According to my colleague Billy Hesterman, Utah County officials are considering making parts of the Provo River Trail pedestrian-only zones (in addition to existing pedestrian zones). Billy cites sheriff’s officials as saying that bicyclists routinely ignore the 15 mph speed limit and endanger nearby pedestrians:
“We don’t want to see it shut down but safety and the enjoyment of all the users must be our chief concern,” Sgt. Wayne Keith of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office said.
Bike Provo also posted a fantastic follow up to the article here.
Safety obviously is important — and I know officials are well-meaning — but closing additional sections of the trail to bikers would be backward and economically detrimental. Most obviously, biking, as an activity, has a significant economic impact because it requires equipment, appeals to the professional class, etc. In Utah County, biking is also more viable than walking as a means of transportation due to the spread out make up of area cities; leaders should consequently be cultivating a culture of biking, rather than trying to sequester it into smaller zones.
But more importantly, the county’s argument singles out biking as particularly dangerous while ignoring a vastly more perilous and common activity: driving cars. Driving, after all, kills and maims thousands of people every year. Bike-pedestrian accidents happen and can be tragic, but they’re far, far rarer.
The county’s argument consequently treads the familiar path of singling bikes out for especially prejudicial treatment. Consider: when a car hits a pedestrian we often talk about speed limits and stop signs.
However I’ve never heard anyone suggest after a car-pedestrian accident that cars should be removed from the road where it occurred. Even suggesting it would seem absurd to many people, and that’s despite the fact that for millennia — including well into the automobile age — streets were the domain of walkers, not cars. But the opposite is happening now with bikes.
Why is that? If we were really concerned about safety, the logical thing to do is take cars off the streets anywhere drivers speed, ignore rules, or do wildly dangerous things like text or drink. Soon, of course, that would mean no streets would have cars. More specifically, if there isn’t room for bikers and pedestrians on the river trail, why not shut down a lane of vehicle traffic in Provo Canyon and devote it to biking.
These suggestions are hyperbolical and designed only to prove a point: that county leaders evidently see biking as a kind of secondary activity of lesser importance than other modes of transportation. It’s arbitrarily perceived as dispensable. This is a war on biking, but sadly those attacking bicycles lapse into conventional, car-centric reasoning and don’t even realize that there are alternative — and better — ways to frame the discussion.
I’m an avid walker and a casual bike rider. (I drive a car a lot as well, unfortunately.) I’ve used the Provo River Trail for both activities in the past, as I plan to do in the future. But this isn’t about a conflict between walking, biking or even driving. Instead, the larger issue is that biking, despite it’s growth and many benefits, is still not taken as seriously as it should be. In the end, there’s no inherent reason biking should play second fiddle to other forms of transportation, including driving.