When he was killed six years ago – on April 6 at about 10PM while crossing Route 273, a high-speed, four lane suburban arterial road that slices between a couple of subdivisions east of Newark – Michael Gropp was only 16 years old.
I still have a vivid recollection of the insinuating questions raised immediately after the crash that killed him. Despite the fact that he was killed by a hit-and-run driver, I can remember how quick people were to make the worst possible assumptions about a young man they had never met and knew nothing about.
What was he doing out so late at night?
Isn’t that suspicious?
When a pedestrian is killed in Delaware it’s not unusual to hear these kinds of comments and questions. When a few months back the News Journal did a front-page story about how Delaware is the deadliest state in America for pedestrians it inspired many derisive comments aimed at the victims of these tragedies.
In most ways the death of Michael Gropp was just like the deaths of dozens of other pedestrians who are killed every year in Delaware. But in a few ways it was different and one of those ways was that that we fairly quickly learned where he was coming from, where he was going to, and why. Unusually, Michael Gropp had actually not been alone when he was struck and killed. A local NBC news station found out and interviewed the person he had been with, who turned out to be his girlfriend. His girlfriend revealed the reason this 16-year old had been trying to cross a dangerous road late at night: He was walking her home.
In the months after the death of Michael Gropp, Bike Delaware wrote an 11-page report about the crash and about what could be done to prevent future crashes at that intersection. One of the report’s recommendations was eventually implemented by DelDOT. But that was a small victory. In the intervening years since his death the awful carnage of pedestrians on Delaware’s roads has only gotten worse. In 2012 and 2013, Delaware ended up each year as the single deadliest state in America, with the highest per capita pedestrian fatality rate. In 2014 and 2015, we were one of the top 3 deadliest states – but only because two other states had outdone themselves in those years – not because we were actually killing fewer pedestrians in Delaware.
Over the years, we have remembered the death of Michael Gropp annually on April 6. But in the state that kills more pedestrians per capita than any other just remembering is, obviously, not enough. We have to do more.
Bike Delaware is changing its mission
I have sometimes heard people make fun of the idea of an organizational “mission”. And certainly there are lots of examples of weak, vague, rambling and jargony mission statements. But for Bike Delaware our mission has kept us on track and focused for over 5 years:
Make cycling a safe, convenient and fun transportation option in Delaware
When Bike Delaware officially adopted this mission in 2010, Delaware was ranked in the 30s among Bicycle Friendly States. For five straight years afterwards Delaware advanced in the national Bicycle Friendly State rankings – farther and faster than any other state, ever. Last year, Delaware was officially ranked as the #3 Bicycle Friendly State in America.
Despite that record of success, however, Bike Delaware is now changing its mission.
Make cycling and walking safe, convenient and fun transportation options in Delaware
Two complementary beliefs are driving this mission change. First, we believe we have an ethical obligation to bring the same level of passion and commitment to the safety of pedestrians as to cyclists. And, second, we believe that in the long run cycling advocacy and walking advocacy are stronger together than apart.
The 2016 Walkable Bikeable Delaware Summit will focus on pedestrian safety
One of the main reasons for Delaware’s remarkable progress on cycling over the years has been the Walkable Bikeable Delaware Summit. This year, for the first time, the summit will be focused on walking more than cycling. And, even more specifically, the focus will be on Delaware’s pedestrian safety problem.
The summit will take place this year on May 5 in Dover. It’s free and open to the public although you must register.
Nearly three dozen people are killed every year on Delaware’s roads while walking. Six years after the death of Michael Gropp, it has become clear that we have to do more than just hope that changes. We have to insist that it does. We have to demand that it does. Please join us in Dover on May 5 to find out if you can be part of the solution with us.
James Wilson is the executive director of Bike Delaware.
• Delaware is America’s Deadliest State for Pedestrians (News Journal)