A gubernatorial task force is recommending a $10 million annual statewide program to build and promote walkable main streets, community pathways and rural cycling routes and trails.
In a 95-page report released Tuesday, the 13-member Wyoming Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force says the Wyoming Legislature should update motor, cycle and pedestrian laws to improve safety, boost health and provide economic benefits. In a sweeping review, the panel proposes 146 actions for 12 entities ranging from government agencies to nonprofits.
The effort could overcome what 60 percent of Americans say are barriers to cycling and walking. Worries about safety are high among those impediments, the report says. While the report does not say specifically where the Legislature should get the proposed $10 million, it is replete with economic, health and safety benefits it says would accrue from such an investment.
An average of about five Wyoming pedestrians and one cyclist die a year in crashes with motor vehicles, according to state and task force accounting. Between 2010 and 2014, cars and trucks killed 24 pedestrians and six cyclists, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
The report recommends the transportation department create an office of bicycle and pedestrian transportation, that schools elevate the importance of their “safe routes to schools” program, and that police train in bicycle and walking enforcement. The Wyoming Business Council should enhance its Wyoming Main Street program, state parks should develop long-distance trails, and federal officials and agencies should step up their efforts, the report says.
It is the job of nonprofits to distribute the report and champion it, the task force said. Walking, cycling and “active transportation” should be studied by the Legislature as an official topic in the interim period between legislative sessions, the report says.
Is Weatherby’s move proof?
Promoting active transportation benefits residents’ health, makes communities attractive and stimulates economic activity, the report says. One task force member pointed to the recent announcement by Weatherby Inc. to move gun-making operations from California to Sheridan as a return on that city’s planning for paths and sidewalks.
Among Wyoming’s attractions that CEO Adam Weatherby cited last month in announcing the relocation was Sheridan’s “vibrant downtown.” That, plus “close-to-home” trail systems “enhance communities and create access to outdoor opportunities…a key to enticing new business to Wyoming,” said Tim Young, director of Wyoming Pathways.
Former Sheridan Mayor Dave Kinskey — now a legislator — improved sidewalks and crosswalks, Young said. Kinskey pushed for a 1 percent sales tax for community enhancements, and polls showed that a pathways component helped win voter approval, Young said.
All that helps create a more inviting downtown retail realm, boosting the state’s efforts to diversify the economy. “It’s these things that attract entrepreneurs, working men and women, and families to this wonderful place,” Gov. Matt Mead says in the report.
Pathways get used
Wyoming has 630 miles of paved pathways and they get used by thousands of persons, the report says. In Cheyenne, which has 41 miles of greenways, a counter tallied 30,000 users a year at Holliday Park and the Dry Creek Greenway. Bicycle and pedestrian use since 2011 increased citywide by 20 to 50 percent as residents took advantage of 18 miles of pathways, 44 miles of bike routes and 25 underpasses.
Casper has 18 miles of pathways, nine miles of bike lanes and the North Platte River Trails system that enjoys public support. A Jackson pathway along Flat Creek saw more than 172,000 users in a year — 33,258 in July 2017 alone.
The U.S. Census Bureau ranks Laramie 8th among small cities nationwide for its rate of persons who bicycle to work — 6.8 percent.
The report describes how different pedestrian and bicycle improvements allow more users to feel comfortable and safe. For example, a designated cycle lane may be sufficient to encourage an active commuter to use his or her bicycle regularly, but may not encourage family cycling. Adding a buffer between a path and motorized traffic may encourage families and children to use such a route, the report says.
Some Wyoming towns and cities face challenges because streets were designed in the horse-and buggy era. In other instances, roads are unnecessarily wide and driving lanes can be narrowed to provide room for walkers and cyclists, the report says.
Safety is among the areas for improvement
From 2010 to 2014 there were 408 crashes involving motor vehicles and cyclists, 430 involving pedestrians, the state transportation department reports. The agency does not catalog fatalities that do not involve motor vehicles, although some occur within state rights of way.
Among pedestrians, 52 percent of crashes involving vehicles were the result of “no improper action,” on the part of the walker. In the rest of the cases, pedestrians were in the roadway, crossing improperly, darting, or were practically invisible.
Among cyclists, 37 percent of crashes with motor vehicles involved “no improper action” by the cyclist. “Improper crossing” was the leading infraction by cyclists that led to crashes.
The task force report says 2016 mirrored that 5-year trend with another five pedestrian and one bicycle death. Native Americans, who make up only 2 percent of the population, accounted for 16 percent of all pedestrian deaths between 2005 and 2014, the report says.
Despite the grim statistics, Wyoming had the eighth fewest bicycle and pedestrian fatalities per 10,000 active transportation commuters in the country. It is the seventh safest state for walking according to a 2016 study, but the accident rate still exceeds state safety goals.
Tourism, funding and health
Among all states, Wyoming ranks seventh in per capita spending on active transportation projects. But Wyoming spends only 1 percent of federal transportation dollars on walking and bicycling while it boasts a 4.7 percent share of workers who walk or bike to their jobs. Nationwide between 2012 and 2014, the average state percentage was double that, the report says.
Of the $10 million in annual funding proposed, $2.4 million should go to Wyoming Main Street programs, $5 million to community pathways, $1 million each to rural bicycle routes and natural-surface trails, and the rest toward safety education and health promotion.
Pathways are important to Wyoming where 28 percent of residents are obese and 64 percent overweight, the report says. It quotes a Utah study that found $2,500 in annual healthcare savings per person among those who spent 40 to 60 minutes a day exercising.
The report touts the revenue from tourism, including that associated with long-range rural bicycle excursions. It notes the emerging popularity of gravel bikes, used on unpaved roads, as a growing recreation draw.
Federal, state and local authorities identified 10,472 miles of trails in Wyoming, according to the report. The U.S. Forest Service administers 73 percent of those trail miles, followed by the National Park Service.
Since 2005 Wyoming has invested more than $31 million in federal transportation funds in walking and cycling projects. Since 2010, projects have been constructed in more than 50 communities and almost every county.
Could panel become permanent?
The Wyoming Legislature told the governor to appoint the task force in 2016, required the report and said the panel should function until this summer. But the state should consider establishing an ongoing bicycle and pedestrian board, perhaps by making the task force permanent, the report says.
Meanwhile, legislators should take a year to study transportation laws with an eye toward changing several of them. The report asks whether drivers should be required to stop, not just yield, at crosswalks. Motorists should be allowed to cross a double yellow line, if it is safe to do so, when passing cyclists in an effort to give them room. Wyoming could be the third state in the Union to adopt a “bicycle yield law” if it allows cyclists to, when safe, roll through stop signs.
The report also suggests that the Legislature address the emergence of so-called e-bikes — electric low-powered motorcycles — that are increasingly employed on pathways.
To complete the report, the group raised $50,000 private and public funding to create what the group said was the first state-level effort of its kind. Alta Planning + Design, a 200-employee nationwide firm that specializes in active transportation, consulted.