An open letter concerning bicycle safety in Mississippi:
By: Melody Moody, Executive Director, Bike Walk Mississippi
I am writing this open letter to express my own feelings in regards to recent events concerning the safety of bicyclists in Mississippi and to address some of the actions currently being taken on the statewide level. (These are my own thoughts from my own experience and are not exclusively representative of each individual member of Bike Walk Mississippi's board of directors)
I must be honest, my heart is breaking. Every day lately when I hear of another tragedy on a Mississippi road, it feels like it's breaking into a million pieces.
As the Executive Director of Mississippi's only statewide bicycle advocacy group, I personally spend at least 50 hours every week thinking about bicycle safety. I am surrounded by stories, data and arguments concerning bicycling infrastructure, programs, policies and safety in Mississippi - so, honestly, it's everywhere I look. And, I am often asked to give insight to Mississippi's rate of bicycle fatalities and attend meetings where I am daily defending the rights of those who choose to ride a bike. Most of my day is spent trying to find ways to raise awareness, increase safe infrastructure, provide training on safety and education, working to increase enforcement and working to create ways to increase safety and education of all those using the roads. It is my own personal daily struggle to find ways to simultaneously bring attention to fatalities AND to increase the number of people riding bicycles. Because, as much as we need to remind our decision makers and leaders about the dire need for bicycle safety, we must also not allow fear to stop others from riding. Because, we KNOW....based on data from across the world, that what works best to improve bicycle safety across the world --- is more people on bikes.
So, therein lies the rub. At Bike Walk Mississippi, we must work to get more people on bikes without fear for their safety. And, one of the ways we do this to by convincing decision makers and local elected officials to invest in bicycle friendly infrastructure, programs and policies in order to create better places to walk and bike. In this effort, we also work with statewide agencies like MDOT and the Highway Patrol as well as with local engineers, planners, developers and more. And, for those who don't bike or don't care and who ask why they should consider it? We show the need for these investments by using economically driven data to make a compelling case at ALL LEVELS in an effort to build a bicycle friendly Mississippi.
In order to do this, we must also empower local citizens with the tools and resources they need. This means, we have to work with city employees, city engineers, planners, community developers, businesses, bike clubs and individuals. In fact, one of Bike Walk's major focus right now is meeting with municipal leaders to provide them with guidance to increase their bicycle and pedestrian friendliness across multiple levels - right now we are working with 20 different Mayors in MS! And, on the national level, we are fighting too because we (as a state and as a nation) are facing some pretty serious cuts to funding for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure (the funds that build bike trails, paths and sidewalks) and Bike Walk Mississippi is working with our national partners at the League of American Bicyclists, Bikes Belong and the Alliance for Biking and Walking to continue to work with our members of Congress to help save the program that helps fund bike paths and trails across Mississippi and the U.S! Some of Bike Walk's other efforts include working with a homeless day shelter to partner on a bike share program, teaching training classes to state employees and working with a community in the Delta to increase ridership among older adults. We also lead a statewide educational effort to help pass Complete Streets policies in communities across the state. And, in 2015, because of these efforts, we saw Mississippi move up to #32 as a nationally ranked bicycle friendly state!
But, at the end of the day, we are still a nonprofit. And, we are only as strong as the sum of our parts. So, that's why I'm writing this letter.
I know that many of you may want to know what you can do as an individual to help make it safer for bicyclists in Mississippi. Some of you may be angry, some may want to ride more but want better roads, and some of you may want to help create more trails, lanes and paths. Whatever it is - we want to help you do it.
BUT, WE HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER.
I know for me, every time I hear about another injury or fatality, I find my eyes filling with tears for the lives of strangers who were simply riding their bicycle in the state that I love. And, I know that a lot of people in Mississippi feel the same way.....so, if you ever find yourself (or someone else) saying, "IS ANYONE DOING ANYTHING ABOUT THIS?" YES. YES, THERE IS. THERE IS A NONPROFIT IN MISSISSIPPI THAT NEEDS YOUR HELP. THERE IS A GROUP WORKING TO INCREASE ENFORCEMENT OF THE 3 FEET LAW, TEACHING BIKE SAFETY AND WORKING TO INCREASE MOTORIST EDUCATION. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER.
So, to anyone who feels that something must be done in your community - that action must be taken - I want to tell you that there IS a collection of advocates across the state that ARE taking action and YOU can join us! What if, instead of every bike club in the state creating it's own bicycle safety materials, each club pooled it's resources to create a statewide campaign! This campaign could mean videos, posters, radio ads, billboards and more! And, could be replicated in every community! If we can work together, we can increase our advocacy too! By supporting each other and developing one clear message, we can become ONE VOICE - a true Mississippi bicycling community. And, by doing so, WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!
Bike Clubs include groups of people who just want to ride their bikes - people who like to spend time together, who volunteer their time to create a community that celebrates the love of cycling and individuals who want to be safe as they participate in a sport that they love. So, I am asking you - if you are a member of a bicycle club in Mississippi or if you simply like to ride your bike or care about someone who does - I am asking you to consider joining our efforts to help make every community in Mississippi a safer place for bicycling. Let's do it together!
If you belong to a bike club or if you are a cyclist or bicycle advocate in Mississippi, I am asking you to:
PLEASE consider partnering with us to launch our TV Bicycle Safety PSA's around the state! Let's get them in your community!
PLEASE consider making a clubwide donation to the statewide bicycle safety campaign or consider as a club donating a portion of proceeds from a club ride every year specifically to the efforts of statewide bicycle advocacy efforts.
PLEASE consider offering a challenge to your members to purchase an "I Share the Road" license plate! - (which is THE ONLY sustainable funding for bicycle advocacy efforts in Mississippi.)
PLEASE consider a donation to our safety campaign, "Change Lanes to Pass", allowing us to distribute PSA's across Mississippi, to distribute safety information statewide and to create trainings for student drivers, law enforcement as well as motorists and cyclists across the state. Help us create billboards, video, radio and print ads for bicycle safety in MS! YOU HAVE THE POWER TO MAKE CHANGE!
Because of individual donations to the campaign earlier this year (THANK YOU TO ALL WHO GAVE!), we were able to complete Phase 1 of the campaign: We printed and distributed "I Share the Road" promotional materials statewide, we were able to launch a statewide day of bicycle safety awareness and had over 200 people wearing yellow on "Wear Yellow Day and we launched the "I Ride a Bike" campaign to put faces on cyclists and we were able to begin the creation of bike safety templates for local bike clubs and shops to distribute!
Phase 2 of the campaign allowed us us to increase bicycle safety by creating video PSA's!
Phase 3 will allow us to launch an online bike safety quiz as well as print ads in newspapers, magazines and printed resources across the state. The safety quiz can be taken online and includes a certification after completion. This quiz, if funded, would allow us to have a "one-stop shop" to train law enforcement officials, student drivers and anyone who needs a refresher course in bicycle safety! This quiz will be easily accessible to anyone and will be tailored specifically to Mississippi law! To accomplish this Phase of the campaign, we need to raise: $7,000.
We need $7,000 to accomplish the final phases of this campaign. Please consider making a donation. THIS is something you can do to help!
Thank you for supporting our efforts.