Special to the Daily MailIt was less than a month ago when I wrote about Joanna Abernethy, the Australian woman, who lost her life while riding her bicycle across America. I’m sad to report yet another cyclist, Rhonda Thompson of Pittsburg, Kan., was struck and killed last Sunday by a motorist while on her morning ride. Tragic! Imagine the grief of the families and friends left behind and the remorse of the motorists. The communities, too, must wonder what they could have done to “let safety rule” their roads.
We’re doing something about it in Vernon County. With the recent bicyclist fatalities, an initiative from a couple of years ago has resurfaced to post signs, “Share the road with bicyclists,” and establish reserved lanes with striping along U.S. Highway 54. The route will extend from the junction of Highway 43, three miles west of Nevada, to the city limit of El Dorado Springs.
There is a way to get it done in 2015 with the help of a federal grant that would cover 80 percent of the project. The Vernon County Commissioners have committed to taking the lead in the grant application. JD Kehrman, Nevada City Manager, will make a positive recommendation to be a partner in the application, as well as include it in the city’s 2015 budget. Randy Bland, city councilman in city of El Dorado Springs, will also make a positive recommendation to be a part of the application. We do not yet have confirmation from Cedar County administration.Pick a city … any city, in any state and the story is the same. Budgets are tight. While gaining support is going well, I was told that the grant application would have a much better chance of approval if the private sector would step up a little bit to relieve some of the burden on our county and city budgets.
How do we begin? We will start by raising awareness with a fun bicycle ride. Join me on Saturday, Sept. 13, at 8 a.m., on the south side of the Nevada Square where we will begin a 5 — 10 mile ride. Leaving there, we will head east to the I-49 overpass, loop back to the Square, then ride west 2 miles and loop back to the Square.
While the bike ride will be a fun gathering and an opportunity to see our cycling friends, there is an underlying imperative. The path we will be taking is the very route in need of signage and striping. Cyclists will see firsthand the critical need. It’s a show of community interest and backing which will be captured in photos. These photos will go a long way to validate our case throughout the federal grant approval process. Are 5 — 10 miles too much for you? We will take what we can get even if it’s a mile!
Imagine how this one change could make a difference in our community before it’s too late. Statistics show that an alarming 83 percent of cyclists’ deaths are a result driver error with rear-end collisions being the biggest cause. Let’s face it. No one does that on purpose. That’s why it’s called an accident. This initiative, however, can avoid those accidents and clearly save lives. It also evades the grief and despair of families and friends of the potential victims. Citizens will have a safer place to bicycle, run, and walk. Motorists will see signage and a defined line making them aware that there is more on the road than vehicles. “Let safety rule our roads” and avoid the pain and suffering of the unthinkable.
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” — Henry Ford
So many have come together and are keeping together during this initiative to achieve ultimate success — saving lives. The Vernon County Commissioners have taken the lead to apply for a federal grant. Presiding Commissioner Bonnie McCord said, “We don’t want someone to die riding a bicycle in our county and this project will save lives.” Steve Marquardt, Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee member, and Darin Hamelink, Area Engineer at Missouri Department of Transportation, know.
Steve and Darin were instrumental a couple of years ago when they pushed for signage and striping coincidental with the repaving project. It was put on hold due to lack of funding. Countless city leaders know, too, which is why they are looking for money in the 2015 budgets. And, now you know!
Vernon County is a caring community. History proves it. We care about each other. This initiative is another example of that. Please find it in your hearts to support a life-saving cause with a personal pledge and by joining the fun ride on Sept. 13. More will follow as things progress to reach the ultimate goal; signage and striping along Highway 54 to protect bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists.
Let’s do it, Vernon County. Together, let’s save lives and “Let safety rule our roads“!
Editor’s note: Frank Briscoe is a freelance travel writer and occasional contributor to the Nevada Daily Mail. The Highway 54 project is Briscoe’s first step in fulfilling a commitment he made following Joanna Abernathy’s death to make area roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians.