Friday, May 23, 2014

Pilot Safety Program on Natchez Trace

The Natchez Trace Parkway Association is working with Adventure Cycling Association and NPS to develop a pilot  cycling safety program for national parks (that will also have carryover benefits for urban areas).  One of the first two test sites will be between Leiper's Fork and Nashville.   The second will be in Tupelo.   ACA signed an agreement with NPS to become its cycling partner for national parks, and they selected the parkway for the first pilot program.  We are hopeful that this program will direct a lot of resources and attention to cycling on the parkway, in addition to developing programs to make cycling safer everywhere.   One idea is to develop a sharrows ("Bikes may use entire lanes")  to improve awareness and then to test the effectiveness.  Focus group sessions will be developed as part of this pilot program for cyclists and motorists to provide feedback and help find some solutions.     If successful, the work we put into this program here in Tennessee as well as Mississippi and Alabama will help save cyclists' lives across the country in both park and non-park settings.

The association has also developed the Gary Holdiness Cycling Fund  as a memorial to the Oxford physician struck and killed while cycling on the parkway two years ago.  It has raised about $20,000 so far  to be used for cycling safety programs.  The Little Mountain Ride in Kosciusko raised funds for it last year, and we created a Colbert 20 ride with the Shoals Cycling Club in Alabama to raise funds for it.   A high-vis green t-shirt was developed  for cyclists to wear in non-ride situations with a message to make motorists aware of cyclists - we give those in exchange for donations.   A more significant program is being considered to purchase LED cycle lights for park rangers to lend to  cyclists who do not have lights on their bikes on the parkway.  We know we won't get some of them back, but we anticipate that most cyclists will be supportive of the program.

The parkway presents some unique safety challenges for cyclists.  It was built to standards that were modern in the 1940's, but its lanes are narrower than modern lanes and the roadway does not have shoulders.  The  background of tree leaves often camouflages cyclists, especially those wearing dark clothing.  The curves and sunlight angles make it difficult for motorists to see cyclists.  Motorists are busy looking at the scenery and they are not alert.  If we can figure out how to make it safer for riders on the parkway, a lot of other areas will be less challenging.

We also hope that this program will bring new attention to the parkway as a resource for cycling and help provide other amenities to provide services to make it more convenient for cyclists on the parkway.   This program has NPS support, and that makes it a good time to get other things that are needed.  ACA will encourage its membership  nationwide to participate.

Our association was founded in 1934 to encourage the federal government to build the parkway, and now we are working to develop the park experience.  Having a national park in our back yard is a great asset, but only if we take advantage of it.

These are areas we are needing help with:

1.  We want to schedule a ride for Sept. 27 from  the  northern end as part of our annual meeting in Nashville.  It will be the 80th anniversary of our association.  We expect that the ride will coincide with an announcement about the pilot program and the need for motorists to be alert for cyclists.    An important part of the program will be public awareness, and a media event will be an important first step.

2.  We need participation in the focus group sessions.    This would be a chance for your members who have a strong interest in safety issues to have their voices heard and make cycling safer for everyone.

3.  We need help determining what additional resources we need to make cycling on the parkway a better experience.  We are likely to develop some interactive smart phone/mapping programs.

4.  We want to connect cycling groups along the parkway to encourage support for rides and to build a coalition to help our association improve the cycling experience on the parkway.

We have a conference call with NPS and ACA today, and I will know more after that call.    It is very early in the discussion stage with NPS and possible partners, but we may also develop a wellness/fitness program for the parkway.  Cycling will be part of that program.

If you or any of your members have an interest in any of these areas, please let me know.   Our organization is 100% volunteer.  I work in Franklin, and I would be happy meet with you or others to talk about this in more detail or feel free to give me a call.

Tony L. Turnbow,
Natchez Trace Parkway Assocation

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