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Indiana’s Bike Safety Rankings – A Guest Post by Tom Doehrman

Indiana is the 12th least bicycle-friendly state in the country. The news comes from the League of American Bicyclists in the wake of a comprehensive, independent study that looked at factors ranging from government biking policies and programs to the funding and completion of bike-related infrastructure. Through its Bicycle Friendly America (BFA) program, the League strives to help states and the business, universities, and communities within them with a mission to “make bicycling a real transportation and recreation option for all people.”

Despite its praise of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail (a project that it calls “one of the more exciting bicycle developments in the past decade” and “a catalyst for urban development”), the BFA fails to see a broad basis of legislative or administrative support for cyclists or cycling throughout the state of Indiana.

Where Indiana is Falling Short

Overall, the BFA laments Indiana’s lack of laws and policies to protect bicyclists and support bicycling as a form of locomotion. Although Indiana ranks 21st in terms of overall bike commuters within the state, it directly allocates no transportation assets to bicycling initiatives and falls significantly short of the national average in terms of overall funding and infrastructure.

When it comes to the institution and enforcement of bike-friendly legislation, Indiana fares even worse, scoring 0 out of 25 BFA points for any provisions on the books that specifically protect individuals who bike. Perhaps most alarming, the BFA can see no reason to think that Indiana’s bike safety record will improve anytime soon, ranking the state an abysmal 44th out of 50 states when it comes to bicycle and pedestrian evaluation and strategic planning.

What Indiana is Getting Right

The one bright spot in the BFA report is Indiana’s overall biking education and advocacy efforts. Taken as a whole, the state ranks in the top 40% nationally in both of these categories.

Through its Department of Transportation (INDOT), the State of Indiana does a commendable job supporting cycling events and distributing cycling education materials. INDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Program has long recognized the economic, environmental, health, and comprehensive infrastructure benefits of bicycling.

Indiana also profits from having a bicycle advocacy group with strong ties to the League of American Bicyclists. In addition to promoting safe public bicycling and educating bicyclists, motorists, and policy-makers alike, Bicycle Indiana advocates for bike-friendly laws and generally helps “Hoosiers discover the freedom & benefits of using bikes for recreation, transportation and enjoyment.” The League of American Bicyclists also supports 25 League Cycling Instructors

Furthermore, BFA stats regarding Indiana bicycle safety become far less egregious when juxtaposed with the bicycle safety stats of other states with comparable populations. For example, Indiana has roughly the same bicyclist fatalities per capita when measured against Arizona and far fewer when measured against Tennessee. From 2006 to 2014, Indiana also dedicated more state funds to bicycle/pedestrian projects than either Tennessee or Arizona. However, this funding has simply not translated into the successful completion of these projects. Indiana trails significantly behind both Tennessee and Arizona in terms of full-time bicycle/pedestrian project staff as well as overall routes that are open to off-road cyclists.

Indiana Bike Safety Recommendations

Taking a broad view of Indiana’s bike safety record, the BFA recommends Indiana develop a statewide bicycle master plan that sets forth a 10-year schedule for the institution of comprehensive bicycle facilities on state roadways and at the local level. In the legislative arena, Indiana would be wise to adopt statewide “safe passing law” with a minimum passing distance of 3 feet as well as a statewide “complete streets law” that meets the established standards of the National Complete Streets Coalition. Indiana should also pass a law that prohibits motorists from opening any vehicle door unless they can do so at no safely risk to themselves or to others. Only 8 other states have absolutely no provisions on the books to protect individuals on bike from the highly dangerous threat of “dooring.”

Indianapolis – A Great Place to Start Indiana Bike Safety Reform

A snapshot of Indiana biking in microcosm, the biking conditions in Indiana’s capital and most populated city, Indianapolis, demonstrate much of what the state as a whole is doing right and wrong. Like Indiana in general, Indianapolis does a commendable job when it comes to educating the public about biking safety regulations and best riding practices. The city’s official bicycle advocacy organization, Bike Indianapolis, provides essential community outreach through its Riders in the Know program, warning of the dangers inherent in practices such as cycling against traffic, cycling on sidewalks, and cycling at night without proper safety lights. However, Indianapolis also falls in line with Indiana as a whole in terms of its conspicuous lack of a comprehensive bike safety plan as well as its lack of both bike-friendly traffic laws and suitable biking infrastructure. In fact, when measured against other cities with comparable populations, Indianapolis has less than half as many protected bike lanes as San Francisco, California, and less than a quarter as many total bike lanes as Jacksonville, Florida.

About the Author

Tom Doehrman is a founding partner at the Indianapolis personal injury law firm of Doehrman Buba. He is the past president of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association and the Brain Injury Association of Indiana. He has been representing injured cyclists and pedestrians throughout Indiana for over 40 years.

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