Last year, the federal government offered up a $10 million federal transportation grant to cover street repairs, new sidewalks and bicycle lanes, plus bicycle paths in Birmingham, especially in the tornado-affected area of Pratt City.
Our Birmingham bicycle accident attorneys recognize that these moves are ultimately intended to reduce injuries and fatalities for cyclists, who account for 2 percent of all traffic fatalities each year.
Some of those dollars have already been put to good use, although we know at the outset that other projects will take years to implement. It may take even longer for motorists’ attitudes and awareness of cyclists to expand to the point that they consider cyclists a routine aspect of traffic, rather than an anomaly to be ignored or scorned.
In the meantime, a number of other cities across Alabama are taking up the cause of bicycle safety and awareness.
In Mobile, council members recently passed a city ordinance requiring motorists who are passing pedalcyclists to maintain a clearance of at least three feet.
As a state, we may be a bit behind the curve on this one. A total of 20 states have adopted the 3-foot rule. An effort to pass a similar measure in the Alabama state legislature during the 2010-2011 session sputtered out.
Prior to Mobile, Auburn was the only other city that had passed such a measure. Even more recently, the city of Daphne on the Mobile Bay, passed a similar measure. Daphne’s new ordinance also forbids a passing motorist from making a right-hand turn after passing a cyclist unless a “safe distance” has first been cleared.
Violation of these measures can result in a fine of between $50 and $500, with the potential for community service as an alternative.
Many motorists don’t realize that it is against the law for bicyclists to ride on the sidewalk. This misunderstanding causes aggression, with motorists sometimes shouting at cyclists to get out of the way.
Advocates for these measures say it’s as much about awareness as it is safety.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2011, some 675 bicyclists were killed and another 50,000 or so injured in motor vehicle crashes. Those figures represent a nearly 10 percent spike from what we saw a year earlier.
Of those fatalities, approximately one-third happened in rural areas, while nearly 70 percent happened in urban settings. Bicycle fatalities were most likely to occur during the day, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., with the most dangerous four hours between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
The average age of bicycle fatality victims in 2011 was 43, which represents a continuation of an upward aging trend as more baby boomers take up cycling as a means of both regular transportation and recreation.
Part of the uptick is that there are more bicyclists taking to the roads in total, especially during the summer months. So it is incumbent upon all those who share the road to make safety a top priority.
$10 million federal grant to improve city streets in Birmingham, focusing on Pratt City, June 23, 2012, By Thomas Spencer, The Birmingham News