With bicycling seeing a rise during the pandemic and a majority of schools opening in the coming days, it’s a good time to remind cyclists and motorists about the civilities of sharing area roadways.
One organization that’s stepped up over the past few months encouraging motorists to slow down to save cyclist, pedestrian and driver lives is the 2,000-pus member Bicycle Coalition of Maine with its Slow ME Down initiative.
In essence, BCM is calling on all road users and is trying to create an awareness that it’s normal to drive at or below the posted speed limit. Recognizing that many motorists drive 5-10 miles per hour over the speed limit, the message is fairly simple: slower is safer.
“Speeding is the top deterrent to more people biking and walking, and the reason many parents are concerned about their kids biking and walking more,” wrote BCM executive director Jean Sideris in an email exchange last Thursday. “It’s time to change the culture of speeding through individual action and better road designs.”
She said the Slow ME Down campaign was a direct response to the most common concerns expressed by BCM members and attendees of public forums on bicycle and pedestrian safety. It is also a response to the 2019 National Safety Council Report, which showed that car-crash fatalities went down 2 percent nationally, but went up 35 percent in Maine — the highest increase in the country.
Last year in the Pine Tree State, a total of 19 pedestrians and cyclists were struck and killed by drivers — nearly three times as many as the previous year.
In 2020, eight cyclists and pedestrians have been killed in crashes with motorists thus far.
To help spread the word, BCM is asked all road users to sign an online letter (bikemaine.org) showing their support of slowing Maine down. That letter will be delivered to town and city officials from mayors’ offices to select boards of the signatories’ communities.
According to Sideris, more than 230 people have signed the letter from people all across the state. Support has come from parents, town officials, cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.
“Their responses were heartful and, at times, heartbreaking,” she said. “We heard from people hit by motorists, some of whom will deal with crash-related injuries for the rest of their lives. We heard from the friends and families of victims who were killed in crashes with cars.”
BCM will continue to collect stories and signatures with the goal of reaching 500 before the end of the year.
So how are they getting the word out to slow down?
Sideris says working with supporters and other concerned residents across the state, we can raise awareness about the dangers of speeding and work to enact a cultural shift where drivers willingly choose to protect vulnerable users, fellow drivers, and themselves by slowing down.
“We are also undertaking numerous ‘Imagine People Here’ installations across the state that seek to calm traffic through the use of improved road design — including narrower travel lanes, delineators, raised crosswalks, curb extensions, increased signage, and even public art,” she said.
Ultimately, all people who use roadways should share them responsibly.
“For their part, cyclists should wear helmets, use lights and reflectors, act predictably, and obey the rules of the road,” she said. “Still, in crashes involving a car and a bicycle, the car always wins, so motorists have an extra responsibility. Even small increases in speed can have deadly consequences, as faster means slower reaction times and a more deadly impact.”
Valley small towns see lots of weekend warriors on the roads. Plus, school is starting up again and will see both students in classes and learning remotely.
“Drivers on rural and suburban roads have a higher likelihood of encountering a pedestrian, cyclist, tractor, horse and buggy, or other vulnerable users,” she wrote. “Slow down, don’t drive distracted, refrain from operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and watch out for others on the road.
“With all the uncertainty and shifting schedules, students are also more likely to be on the road at any time of day — not just typical morning and afternoon school hours. Remote learners may take ‘recess’ breaks during the day or otherwise be outside when you don’t expect them. Keep in mind that last year in Maine, about 36 percent of the bike/ped fatalities on local roads were directly attributable to speed.”
As Sideris says, with great (pedal) power comes great responsibility.