Spinning into spring: Bike and pedestrian safety main focus of May initiative

With spring in full swing and more reasons to be outdoors, state and local leaders are reminding Oklahomans to be more alert and courteous to bicyclists and pedestrians on streets and roads. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation, along with a host of state, local and community leaders, are announcing the observance of National Bike Month in May with a specific focus on improving traffic safety for cyclists and pedestrians. 

In the past five years, 370 pedestrians and 49 bicyclists were killed in crashes on Oklahoma roads, including city streets, county roads and highways. These numbers include pedestrians walking to their destinations on local streets along with drivers who are considered pedestrians if they are outside of their vehicle when stranded on the side of a highway following a vehicle breakdown or other emergencies.

After trending down for decades, pedestrian fatalities have increased consistently from 4,100 in 2009 to 6,590 in 2019 nationally. This was a more than 50 percent increase in pedestrian deaths while all other traffic deaths increased by about 2 percent during this same period, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association.

“From neighborhood streets and downtowns to highways and trails, a safe and modern transportation system needs to serve all road users,” Secretary of Transportation and ODOT Executive Director Tim Gatz said. “With bicyclist and pedestrian deaths unfortunately on the rise nationwide, we hope this month’s spotlight on multimodal transportation safety helps all Oklahomans be more mindful, alert and courteous, including drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.”

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority launched a new, year-round safety education effort in January. The Make Safety Stick: Everybody Click initiative focuses on a different highway safety topic each month in 2021 with May’s emphasis on bicycle and pedestrian safety to coincide with National Bike Month.

Beginning in the 1960s walking and cycling lost popularity, but an amazing resurgence started in the late 2000s. The COVID-19 pandemic also spurred more people in the past year to engage in active forms of transportation, as bicycle sales increased considerably and isolated individuals began exploring the outdoors more on foot for recreation.

In recognition of this resurgence, ODOT has worked closely with the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments, the Indian Nations Council of Governments, local governments and Bike Oklahoma, among others, in the development of a State Bicycle Map debuted in 2020. The map published online provides highway information helpful to bicyclists in planning their ride routes as well as highlighting bike trails such as the Historic Chisholm Trail Bike Route and the Trail of Tears Historic Bike Route. Cyclists can find the map online by visiting www.odot.org and clicking Maps under Projects and Progress.

National Bike Month was established by the League of Americans Bicyclists in 1956. The month also includes National Bike to Work Week during May 17-22 and Bike to Work Day on May 21. 

Safety tips

• Cyclists have the same legal rights to use the road as motorists except where specifically prohibited and they can legally ride two abreast on the roadway as long as they do not unnecessarily slow traffic.

• Cyclists are encouraged to ride on the right side of the road with the flow of traffic.

• Give bicycles at least 3 feet of space when passing, but, if possible, give them 5 feet of clearance and slow down. Don’t pass until it is safe to do so.

• Cyclists and pedestrians should not attempt to travel on controlled-access highways like interstates and turnpikes.

• Be especially watchful at intersections for both cyclists and pedestrians. Drivers should yield to bicyclists as they would any other moving vehicle.

• Everyone is a pedestrian at some time, reminds the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Pedestrians are advised to be predictable by following the rules of the road and obeying signs and signals.

• Walk on sidewalks when available, but when not, walk facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible.

• Never assume a driver sees walkers when crossing and pedestrians are encouraged to make eye contact with drives as they approach to make sure they are seen.

• Stay alert at all times and don’t be distracted by electronic devices while walking, cycling or driving.

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