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Shifting the narrative on bike safety

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Keely Brooks organized an enforcement ride with local law enforcement agencies on Oct. 13 to raise bike-safety awareness.

“According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, out of the 32 metropolitan areas that they compared, we were No. 3 — third-highest — in terms of bicyclist fatalities per capita,” says Keely Brooks, president of the Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition. “It’s very troubling. And it indicates that there are things we can do to reduce the fatalities.” Things such as toughening penalties for motorists who hit cyclists.

Another near the top of her list is getting the League of American Bicyclists Bicycle-Friendly Community designation — something that Las Vegas and Henderson have, but Clark County doesn’t.

At first glance, it doesn’t make much sense to seek bike-friendly status for a metro area that’s in the top three for killing cyclists. But Brooks explains that the application process serves as a roadmap for improving a city’s infrastructure, laws, educational programs, and so forth. So, it’s both aspirational and functional.

“People are starting to look at bicycle-friendliness when they consider where they want to move,” Brooks says. “A lot of reports demonstrate the economic benefit of having the designation.”

Dax Timbol, a founding member and ride leader for cycling club 702 Shifters, wholeheartedly agrees. He envisions a day when Las Vegas is known worldwide as a cycling destination.

“How Utah is known for its parks — they attract a lot of tourists and make a lot of money off it,” he says. “Vegas could be like that for bikes. We have nice routes here that people could never imagine we have.”

Since its founding four years ago, 702 Shifters has evolved to encompass not only all types of riders —  from families and beginners to weekend warriors and competitors — but also all types of rides. Some groups get up at 4 a.m. on weekdays to do pre-work centuries; other gather late on Sunday mornings for so-called “love rides,” where the group goes the speed of its slowest members. It also encompasses triathlon, duathlon, and other sports training.

Timbol is happy about the progress his and other bike clubs have made, but in the 12-15 hours he spends in the saddle each week, he still sees too much danger. He has lots of stories: once a driver pulled over to yell at him and a ride leader for riding two abreast, despite their being well within the bike lane and two of the three adjacent auto lanes being empty; once, near Bishop Gorman High School, a passerby shot a pellet gun in the direction of his riding group; elsewhere in Summerlin, someone threw a water bottle at them from a passing car.

“There was one incident with a Lifetime Ride where a motorist tried to push someone with his truck,” Timbol recalls. “He even stopped his truck and got out. They tried to stop him by taking him down and holding him, and a gun flew from his holster. They called the police, and (the motorist) had several guns, a knife, and a machete in his truck. The police took him in, because he had knocked some people down.”

It’s not surprising, then, that safety is the issue Timbol would most like to see addressed at the 2017 Bicycle and Pedestrian Summit, scheduled next Monday and Tuesday, November 13-14, at the Suncoast Hotel & Casino. It’s the Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition’s first year as the event’s organizer, and Brooks says she’s hoping for at least 200 attendees, including a higher percentage of cyclists from the community — of all kinds — than of the experts, community leaders, and government agents that have made up most of the audience at past summits.

Safety won’t be the only topic. Other sessions will cover marketing, tourism, advocacy, and infrastructure — for both cyclists and pedestrians.

“We’re really hoping to get a lot of public involvement,” Brooks says. “The more people we can get involved (in the coalition), the better we can spread the education that we do around the valley.”

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