Everyone knows Macon’s roads are not bicycle friendly, nor are they pedestrian friendly. In 2013, nine pedestrians were killed on our roads. This year started off badly when 50-year-old Tony Bateman collided with a bus as he rode near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in January. So it is with those statistics in mind that a seminar was held last week hosted by Georgia Bikes at the Georgia Department of Transportation office, sponsored with funds from the Federal Highway Administration.
The effort is called Complete Streets. Its goal is to balance the needs of cars, walkers, public transit and cyclists, to make the streets inviting to all age groups. That is quite a task, and there is much work to be done. A University of Georgia study already ranks Macon as one of the riskier places in the state to bike. And while they are looking for low-cost solutions, those will be hard to find. Even the effort by the College Hill Coalition is fraught with danger. While the bike graphics should remind drivers to share the road with cyclists, the fact is, they have to share the same space. Cyclists know the danger and many won’t risk it.
It’s not impossible. To look for an example one need only look to Milledgeville. The old capital city is one of 49 communities selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in an effort to “reverse the childhood obesity epidemic through policy and system changes.” One of the main goals, according to the League of American Bicyclists of that initiative, was “to gain a Bicycle Friendly Community designation.” Milledgeville is now a Bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community. The city joins just six other Georgia cities that have earned the bronze-level designation.
According to the league, there are five E’s to becoming a Bicycle Friendly Community.
Engineering: Creating safe and convenient places to ride and park.
Education: Giving people of all ages and abilities the skills and confidence to ride.
Encouragement: Creating a strong bike culture that welcomes and celebrates bicycling.
Enforcement: Ensuring safe roads for all users.
Evaluation and Planning: Planning for bicycling as a safe and viable transportation option.
Making our roads safer for walkers and bicyclists is more than an engineering problem, particularly on our older streets. While our planners need to demand that the needs of walkers and cyclists be included in any development, it is still imperative that cyclists and walkers pay attention. Even wider sidewalks and bike lanes cannot compensate for distracted drivers, walkers and cyclists.