Early data: Grand Rapids' largest-ever bicycle safety initiative a success

Grand Rapids' largest-ever bicycle safety education campaign is proving to be a major success.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. -  A new survey of traffic data compiled during the spring and summer shows the launch of Grand Rapids' largest-ever bicycle safety education campaign -- Driving Change -- has helped contribute to dramatic declines in bicyclist-motorist crash totals and serious injuries in 2016.

Grand Rapids city officials, along with Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky, called a news conference Monday, Oct. 31, at City Hall to reveal the preliminary results.

"It's not often in what we do that we have such clear successes and such measurable victories," Rahinsky said.

The Driving Change campaign that kicked off May 9 and continued through Sept. 30 coincides with Grand Rapids' adoption of a "safe passing" ordinance last year that went into effect in 2016. The law requires that motorists keep at least 5 feet between the right side of their vehicle and the bicyclist they are passing, and the city also requires bicycles for night riding to be equipped with a white light on the front and a red reflector or light on the rear.

·Fatal or serious-injury crashes in Grand Rapids were reduced from 11 in 2015 to two in 2016 for the same five-month reporting period (May–September)

·The two fatal/serious crashes between May-September is an 81 percent decrease and the lowest total in Grand Rapids since 2010, which is the only other time the number of fatal or serious-injury crashes has been that low. 

·Total crashes involving bicyclists decreased by more than 40 percent from 2015 to 2016 for the same five-month reporting period. In 2015, 72 bicycle-involved crashes were reported from May to September, while in 2016 that number dropped to 42.

·The 42 crashes is the lowest number of bicycle-involved crashes reported in Grand Rapids between May and September going back to 2004, the first year of available data.

·Statewide, there has been a slight decrease in bicycle crashes (1277 in 2015 compared to 1144 in 2016, a 10-percent drop) and fatal or serious injuries statewide for the same May-September reporting period (122 last year compared with 118 in 2016, a 3 percent reduction).

·So, the improvements in Grand Rapids are especially significant given that the city has historically had Michigan’s second-highest crash rates (66 in 2013 and 51 in 2014).

In addition, a survey of Greater Grand Rapids residents conducted before and after the Driving Change campaign shows:

·94 percent of people now say they are at least somewhat familiar with the rules for bicyclists in Grand Rapids.

·4 in 10 people now say they are very familiar with the rules for bicyclists. 

·A majority of Greater Grand Rapids residents know now that they must leave at least a 5-foot distance between their vehicle and a bicyclist they are passing on the road.

·7 in 10 Greater Grand Rapids residents now believe Grand Rapids to be a bicycle- friendly community.

·94 percent of people in Greater Grand Rapids agree that a motorist should receive a ticket for breaking rules that are meant to protect bicyclists’ safety on the road.

·Equally impressive, 93 percent of people in Greater Grand Rapids now agree that bicyclists also should receive a ticket if they are breaking the rules of the road.

"We cannot attribute these improvements in public understanding of the importance of bicycle safety solely to the Driving Change campaign and the fine work of the city's police department," said Suzanne Schulz, Grand Rapids City Planner.

"Our research findings clearly reflect that Grand Rapids' stepped-up commitment to bicycle safety is successfully building a more respectful culture between bicyclists ad motorists."

The Driving Change campaign is funded primarily through a federal grant to the City of Grand Rapids in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation. The awareness push is part of a four-year effort in Grand Rapids during 2013-17 to provide education and training on the operation of a bicycle in traffic and, ultimately, to reduce bicycle-motorist crashes.

An advisory committee that included more than 60 local stakeholders – ranging from The Rapid, Grand Rapids Public Schools and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. to the city’s Neighborhood Associations and the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition – supported the Driving Change campaign by helping to distribute 4,000 free bike lights, delivering thousands of educational materials and hosting community forums.

The campaign’s messaging was seen more than 32 million times over the course of the summer through TV and radio ads, billboards, social media and grassroots presentations.

City leaders say they will continue to review the 2016 campaign findings while preparing new strategies and tactics for the culmination of the Driving Change program in 2017.

(© 2016 WZZM)


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