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Two-wheeled road hogs

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As MT pointed out when listing 2003’s dubious achievements (“Shame Game,” Dec. 31, 2003-Jan. 1, 2004), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported last year that, among the nation’s largest cities, Detroit had the highest number of pedestrian fatalities. But it’s not just people on two feet who have to worry, and it’s not just in Detroit. Local cycling advocates claim that statistics from 1992 to 2000 show that bicyclists represent 14 percent of all crash fatalities involving motor vehicles in Michigan.

Surprisingly, these grim stats aren’t necessarily considered by the agencies doling out money for transportation projects in metro Detroit. That’s a situation Todd Scott is trying to change. Scott is the youthful director of the Michigan Mountain Biking Association and M-Bike, a Royal Oak-based bicycle advocacy group.

Scott wants greater consideration given to projects that make roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. The number of auto accidents figures heavily in the formula used to determine which road projects receive funding for improvements. Yet road commissioners, when disbursing federal funds for such projects, give scant consideration to accidents involving bicyclists. Brian Blaesing, planning and development director for the Road Commission of Oakland County (RCOC), does not seem entirely unsympathetic to M-Bike’s pitch, indicating that the idea is worth consideration.

Compare this open-mindedness with the views of Patrick Hogan, director of Wayne County roads. Hogan sees bicycles as a danger to motorists who, he says, tend to freak when seeing something as strange as bicyclists on the road and swerve to avoid them, thereby causing some other sort of collision.

“In Wayne County we would discourage bicyclists from using the roadway,” he says. When asked if cycling on the road is illegal (which it isn’t), Hogan replied that he didn’t know, adding, “I do know that it’s dangerous and should be discouraged.”

If you think it over, Hogan’s remarks follow a kind of logic. After all, if bicycles are responsible for car crashes, it only makes sense that all safety precautions should go to protect those imperiled, fragile sport utility vehicles, instead of those pesky, accident-causing bicycles!

All joking aside, Scott says of Hogan’s remarks, “We hear drivers and road officials blame cyclists on the roads for slowing traffic. However, the problem is not the cyclist, it’s the lack of adequate cycling facilities. If more of our roads offered paved shoulders for cyclists, there would be no slowing of traffic.”

A RCOC task force on federal funding will meet in October to discuss the reform; Scott promises to appear before them and make his case. Perhaps if M-Bike’s pitch gets some results, they can bike down to Wayne County next.

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