After the death of Michael Gropp – killed while walking his girlfriend home in Newark last April – Bike Delaware wrote a report for Senator Karen Peterson about how Delaware can invest in infrastructureto prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Why does Bike Delaware – a group nominally all about bicycling – advocate for pedestrians? One reason is that “Walk Delaware” simply doesn’t exist. Unlike bicyclists, who often wear funny clothes and special hats and form clubs for the express purpose of bicycling together, pedestrians are anonymous, unorganized and do not self-identify as pedestrians. When a bicyclist dies on a Delaware road, there is a chance that the “bicyclist community” may demand that something be done as a result. But there is no analogous “pedestrian community” that speaks up in an organized way when a pedestrian is killed. Usually the only long-term result of a pedestrian death is private family grief and, sometimes, one of those roadside memorials with rained-on teddy bears and fading flowers.
Another reason is that the safety and mobility issues of the two groups are closely aligned. Both suffer from the massive investments that have been made to optimize our transportation infrastructure for high speed and high volume motorized traffic. These investments – to widen and straighten roads, remove trees and other potential hazards and improve road surfaces – have improved motorized level of service (LOS) year after year. At the same time, our surface transportation infrastructure has become increasingly frightening – and increasingly dangerous – to both bicyclists and pedestrians, who lack the protection of thousands of pounds of metal, seat belts and high tech air bags. It has gotten to the point that most people refuse to travel to work, school or shopping except in a motorized vehicle, even for short (3 mile or less) distance trips.
While some marginalize the bicycle as a toy, luxury or indulgence instead of a serious transportation option, it is more difficult to do the same with walking. How can walkingto where you need to go be a luxury, something that serious transportation planners and engineers can ignore? Thus, it is in the interest of bicyclists who want serious government investment in nonmotorized transportation to join our cause with pedestrians.
Finally, Michael Gropp was killed while walking on Delaware Bicycle Route 1. It is not the most relevant fact about his death, which took place late at night in an unlighted intersection with a high speed 4 lane arterial road, at one of just two exits from his subdivision. For a couple of days after his death, in fact, no one at Bike Delaware even made the connection. When oneof Bike Delaware’s Directors pointed it out, however, it seemed like a profound rebuke to us, and to Delaware. Not only have we spent decades and billions to build transportation infrastructure that kills our children, but we have also complacently drawn lines on maps identifying “bicycle routes” without spending a single additional cent to actually make sure that these routes are safe for people traveling without high-tech prosthetic metal shells, like a 16 year old kid just trying to walk his girlfriend home.