GR’s Driving Change campaign hits the streets

Grand Rapids has one of the highest rates of crashes involving bicycles in the state of Michigan. The fatal bicycle crash rate here is nearly three times greater than the state average of around 25 fatal crashes per year. Last year alone, Kent county had five fatal bicycle crashes, the highest of all Michigan counties.  

To combat this problem, The City of Grand Rapids and Michigan Department of Transportation are funding a $600,000 campaign, seeking to address the arguably elementary principle of sharing—albeit in the patently adult context of driving. The campaign—“Driving Change”—is hitting the streets this month with advertisements, educational videos, and radio spots to alert motorists and cyclists alike to the rules and etiquette of sharing the road—with or without bike lanes.  

Driving change poster

Did you know, for example, that motorists are required by ordinance to leave at least five feet of space between the right side of their vehicle and a bicycle when passing the latter? Or that it is less safe—and in some places, including downtown Grand Rapids, actually illegal—for cyclists over the age of 15 years to ride on the sidewalk instead of the road? Where bike lanes exist, they are off-limits for motorists. Where they do not, cyclists and motorists must share the road.

Not that cyclists are off the hook either—the campaign claims that “there is a 50-50 shared responsibility between motorists and bicyclists for crashes in Kent county.” Cyclists are required to signal intent to turn, make themselves visible when biking at night by using front lights and rear reflectors, and obey all traffic signals and signs.

“We need to change the perception that the street is just for cars,” said planner and cycling advocate Tom Tilma, principal of ActivCity. “It’s a public right-of-way that’s for delivery trucks, it’s for buses, it’s for motorcycles, mopeds, scooters, horse-drawn carriages, runners, walkers, cyclists, unicyclists, skateboarders and inline skaters. There are rules for each of these travel modes, and learning and following these rules will make sharing the road safer and less stressful. It’s mostly about common sense and common courtesy.” That sentiment is the driving force behind the Driving Change Campaign, which is fittingly kicking off this month—National Bike Month.

If you’re a motorist and want a new perspective on sharing the road, consider commuting by bike during May 16–20: National Bike to Work Week.

According to Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition, more than 50 percent of the United States’ population resides five miles or fewer away from their place of work. For many, embarking on the road not taken can be as simple as taking on the road with just two wheels.

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