Back in December, I wrote a piece called We’re All Amish When it Comes to Sharing the Roads.
My contention in that blog was that cyclists everywhere share the same challenges as the Amish who drive buggies when it comes to getting respect (or not) on the roads.
Every year a few Amish buggies get smashed by speeding motorists. Every year a few thousand cyclists are involved in collisions with motorists. There have been fatalities in both situations.
So it greatly interested me to encounter a set of signs along Highway 52, a major thoroughfare in rural areas of southeastern Minnesota. The green information signs literally read “Amish Byway” and there are also yellow diamond-shaped traffic signs with Amish buggy images on them.
The road shoulders are as wide and well-paved as the main road. That is where the Amish buggies drive. No cars are allowed to drive there. The byways are specifically designed to prevent accidents between Amish buggies and motorized vehicles.
It makes sense if you think about it. Why not protect the Amish way of life in that part of the country and other areas where the Amish live? There are Amish colonies in Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania, to name a few. But not all those states have roads constructed to protect the Amish from speeding traffic.
The byways are the first genuinely sensible idea to protect Amish drivers. The carriages or buggies fit neatly on the side of the road. Even big trucks can get past them without coming within feet of the wheels of the buggies.
One could ask why the Amish should deserve any sort of special treatment? Are Amish colonies that good for the local economy that they deserve special roads just to travel around? If we make an exception for the Amish, what’s next? Perhaps we should have a specially marked lane just for Jehovah’s Witnesses as well? Or Scientologists? Where do we draw the line in making accommodations of religion and lifestyle?
Or perhaps we never (or seldom) go far enough in protecting anyone. Would it not be better to build all our roads with a substantial enough shoulder that they could protect even someone riding a bike from one place to another?
What a concept, huh? The truth is, there should be bicycle byways on every road in America.
In our county there are several popular roads for cycling that have no road shoulder at all. You go over the white line, you wind up in a ditch. Or dead.
There’s room on those roads to build a shoulder safe enough for bikes. And the truth of the matter is, there could be enormous economic benefit to our region if the county were to get serious about making country roads even more attractive to cyclists.
I wrote a proposal to the county a few years back outlining the potential economic benefits of cycling. But I’ll some simple math to explain how it works.
If just 20,000 more people came to our county and spent an average of $20.00 on breakfast and lunch in the region, that would bring $400,000 new dollars to the area.
Go to 40,000 cyclists per year (that’s only 444 cyclists per day for 90 days, a very modest figure) and your benefits get closer to $1M.
Frankly, cyclists spend a lot more money than that. On an average day they might spend that much just on drinks and fuel bars. Then comes lunch or dinner, and any shopping adds up quickly. 100,000 cyclists spending $50 per day is $5,000,000.
You don’t have to be Amish to matter to the economy, you see. Perhaps cycling should be given the same status as the Amish anachronisms who prefer horse-drawn locomotion to driving a car.
Cycling contributes very little to global warming and does not wear down the roads like Amish buggies or 20-ton trucks.
Those Share the Road signs are nice. They remind people to look out for cyclists. But a Cyclist Byway sign would be even better. And you would not have to clean up the road apples behind the cyclists. Not very often anyway.