Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Reminder About Safety on our Roads

A member of our COMPASS “family,” Ross Dodge, was commuting to work on his bike recently and was hit by a car. Four of his vertebrae were fractured, resulting in life-changing injuries. It will be months before he is able to leave the hospital; no one knows how fully he will eventually heal.

Ross is an experienced biker and was riding in a bike lane. He was wearing a helmet and reflective clothing and had both a headlight and a tail-light. He was struck by someone turning left, trying to hurry to get through an intersection between two groups of cars.

As a transportation planning agency that actively encourages citizens and its own staff to use alternative forms of transportation, including biking, these types of accidents are discouraging and disturbing. When it happens to one of our own, it is devastating.

So, what can be done?

First and foremost, on a personal level, I ask for your good wishes for Ross as he recovers from his injuries and adjusts to a changed life.

However, we also need to look at what we can do to help prevent this from happening more in the future. While there are many areas where we can make changes to improve safety, I want to discuss two of those here:

  1. Local laws and enforcement
  2. Personal responsibility 

Local Laws and Enforcement

This issue isn’t new. In 2009, a series of bicycle fatalities prompted the City of Boise to create the Boise Cycling Safety Task Force to develop recommendations to make biking safer. Their final report contained 24 recommendations; many of which are now codified in Boise’s new bike safety laws. Similarly, in response to a texting-related fatality, the City of Meridian has banned texting while driving.

I applaud both cities for taking these steps to make our roads safer and encourage all cities in Ada and Canyon Counties (and throughout Idaho, for that matter) to consider adopting similar laws. I also encourage our Idaho State Legislature to re-visit statewide bicycle safety laws as proposed in the 2010 Legislative session. None of the proposed legislation passed.

However, laws aren’t enough. For a law to have “teeth” behind it, it needs to be actively enforced. All too often such laws only come into play after an accident occurs…when it comes time to issue a citation. While I understand our law enforcement officers are spread thin, and traffic is often not a top priority, if traffic safety laws are not strictly and regularly, enforced, people feel no need to obey them. We need to be proactive in preventing accidents; not simply reactive to place blame after they occur.

Personal Responsibility

Even with the strictest of laws and enforcement, how we operate our vehicles comes down to each of us. Too often, we get behind the wheel and are in a hurry, preoccupied, or on the phone. We speed. We drive aggressively and weave in and out of traffic or hurry to beat a light or make it through a gap between cars.

When we get behind the wheel, we suddenly seem to become self-centered and forget about the consequences of our actions and how those consequences can affect others. We teach our children not to cut in line, cheat, or hit, because they hurt other people, but are our actions behind the wheel that different? Is our impatience with slower drivers, our need to get to work on time, to answer the phone, or simply to drive fast for the fun of it, really more important than someone else’s life? Are you and your needs more important than theirs?

Most often, nothing bad happens when we drive aggressively. We don’t get a ticket or get in an accident. Or, if we do, it is a minor inconvenience. We become complacent and forget that the consequences can be dire, especially if the other person is on a bike, or is a pedestrian or on a motorcycle, for that matter.

Yes, bikes are harder to see than cars. Yes, no matter how careful we are, accidents will happen. However, some accidents are preventable, by looking twice, being patient, obeying the law, and thinking of the consequences of your actions on others.

Drive safely.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Following the Money, Part 2

Did you know that for every gallon of gasoline you buy, you pay just over 18 cents to the federal government? This money is then distributed to the individual states to help pay for transportation projects, such as roads.

For Idaho, this is a good deal...as a state, we get about $1.37 for every $1 we contribute via the federal gas tax. However, the funding story isn’t quite as rosy, or simple, as it first appears:

• While we are fortunate to receive more federal transportation dollars than we contribute, that “extra” money comes from other states that receive less than they contribute, and they aren’t happy about it. There is pressure to change the system, which could mean less federal funds for Idaho.

• Federal funds are more “expensive” to use than local or state funds, as the money must follow federal procedures, which can be costly and time consuming. State and local funds generally have fewer “strings” attached.

• Competitive grants for some types of federal funding may be replacing special appropriations. These grants are to be based more on merits of a project and less on political influence. Unfortunately, the grant process may not be good for Idaho. Federal grants frequently require the local entities to pay for a percentage of a project through a local “match.” Projects with a higher percentage of local match are more likely to get funding. As Idaho does not have significant local dollars, we often are not able to contribute a significant portion of match, which puts Idaho projects at a disadvantage when competing for grants.

• Finally, there is movement for states to become less reliant on federal funds. Just over 50% of the road budget for the Idaho Transportation Department comes from federal dollars, so this shift could have significant local ramifications. Idaho does not have many “tools” available to increase funding for the transportation system and is a state that does not take raising taxes lightly.

The Governor’s Task Force on Modernizing Transportation Funding in Idaho is expected to bring recommendations on future funding options to the Governor and the Legislature this winter. In light of the federal funding picture, those recommendations will be extremely important to the future of Idaho’s transportation system.

Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.