By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
Arizona’s cities stretch across the once desert landscape. Transport within these cities becomes more difficult each year with population growth rapidly outpacing mass transit. Residents are often left with the choice of driving long distances or, in areas where no mass transit exists, finding an alternate, such as biking, carpooling or calling a cab. Some believe cyclists have the answer as cabs and gas are expensive and car parking is dependent upon large space needs that could be avoided.
Cyclists such as Lance Armstrong have found that Arizona is ideal for long bike paths, particularly the great trails of Tucson and Scottsdale. Bicycling events like Critical Mass and the San Tan Wheelie Jam raise awareness that cyclists are here in large numbers. Bike shops are growing around the valley including the Rusty Spoke in downtown Phoenix and the Bicycle Cellar at the Tempe Transit Center. These shops serve the demand for repair and replacement parts for bicycles.
The State of Arizona has taken steps to ensure bike safety and access. Through careful planning, Arizona became a state recognized by groups like the League of American Cyclists who address safety concerns with rumble strips and bicycle riders. Rumble strips were developed as a safety measure for cars that might veer off the road. The strips make noise and provide a slight barrier to alert drivers. However, the strips often leave no room for cyclists on the shoulder, have no breaks for cyclists to maneuver across them and can cause a flat tire or a fall if a rider tries to cross them. Arizona has been among some of the better states in designing trails and roads with both motorists and cyclists in mind and a focus on gaps between the strips so that a bike can maneuver safely.
Other safety measures have only come after tragedy. A new law was passed in the late 1990s after the death of Tucson cyclist Brad Gorman when a car veered and hit him. The teenage driver of the car was fined $66 for unsafe passing. Gorman’s mother took up a campaign in coordination with the local Tucson community with the goal of finding solutions instead of her son’s death becoming just another statistic. A memorial fund was set up in Gorman’s name. This fund was used to push for bike lanes, provide bikes for kids, light kits for bicycles and more. The fund played a crucial role in a new law that requires a driver to leave 3 ft of space between their car and a bike when passing. It also increased fines for injuries and fatalities. The 2000 law seems to have reduced bike fatalities, however, many reports still show Arizona as having the highest bike fatality per population.
Further improvements may come from such programs as Maricopa County’s trip reduction program, which can provide free bus passes, help commuters find carpooling options and other services. The program is considered a success by many in a survey which received nearly 400,000 employee responses. However, for some, biking to work is not as attractive as the bus or carpool method; while all three of these modes of transportation reduce the total number of cars on the road, using a bicycle is the only method to improve employee’s health. The number of women choosing to bike to work is low at about 1/3 of their male counterparts, with some pointing to safety concerns as a primary reason. Some feel bikes would be the best focus for the program given how much less road repair is needed from low impact transportation and how many more bikes could be stored on a few bike racks that can fit into scenic greenery compared to the space used for car or bus parking with the accompanying oil leaks and hot asphalt.
Another source of change is being generated by concerned cyclists gathering for community involvement at the local level. In Tempe, a group known as Tempe Bicycle Action Group (TBAG) has been involved in fundraising and hosting a regular stream of events to promote bicycling as a cheap and healthy way to travel. TBAG’s success appears to be based on its relationships with ASU, local businesses and the general public. Recently, a group, now known as Phoenix Spokes People, formed to engage city leaders with the hope of increasing options for bicyclists and including more bike lanes and bike racks. TBAG is visible at a number of Tempe ride events. You can find events for these groups on the TBAG website and Phoenix Spokes’ facebook event page.
A number of bills before the Arizona Legislature in 2013 may have an effect on bike riders. Two new bills introduced in the 2013 Arizona Legislature, HB2452 and SB1300, seek to change the three foot passing law to add technical details. HB2177 seeks to amend the definition of motorized bikes. Another bill, HB2528, deals with cyclist and pedestrian harassment such as “throwing or expelling any object at or in the direction of the person” and making this a misdemeanor crime. The Maricopa Association of Governments released a guide for a Complete Streets plan: “This policy states that walking and bicycling shall be considered equal to other transportation modes and encourages states, local governments, professional associations, community organizations, public transportation agencies, and other government agencies to adopt similar policy statements on bicycle and pedestrian accommodation.”