Dear Senator Brasch,
I’m a bit late in commenting, as I was out of state when the news came out, but I wanted to take the time to express my concern with what I perceived to be an anti-bicycle tone in your comments during debate on LB 641, which addressed crosswalk protections in the state of Nebraska.
Here is the statement to which I refer, written by Joe Duggan of the World-Herald News Service, as published in the Star-Herald on March 25 (emphasis mine):
Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft, also on the [Transportation and Telecommunications] committee, said she supports changing the law for wheelchairs because people with disabilities rely upon them for mobility. But many bicyclists ride for recreation or as an alternative form of transportation.
A couple of implicit assumptions in this statement upset me:
1. The idea that bicycles are not an important means of transportation, that bicycles are “just” for recreation or are “merely” an alternative form of transportation.
Speaking as someone who spent her first couple of years out of college carless due to a lack of funds, I can vouch for the fact that a bicycle may very well serve as a person’s primary means of transportation. Aside from financial restrictions, various medical and legal barriers may prevent a person from driving a vehicle and render bicycle transportation hugely important, particularly in areas where public transportation is lacking.
2. The idea that wheelchair users should be protected because they have no other choice in locomotion, but recreational riders don’t deserve the same consideration.
Why should the reason I’m riding a bicycle make any difference in the way traffic laws are applied to me? Should we similarly divide out crosswalk protections for people on foot? A power-walker in a business suit headed to a work meeting should get protection, but a perambulator out to enjoy some fresh air should not?
Now, it’s very possible that I misunderstood your meaning. Perhaps your words were distorted in the telephone game that is the news media. I hope that is the case.
If not, I would urge you to reexamine your beliefs about the importance of bicycles as a means of transportation. The bicycle is not appropriate for every person, but for some, it is an incredibly important way to get around.
Also, according to public health research, how friendly Nebraska transportation policies are for bicyclists may affect the health of its people.
I would also urge you in your role as a member of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee to become familiar with studies on the link between “active” means of transportation and public health, such as a recent article in the American Journal of Public Health (2010 October; 100(10): 1986–1992), “Walking and Cycling to Health: A Comparative Analysis of City, State, and International Data” by John Pucher, PhD, Ralph Buehler, PhD, David R. Bassett, PhD, and Andrew L. Dannenberg, MD, MPH. To quote from the article’s conclusion:
Our results suggest a significant relationship between walking, cycling, and health, but the results are not sufficient to prove that such a relationship exists or that active transport causes improved health. However, our results should be viewed not in isolation but as part of a mounting body of evidence on the health benefits of active travel. . . . These findings reinforce the need for US cities to encourage more walking and cycling for daily travel. This encouragement requires the provision of safe, convenient, and attractive infrastructure, such as sidewalks, crosswalks, bike paths and lanes, and intersection modifications that protect pedestrians and cyclists. . . . Government transport and land-use policies explain much of the large gap in active transport rates between Europe and North America. Improving those policies will be essential to increasing walking and cycling levels in the United States.
Thank you for your service to your community and our state, and for your consideration of my concerns.
Katie Bradshaw, of Scottsbluff
CC: LB 641 co-sponsors – Sen. John Stinner, District 48; Sen. Tommy Garrett, District 3
UPDATE – I received an excellent reply from Sen. Brasch. I’ve pasted it into the comments below.