Saturday, November 22, 2014

Durham Deserves Better

My family was car free during my childhood, out of economic necessity primarily, but also because of my mother's lifelong passion for being active and healthy. We walked and rode the bus, and we also rode our bikes. I learned from a young age how to safely navigate traffic, and have continued riding as my primary form of transportation for a good part of my adult life. Sacramento is a place with a pretty comprehensive network of bike lanes, mild weather and many people traveling by bike, making it generally safe place to cycle.

When I moved to Durham at the beginning of the year, I was surprised by the scarcity of bike lanes, and felt a little less sure of myself navigating through traffic here. I longed for the infrastructure and critical mass of riders I was used to, and was heartened to learn about Bike Durham, a new nonprofit which works on cycling issues, and the Durham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC), which advises the City Council and Board of County Commissioners on bike and ped issues.

As someone professionally immersed for the past seven  years in active transportation, sustainable built environment and community engagement around both, I enthusiastically became involved in both Bike Durham and BPAC. Durham may be behind the curve on bicycle infrastructure, sidewalks, and supportive policies for active transportation, but that is no reason to sit back and let this great city fall farther behind! There are many people willing to work to make this change happen, and all of Durham will benefit!

This afternoon I had the privilege of participating in a community conversation about how to make Durham a safer place to bicycle. The forum, hosted by Bike Durham, was in reaction to three recent fatalities of Durham cyclists. Pamela Lane, Kent Winberry, and Tony Morris Turner, from my understanding, were practicing safe cycling techniques, but died as a result of motorist inattention/negligence and poor infrastructure. As Bike Durham's president Jack Warman stated, they deserve better. Everyone in Durham deserves better.

Bull City Coworking, which hosted the forum, was packed with around 80 people this afternoon, there to discuss how to make Durham a safer place to ride a bike. Pamela Lane's fiance shared his thoughts on the presumption of cyclist responsibility for their own deaths, and the lack of consideration and action taken on injured and killed cyclists behalf by law enforcement, media, and others in positions of power. Lots of heads in the crowd nodded.

In smaller groups, we discussed what we thought needed to happen to make Durham more safe. While there was anger, frustration, and sadness expressed, people also expressed love for this city, and sincere commitment to foster improvements. Some of the crucial steps to a safer Durham included:

  • Education for cyclists as well as drivers on how to coexist on the road and navigate safely.
  • Enforcement of laws when cyclists are injured and killed in collisions with cars. 
  • Commitment by the elected leadership to make cyclist safety a top priority.
  • Development of a Complete Streets policy to operationalize the inclusion of this key objective in the Comprehensive Plan. 
  • Funding the infrastructure needs to make more of Durham's streets safer for cyclists. 

Many other thoughts were expressed, as well as challenges to the room to show the elected leadership how important this issue is to Durham. I am hopeful that if even half of those who attended today get more involved in Bike Durham and other avenues for engagement on these issues, we can make change possible for Durham. 

To make Durham a safer place to be a bicyclist (and pedestrian), I commit to use my service on BPAC as an avenue to improve the political climate for active transportation policies and funding in Durham. Gathering support from key partners will be crucial, as will recruiting new participants from throughout Durham. I hope the Complete Streets policy can become a reality, and that funding for crucial infrastructure will be dedicated. 

I invite you to join me in December at the BPAC Community Engagement Committee, where we will discuss priorities for 2015, and how those will foster improvement for active transportation in Durham. The meeting will be held on the second Tuesday, December 9, at 6:30PM at Geer Street Garden

I also encourage you to attend the Bike Durham Advocacy Committee, held on the third Wednesday of each month at 6:30 (check for details on their Facebook page), or one of the other committees held each month by BPAC or Bike Durham. There is always room for another voice! 

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