Locally and statewide, adapting to bicycles makes lots of sense

A June, 9, 2016 photo from the Associated Press is heartbreaking: mangled bicycles tagged as evidence at the Michigan State Police crime lab in downstate Kalamazoo after a pickup truck driver, allegedly under the influence of drugs, hit a group of cyclists that month. Five people were killed and others injured.

As more people take to the road on their bicycles instead of their vehicles, scenes like this might become more common. However, bills introduced in the Michigan Legislature would require motorists to wait for 5 feet of clearance before passing a bicycle.

The bills, which are waiting further study in the Michigan House of Representatives and have a lot of support in the Senate, also have the backing of the League of Michigan Bicyclists.

This is a safety issue, of course, but it comes into play as society changes in Michigan and elsewhere.

Bicycling is increasingly at the forefront in local communities. In fact, the League of American Bicyclists has named the city of Marquette a “Bicycle Friendly Community.”

Having a “bikeable” community, however, means more than laws designed to protect cyclists. It means understanding what bicyclists want and need to make their pastime more enjoyable.

People ride bikes for many reasons. Some, of course, love the feeling of being active in the outdoors, viewing gorgeous scenery at a pace that allows them to enjoy that scenery better than they would in a speeding car. Cycling also is good cardiovascular exercise that burns calories and builds muscle tone, and is a low-impact activity that doesn’t put a lot of weight on joints.

Since it requires no fossil fuels, cycling can be better for the environment as well and, depending upon an individual’s commute distance, less expensive than driving a car to work or another destination when feasible.

Some communities realize this.

The city of Marquette, for example, has created a bicycle lane on Third Street to make it easier for the cyclists to travel on that business-heavy corridor with motorists. It might have taken some effort for people to get used to that lane, but slowing down to accommodate cyclists is a relatively easy way to share Third Street.

The city also has many miles of multi-use paths that are used by cyclists, walkers, runners, roller bladers and skateboarders. Generally, these users share the paths well with little conflict.

A 2014 Michigan Department of Transportation study determined that the total benefits calculated for the state of Michigan because of cycling was about $668 million and involved the areas of household retail spending on cycling, manufacturing, reduced health care costs, lower absenteeism, and event and tourism spending.

We suspect the benefits have increased since that study.

Riding bicycles is not a fad. The League of American Bicyclists reported that from 2005-13, an increase of 40-69 percent in the number of people commuting by bike was shown for the state of Michigan.

Since more people are hopping on their bicycles — and not just to get to work — it stands to reason that society has to adapt to that growing number.

Michigan can help lead the way.