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Driving Change: Educating Bicyclists & Motorists

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Did you know that Grand Rapids has a crash rate between cars and bicycles that is twice as high as the state average? In fact, Kent County ranks fourth in the state in population but had the third-highest number of car-bike crashes in 2014 with 151. Two of those were fatal. And as we work to improve mobility options for all of Grand Rapids, cars aren’t the only ones using the roadways.

With nearly 80 miles of new bike lanes introduced in the city since 2010, the City of Grand Rapids is doing their part to educate both motorists and bicyclists only how to interact safely and legally. This past week the City of Grand Rapids and state officially launched a new bicycle safety campaign, Driving Change, in an effort  to improve education and build respect between all road users. The multi-tiered education plan is funded primarily through a $632,000 federal grant to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) in partnership with the city. The program’s objective is to curb the number of bicycle crashes and fatalities in the greater Grand Rapids area.

“Our streets need to be safe for everyone – whether you are riding your bike or driving your car,” Bliss said during a press conference at Grand Rapids City Hall.

“Through this campaign, we will engage the community so everyone knows their rights and responsibilities as we move from place to place,” the mayor said. “By informing the community about the city’s new road infrastructure and bicycle-related ordinances, we will strengthen relationships between bicyclists and motorists.”

Research commissioned by the city in 2015 shows people in the Grand Rapids area are:

  • Unclear about how they are supposed to interact with the 80 miles of new bike lanes that Grand Rapids has introduced since 2010.
  • Unaware of the city’s bicycle ordinances.
  • Frustrated with bad behavior displayed by both motorists and bicyclists while on the road.
  • Believe motorists and bicyclist can share the road together in harmony.

“We all share the responsibility to make sure Grand Rapids roads are safe for everyone, including pedestrians and bicyclists,” said Grand Rapids Bicycle Police Officer Eric Gizzi, who was joined at the press conference by Kent County law enforcers representing the cities of Kentwood, Wyoming, East Grand Rapids, Grandville and Walker.

“Our goal is to inform motorists and bicyclists of the city’s new road infrastructure, grow knowledge of the city’s bicycle-related ordinances and build a more respectful culture between bicyclists and motorists,” Gizzi said.

In 2016, the primary goal is not to issue police citations for against motorists or bicyclists who may violate the city’s bicycle-related ordinances unless officers deem action necessary. Instead, law enforcement and community partners, such as Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, will work to distribute informational materials that update both motorists and bicyclists about safe road behavior.

Some of the key rules of the road that the Driving Change campaign will promote include:

  • Motorists passing a bicycle must leave at least 5 feet between the right side of their vehicle and a bicyclist. One aim of the Driving Change campaign is to publicize the new 5-feet safety standard passed by the City Commission in 2015 that is applicable this year.
  • Bicyclists must be visible, using a forward white light and rear reflector or white light when riding at night.
  • Motorists should watch out for bikes, especially when making a right-hand turn.
  • Bicyclists must obey all traffic signals and signs.
  • Bicyclists are safer on the road than on sidewalks. Additionally, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is prohibited in certain areas, such as downtown Grand Rapids.

“Safe places to walk and bike are essential to supporting vibrant, active communities,” said Grand Rapids City Planner Suzanne Schulz. “We want to help Grand Rapids become known not only as ‘Furniture City’ but also ‘Bicycle Safety City.’”

“Our Driving Change campaign fits with the city’s placemaking strategies,” she said, “and aligns with the vision of Grand Rapids business and civic leaders who understand bicycling can serve as a tool to help attract and retain talent in an ever-increasing competitive employee recruitment landscape.”

Written by The Rapid

The Rapid (Interurban Transit Partnership) is the authority that provides a variety of public transportation services for the Grand Rapids metro area and beyond. It is organized and operates under Michigan Public Act 196 of 1986.