Columns / Discourse / January 31, 2018

Bike Nice: South and West can lead to better streets

I promise, I’m just about done with South and West Street. Focusing on these two streets, I think that Knox College students should take a leadership role in what could become a community-wide movement for low-cost, people-friendly streets.

The goal is to have streets where cars and bikes can share the space, without taking anything away from either—without reducing space for cars and without reducing safety for cyclists and pedestrians.

I’m suggesting that South and West—not just here, but their lengths across the city—could become “bicycle boulevards.” These are defined by the National Association of City Transportation Officials as “streets with low motorized traffic volumes and speeds, designated and designed to give bicycle travel priority. Bicycle boulevards use signs, pavement markings and speed and volume management measures to discourage through trips by motor vehicles.”

By “low motorized traffic speeds” on these two streets, I’m talking about 20 mph—the very same speed limit that Carl Sandburg College has in its neighborhood. No special treatment for Knox College, just special treatment for people who don’t have cars.

I won’t waste a vat of ink listing the names of all the potential “bicycle boulevards” in Galesburg. These are the streets on either side of the “arterial” streets—Main, Henderson, Seminary, Losey, Fremont—the streets where we’ve spent millions of dollars for bridges to facilitate motorized traffic through town. That’s great for motorists. They can drive through town without stopping for a train. Now, imagine being able to bike through Galesburg on streets with 20 mph speed limits.

Why, just imagine being able to live on streets with 20 mph speed limits. We’d have safer, quieter lives and travels.

And all this without spending a dime on separated bike lanes, without depriving motorists of a single square inch of the pavement that they have fought and paid for with motor fuel taxes.

Why do we need these people-friendly boulevards? The Knox student who lost her life on South Street some six years ago, Tundun Lawani, did not die because she was running across the street with friends at night. That’s what friends and neighbors do. They run around together. Tundun died because the car that struck her was traveling, according to news reports, “in excess of 45 miles an hour.”

Figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate that “only five percent of pedestrians would die when struck by a vehicle traveling at 20 miles per hour or less. This compares with a fatality rate of 80 percent for a striking speed of 40 miles per hour.”

The problem with the posted limit (in fact, the state-wide default) of 30 mph on South (and West and many others) is that, as reported by the CityLab website, “On city streets, most drivers ignore posted speed limits, and instead drive the speed at which they feel safe. That speed is set by the cues provided by the environment.”

The “environment” of many Galesburg neighborhood streets is that they are relatively wide, flat, straight and smooth. Motorists often “feel safe” driving well above the limit—33 mph, maybe 35 and maybe 37 . . . before you know it, they’re going fast enough to kill or seriously injure cyclists and pedestrians—tragedies less likely to happen if the speeds were in the 20s.

After Lawani’s death, The Register-Mail asked its panel of community pundits for their suggestions concerning South Street. Only one of the six suggested a measure to reduce speed. Everybody ignored the speed limit problem itself, as if the posted limit of 30 mph is “just fine.” It’s not.

I’m not excusing the actions of pedestrians who cross in the middle of the block, who don’t wear reflective vests or carry emergency flares at night. I’m saying that human life and human safety and the human scale of the neighborhood should be valued higher than motorists’ time. Let’s have a “human powered” community.


Peter Bailley

Tags:  bike nice safety speed limit

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