUV's around town, often with a phone in one hand, regardless what the law and safety say about it. We can't be bothered to obey a safe speed limit, stop for someone in the crosswalk (even if we did see them) or a stop sign, or move over to allow a walker to proceed down the road safely. And the funny part is, no one will tell us we can't do it.

Enforcement of traffic laws pertaining to walking and biking is a joke. Crosswalks are routinely ignored and/or blocked (the post office). Try using a crosswalk on Cherry Avenue! Watch how many cars run the red light on Kenwood at the Four Corners.

Drivers rarely move over when I am walking in the road, and if two cars are passing opposite each other, I usually must move onto the lawn to avoid being hit. Now I use a walking sick to define a little more space around me -- it is amazing to me that people move over when they see it, that they will avoid scratching their cars but not worry about running into me.

Walking on the sidewalk, to the library, for example, presents its own challenges. Many times I have had a cyclist come up behind me and pass with no warning. Should bikes even be ridden on the sidewalk? It's not safe for them on the street. I now use my stick to give me more room on the sidewalk, as well.

Town officials want more people to bike and walk, but have done little to make it easier or safer. I have talked to Mr. Clarkson, whose answer was that it's hard to change people's behavior. Yes, that's true, but I have some ideas.

First, pick an area of compliance -- say, crosswalk observation. Next, announce over the media that your police department will be enforcing crosswalk rules. Then, put an officer at the crosswalk, with one or two(unmarked) cars on the side of the road, and stop people who have failed to yield. Finally, publish their names in the Spotlight when they have been fined. I guarantee this will have an effect. (How did Massachusetts become successful in their compliance?)

People are selfish and will do what they want when it suits them. Ultimately, the question is -- when will someone in authority have the guts to tell them they can't?


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