cycling utah October 1998


How Good is Cycling for Your Health?

By Rob MacLeod

Cycling is touted as having great health benefits. It is aerobic, easy on joints, and a true "life sport" that can follow you into very old age. But the actual act of getting on a bike and rolling around city streets can be a different matter. And walking may be even worse!

Utah has a fairly dismal record on the bicycle safety front. As a state, we rank eighth in the country for per capita bicycle deaths, about 30% above the national average. That means about 4 deaths per million residents per year. Pedestrians fair slightly better nationally in 21st place with 19.4 death per million per year.

A recent Associated Press story reveals that the Salt Lake/Ogden region also has a high rate of pedestrian accidents, placing 17th in the nation. More disturbing, the rates are increasing with the I-15 construction from 17 bike or pedestrian fatalities in Salt Lake County in 1996, 24 in 1997, and already 18 through July of this year. And this does not count the much larger number of nonfatal accidents that we seem to hear about almost daily.

The time has clearly come for a response to this carnage. The blame for bicycle accidents has to be spread around many parties, unfortunately, also at the feet of us cyclists. Statistically, most accidents we cyclists are involved in are actually of our own making; we fall off, we run into things, we move into and out of road lanes without warning and bring about our own demise.

Accidents in which motorists are to blame are typically caused by overtaking and then quickly turning in front of a cyclist (the infamous "right hook" move), something made worse here because of Utahns' strange inability to use a turn signal! Another major source of accident is motorists making left hand turns at intersection and running into cyclists (the "left hook"). The problem is that while we fall off our bikes fairly often, we don't usually die from it--deaths and critical injuries almost always involve head injuries and often result from collision with motorized vehicles.

Two recent initiatives proposed by the Salt Lake City MBAC are meant to address and improve cycling safety in the State. The first is an attempt to increase the portion of drivers' education dedicated to learning how to drive with pedestrians and cyclists. The second initiative is to make better use of a bicycle training program developed within the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) called "Effective Cycling". The program exists and is well documented and road proven over many years.

Unfortunately, Utah has only two instructors qualified to teach Effective Cycling. The MBAC is starting on a program to increase the number of instructors and to facilitate more training sessions being offered to cyclists of all ages. Effective Cycling is not a course directed at children, it is meant for cyclists of all ages. Cyclists who have done the course ride more safely, with fewer accidents. Contact the MBAC (or me) if you would like more information.

Cycling and walking can be made safe and with continued growth in Utah we had better all get used to sharing the roads and looking out for each other. Do your part--ride smart, drive courteously, and wear a helmet!!!

Road Reports

1) The 11th Avenue bike lane resurfacing will be complete by the time you read this. Salt Lake City Engineering has also agreed to require all new contractors to minimize delays between planing and paving of streets in the future. This will reduce the annoyance of the grooves that planing can leave in the road.

2) Construction in Emigration Canyon is proceeding at a frantic pace as the good paving season starts to come to an end. So be especially careful as crews are working late and location of the construction sites change almost daily.

3) The old stadium tunnel at the University of Utah campus is now gone for good! The road is open again and is much wider and brighter now. This is a useful link between Guardsman and the Avenues via University Ave.

4) Some phone numbers to note:

To report illegal parking in a bike lane: 535-6628

To request cleaning of debris from a bike lane: 535-6999

To ask anything else about bike routes in SLC: 535-6630

Back to Oct. 98 Cover