By Sophia Ceru
A bike ride is meant to be a relaxing and fun way to engage in physical activity. For other riders, bicycling is an essential form of transportation. All bicyclists want to feel safe.
Matt Penniman is a devoted cyclist and is the communications and advocacy director for the League of Michigan Bicyclists and started with the organization in 2018.
As a member of the bicycling group, Penniman advocates for the importance of riding safety as fatalities and crashes increase.
“Michigan saw a surge in bicycle crashes in 2020 during the pandemic,” Penniman said.
“Part of that can be attributed to more people riding bikes. Part of it can be attributed to more reckless driving,” he said.
“We’re advocating for a number of interventions to make our streets safer, both in state law and policy.” Another program is Bike Wave, where cities borrow equipment for protected bike lanes, he said.
The bicycle league is taking steps to improve rider safety throughout the state.
“We’re getting ready to hire a MI Healthy Climate Corps member who will be our bikeable communities coordinator and conduct bike audits later this year in communities around the state to identify potential improvements for bike safety,” Penniman said.
In the past three years, Michigan has seen a 64% increase in bicycle accidents that resulted in fatalities. There were 1,340 traffic crashes involving bicyclists in 2022 and from 2020 to 2022, 103 bicyclists were killed in Michigan, according to the State Police.
For example, Mandy Benn was sentenced last December to at least 70 years in prison for causing an Ionia County crash that killed two cyclists and injured three others participating in a 2022 “Make a Wish” bike ride. A jury determined that Benn was under the influence of drugs at the time.
And in Hillsdale last May, cyclist Charles Vallance was airlifted to a hospital after he was struck by a motor vehicle. According to the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Office, Vallance was knocked off his bike after he pulled out in front of the vehicle.
In Clinton Township a cyclist was killed last November in a collision with two cars on Harper Avenue. According to the Clinton Township Police Department, alcohol may have been a factor in the crash. The investigation is ongoing.
According to a 2017 study conducted in Michigan by the Federal Highway Administration State Planning and Research Program, 39% of those surveyed said that someone in their household had used a bike for transportation in the past year, and another 28% said that they used a bicycle to commute at least two times a week.
Long-time cyclist and former Washtenaw County Deputy Sheriff Jeff Carek expressed his concerns regarding bicyclists’ safety.
“I’ve been cycling for about 50 years now, and I consider myself to be a confident rider,” said Carek, the director of education for the League of Michigan Bicyclists.
“ I often bike in the Metro Detroit area where I see a lot of drivers disregard bikers or don’t take them seriously,” he said. “I see drivers who are intentional about their dislike for cyclists, and this creates very dangerous conditions on the road.”
The Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission issued a “State of Michigan Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment” last year that covered tactics for vulnerable road users to follow to stay safe.
According to the report, those who ride against traffic, don’t stay on bike paths and cycle on roads with high speed limits are at an increased risk.
Last summer, the Office of Highway Safety Planning awarded grants to eight law enforcement agencies to address bicyclist injuries and fatalities and focus on enforcing the state’s bicycle safety laws.
The agency said the money went to the sheriffs’ offices in Berrien, Macomb and Oakland counties and to police departments in Chikaming Township in Southwest Michigan, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Lansing and St. Joseph.
According to the State Police, the most at-risk time for bicycle accidents are from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m on Fridays.
Sophia Ceru reports Capital News Service