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Turning Louisville's Bicycle Tragedy Into Action
An Open Letter from Ed Tonini
I want to thank all of the KyCycList posters who have expressed their support, sympathy, and, indeed, outrage for the tragic accident that took the life of my brother-in-law, Chips Cronen, on Tuesday, July 3rd while riding across the Clark Memorial Bridge. It was indeed a shock to all of the Cronen family, as well as the Louisville cycling community.
As many of you know, I also serve as the Vice President of Advocacy for the Louisville Bicycle Club. Many of the posters to this website this past week have offered a wide array of advocacy-like suggestions, as to what needs to be done, about the accident and its aftermath. I can tell you that a significant effort to improve bicycling safety issues on the Second Street (Clark) Bridge were already in the works at the time of the accident.
Officials in Metro Louisville government have worked closely with me over the past three months to prioritize the city’s advocacy issues and bring them into sync with the Louisville Bicycle Club’s advocacy priorities. I can tell you that issue #1 was bicycle safety. We identified a lengthy list of engineering, education and enforcement issues that directly related to cycling safety.
If you read the Building Bicycle Consensus article in the July/August, Louisville Bicycle Club newsletter you will see what was said about “Sharrows” in Denver, Colo. Louisville Metro Planning and Design Services submitted a lengthy request with the Federal Highway Administration to serve as a “test bed” for the use of Sharrows (Shared Lane Markings) back in April. In subsequent meetings we had identified two roadways to recommend as the most urgent and needy roads to use this “experimental” authority.
A meeting was scheduled for Friday, July 6 to present a list of recommendations to Mayor Abramson. The meeting had three major agenda items and related recommendations. One of those items was to make the right hand lanes, both north and south-bound sides, of the Clark Bridge sharrow-designated roads.
The principle behind sharrows is simple: They reinforce existing rules of the road. In most states, cyclists are required to stay as far to the right as possible, except under unsafe conditions. One of these conditions is when the travel lane is too narrow for side-by-side passage of an automobile and a bicycle.
We feel that the Clark Memorial Bridge is perhaps the most dangerous example of this narrow-roadway phenomenon. In addition, there is literally no alternative for cyclists needing to cross the Ohio River. The closest bridge alternatives are Madison, Indiana and Owensboro, Kentucky.
The horrible accident took place before the scheduled meeting. The meeting had to be cancelled so that I could attend funeral-related activities with my family. Our Mayor agreed to reschedule the meeting on Tuesday, July 10th.
Amazingly enough, on Monday, July 9th, two days after we buried Chips Cronen and a day before the rescheduled meeting, the document approving Metro Louisville’s test use of sharrows was received from the Federal Highway Administration.
The Tuesday meeting was very successful. Mayor Abramson agreed to endorse sharrows on the Clark Bridge and to make an every effort to make it happen rapidly. Motorists and cyclist alike will see on-road markings which look like chevrons below a symbol of a cyclist. In addition road side signage would read “Shared Lane - Yield to Bikes” “Change Lanes to Pass”.
There is a catch to this plan. The Clark Bridge is controlled by the Kentucky State Highway Department. The approaches from the Indiana side are controlled by the Indiana Highway Department. Although we have a commitment of our Mayor to do everything under his control, we will need the agreement of both state highway departments to make this happen.
There is a meeting scheduled for the week of July 16th that will include all of the necessary parties to make this happen. Mayor Abramson will have the proposal presented with “the greatest sense of urgency”. If we can secure agreement from the two state agencies, Metro Louisville will attempt to launch the effort in time for a Memorial ride which is tentatively planned for Sunday, August 12th.
A major media campaign on radio, television and in newspapers that explains to the public what sharrows are and how they are to be used will be launched in conjunction with the physical markings. We will make every attempt to leverage Chips’ tragic death in a very positive attempt to make biking safer permanently in our community. As additional roads are marked as sharrows in the coming months, the community awareness made possible by Chips’ death, the memorial ride and the launch of Clark Bridge sharrows will serve as a constant reinforcement to motorist that cyclists belong on these difficult streets.
An excellent article in the Christian Science Monitor which explains “Sharrows” is here.
We are extremely fortunate to have such a responsive, committed Mayor and city administration. While none of these plans are “etched in stone” as yet, I believe that we are on a positive path to make it happen quickly. The Cronen Family asks for all members of the cycling community to get behind this effort as an instrument of positive, constructive change. It is certain to make our community more “bicycle friendly.”