By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
David Thomas is a serious roadie, pedaling 100 to 120 miles a week.
His bike ride radius from Gilbert takes him to places like South Mountain in Phoenix, Mummy Mountain in Paradise Valley and Brenner Pass in Queen Creek. For the most part, the 41-year-old Gilbert resident rides in a group, and if he bikes alone, he sticks to the canals and neighborhood roads.
“The primary reason is there are a lot of distracted drivers out there,” Thomas said. “The hands-free law here leaves a lot to be desired. You can have someone on the road having a conference call. It’s pretty chaotic out there for sure. I like to ride in a group, you get a wider berth from cars. There’s safety in numbers.”
Safety is paramount in the minds of Gilbert officials as they work on a plan for a more bike-friendly town. Council is expected to discuss the 2019 Bike Gilbert Plan at its meeting Thursday.
The plan comes at a time when Gilbert still has the opportunity to incorporate new and innovative bike safety standards and roadway design elements as it reaches expected build-out in 2030.
The bicycle-planning process kicked off in December 2017 with the goal of drafting a more modern and relevant document to replace Gilbert’s existing 13-year-old bike plan.
Between 2016 and 2018, Gilbert saw a total of 243 bicyclist-involved crashes – an average of 81 crashes a year or seven a month, according to the report. Five of those crashes resulted in a bicyclist’s death.
The majority of crashes in town occurred within an intersection with a crosswalk, with the next highest percentage of crashes occurring in a dedicated bike lane, the report said. Top crash sites included Higley Road with 29 reported crashes and Gilbert Road with 20.
Gilbert staff reached out to the public and stakeholders via avenues that included an on-line survey and a workshop last year and used their input to draft the plan’s goals and priority action items.
According to the survey, 61 percent of 747 respondents said bad driver behavior was a factor in how often they biked in Gilbert, while 49 percent cited unsafe intersections and 42 percent cited not enough bike lanes.
Overall, all but six of the 747 residents who answered the question relating to their perception of bike safety – and only 56 percent felt safe riding a bicycle in Gilbert.
In ranking improvements that would encourage more bike riding, 80 percent of the respondents favored more separation from vehicle traffic, followed by 71 percent who would like to see more bike lanes and 54 percent who gave thumbs up for better intersections, according to the survey.
Staff assembled a so-called tool-box to help guide the town’s decision-making as it moves forward with bike-safety improvements.
For instance, putting buffered bike lanes, which are wider than conventional bike lanes, on streets with high-travel speeds and high-traffic volumes, and putting shared-use paths, an off-street, two-way path separated from vehicle traffic for bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users and others to share.
They would be placed in areas with heavy volume of pedestrians and bicyclists such as near designations and recreational areas like Gilbert Regional Park, according to the report.
Other safety measures include the use of rectangular rapid-flash beacons to alert motorists to yield to bicycles entering a roadway and bike boxes, which is a dedicated space between the back of a crosswalk and a vehicle stop bar at an intersection with a traffic light.
This would help prevent “right-hook” conflicts with turning vehicles at the start of a green-light transition and gives bicyclists more visibility.
Some of the priority safety-action items staff listed as urgent and should begin immediately included: a bike-safety education campaign to reach all Gilbert road users; a study of all canal crossings to identify infrastructure deficiencies and rank necessary life-safety improvements; and small enhancements to the existing road network to improve cycling and driving behavior.
High-priority items include implementing new strategies for police in the field to help educate drivers and bicyclists and identify and prioritize completion of bike-network gaps, including the implementation of bike-safety corridors.
Thomas said he liked the idea of separating bike lanes from vehicle traffic and educating the public on bike safety.
But the biggest help for bicyclists, he said, would be to pass a hands-free law like they have in California, where he is from.
Although a few Valley communities have recently passed bans against hand-held devices while driving, Gilbert has no plans to follow suit.
If you go:
What: Gilbert Town Council meeting
When: 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 7
Where: 50 E. Civic Center Drive, Gilbert