A decade ago, Grand Rapids had the second most dangerous roadways in Michigan for bicyclists. Today, says Suzanne Schulz, city planning director of Grand Rapids, "Our safety numbers show a major change in behavior."
In a matter of just one year, from 2015 to 2016, the number of serious car-vs.-bicycle crashes in Grand Rapids fell 81 percent. Total crashes fell 40 percent. Meanwhile, 92 percent of residents said they were at least somewhat familiar with the rules of the road for bicyclists.
Driving such numbers is a community education program, Driving Change, that is fueled by a $632,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation and steered by an advisory committee of more than 60 stakeholders, including schools and neighborhood associations.
Ensuring that everyone who's on the road is on the same page is a good practice in general, and specifically because Grand Rapids has added 80 miles of bike lanes since 2010 (when it had none). To keep the information memorable, Driving Change focuses on just four rules (see the image, below), which safety advocates selected after combing through crash reports.
"We knew most crashes occurred when motorists were turning right and not looking for bicyclists," Schulz says. The city also knew the most dangerous sites, so it targeted those roads with billboards.
To help spread the message, Driving Change produced two humorous 30-second videos and aired them on broadcast outlets, ranging from Hulu to gas-station monitors. Each video mimics a group therapy session with the bicyclist complaining "You don’t see me!" and the driver protesting "You don’t stop!" Every Grand Rapids resident has likely encountered the Driving Change message at least nine times.
"It wasn't a super-complicated message," says Schulz, but it has proven to be far more effective than what bicyclists and motorists are typically told, which is to share the road.
This article is an excerpt from the "Transit, Streets and Sidewalks" chapter of the AARP book Where We Live: Communities for All Ages — 100+ Inspiring Ideas From America’s Community Leaders. Download or order your free copy.
Reporting by Mary Ellen Flannery | Article published September 2017