Project Summary This project will improve and promote safe bicycling in rural communities of Southwest Iowa. The region currently has great trails with more being planned, but most people do not live adjacent to trails and must ride on small-town streets or rural highways if they want to ride locally for commuting, recreating, or exercising. This project will focus on bicycling education for riders, potential riders, and drivers. People driving motor vehicles and people riding bikes must know the rules of the road and share with other users. The combination of education and cooperation between all users and stewards of the roadway will produce positive outcomes, allowing for increased safe use of bicycles, which has direct positive health, environmental, and economic effects.
Why? Our primary goal is to improve the safety and health of rural southwest Iowans through education, promotion, and infrastructure improvements. Southwest Iowa counties are consistently ranked among the least healthy in the state, and this is largely due to lack of access to recreational facilities. By making it easier and safer to bicycle, we will see improved health outcomes. Most of our rural communities have also experienced population declines and economic uncertainty for many years. Improving bikeability has been shown to produce economic gains that will provide myriad benefits to all residents. To make bicycling a practical mode of transportation, we need better infrastructure and support from local communities, and we must prevent hazardous situations between motorized and non-motorized transportation on roadways. These accidents, which often end in fatalities, have varying causes attributed to each of them, but proper education, adherence to the law and safety precautions could have potentially prevented them all. In addition to education, infrastructure improvements even as simple as pavement markings and signage are important to the inclusion of bicycles on our roadways.
This project is a collaborative effort to bring about improvements in the built environment as well as mindset reform regarding the role of bicycles in a community and on public spaces via education, advocacy, and empowerment. While the popularity of bicycling has grown for practical, economic, environmental, health, and recreation reasons, we are at the same time noticing an increasing gap in education about the relationship between bicycling road etiquette and the built environment. We must make the roads a safe place for bicyclists and motorists alike, through policy and enforcement changes, roadway improvements, and education for bicyclists and drivers. We have identified a need for education based upon the way that bicycles and pedestrians are viewed by an alarming number of motorists. Communities must adapt to welcome cyclists, not only for the sake of the cyclists but for their own success.
Our geographic focus area will align with that of Golden Hills RC&D's primary service area of Harrison, Shelby, Pottawattamie, Cass, Mills, Montgomery, Fremont, and Page counties in Southwest Iowa. Stakeholders in this area include County Supervisors, Engineers, and Conservation Boards; City Administrators, Chambers, School Faculty, non-profits and advocacy groups, businesses, and private individuals.
Half of the Counties in our focus area have completed a County-Wide trails plan through the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA). We will be working with the other four to take necessary steps towards creating one. Besides involving the County Supervisors, Engineers, and Conservation Boards, a large portion of this process is driven by public input.
We will also work with select cities within these counties on application for the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community program. This will include educating local government leaders such as mayors, city council members, and city administrators about the program and its benefits. This program rates community bike-ability based on four factors: Enforcement, Education, Engineering, Evaluation, and Encouragement. A request for proposals will be sent to local communities with a short, simple application. Applications will be reviewed by a small group of bicycling advocates, transportation planners, and local government leaders. We will select up to three communities to assist with this process. These three pilot communities will then be encouraged to develop a bicycle-friendly business program, which could be something as simple as installing a small bike rack and adding a window decal showing that they support bicycling. The League of American Bicyclists and communities around the country have similar programs we can emulate and modify for our local places. Bike-friendly businesses and bike-friendly community certification will help people learn about the many benefits of bicycling. Once the three pilot communities have developed their programs, neighboring communities in Southwest Iowa will likely want to become bike-friendly too.
We understand that trails and bike lanes are not feasible on every road and street, and bikes will sometimes need to be in the same lane as motor vehicles. Drivers, especially new drivers, must learn the proper information and receive training to start safe driving practices early. Youth and students should also learn to ride safely on streets when necessary.
We must help local governments realize the need for creating plans that will include bike trails and widened shoulders when infrastructure changes are made, and using signage and pavement markings for shared use roadways to retrofit existing infrastructure.
A secondary benefit of this program is the health and wellness aspect and how it affects quality of life. When people feel more comfortable not only on their bikes, but in their communities, they will be more likely to utilize active transportation for both practical and recreational reasons. This of course has overarching benefits to individual health (both physical and mental) and environmental health. Regular physical activity is associated with healthy weight, improved mental health, and decreased risk of diseases such as stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers. It also promotes social well-being by enhancing social cohesion, and economic well-being by reducing health care costs and transportation costs (American Planning Association’s Metrics for Planning Health Communities – May 2017). Additionally, less vehicular travel means less pollution, contributing to better air quality.
The reality is that everyone will benefit from this project. Through education, awareness, and advocacy, bicycling will become a safer mode of transportation. This affects not only the cyclists, but their families and friends, the drivers on the road, and their communities. Specifically impacted are those who are sharing the road. When drivers and cyclists are more conscious of their actions and others on the road, the likelihood of a crash significantly decreases. When an accident is prevented, the benefits range from the obvious immediate avoidance of physical harm and mental anguish to the less apparent far-reaching implications that the loss of a member(s) of the community to death or imprisonment has. Besides the avoidance of accidents, creating a comfortable community in which to bicycle will increase the physical activity of its population, and this has great preventative wellness value. In addition to the human benefits, the environment benefits from an increased use in active transportation and decreased use of gasoline-powered transportation. Increased bicycle friendliness creates a welcoming environment for bicycle tourism, which is a great economic stimulator. By making bicycling (as a mode of transportation, exercise, exercise, or all of the above) a safe and enjoyable possibility for people of all ages and abilities, we are creating a higher quality of life for our communities. The communities will also greatly benefit from embracing bicycling by enhancements made in their own recreational amenities and downtown areas.
Goals Our primary goal is to educate people--drivers and bicyclists of all ages.
We will educate drivers in-person by working with the Iowa Bicycle Coalition at Driver’s Ed courses and Impaired Driving courses. Drivers will learn about the challenges that bicyclists face when on the road, how distracted driving can cause wrecks, the correct way to pass a cyclist, and relevant laws for interacting with bicyclists.
We will also educate students and youth in-person at Bike Rodeos, School Events, Summer Camps, Library Functions, and Bike Month/Bike to School Events. School leadership will be encouraged to develop Safe Routes to School plans, add bike racks, and other activities to promote safe bicycling for students. (share SRTS info with all schools!) We will also educate bicyclists about defensive cycling, taking precautions such as wearing bright colored clothing, helmets, reflectors, lights, using mirrors, hand signals, and obeying traffic signals and laws.
The League of American Bicyclists, Iowa Bicycle Coalition, People for Bikes, and other organizations currently have a wealth of information available about bike safety. Rather than trying to duplicate this information, we will utilize these existing resources and ensure that it gets distributed to the appropriate places, such as DMV offices, schools, bike shops, trailheads, libraries, hospitals, clinics, public health agencies, and other governmental offices. We will emphasize the dangers of distracted driving, as this is one of the biggest dangers for bicyclists.
We will select three communities to pilot the bike-friendly community program in our region and apply for certification from the League of American Bicyclists. Additionally, we will facilitate participation in the “Bike Friendly Business” program in the selected communities.