OPINION — Since I was a young boy growing up in Illinois, my bicycle has taken me places … fabulous, interesting, exciting places. It was often practical destinations like to school or just exploring the neighborhood and back roads.
As I grew into an adult, my bike continued to be my vehicle for transportation and discovery and has taken me to utilitarian destinations like work, shopping and errands. It also has taken me around the world on cycling vacations and bigger adventures like mountain biking the 2,500-mile Great Divide trail from Mexico to Canada.
See the series: St. George Shanklins ride the Great Divide
My love for the bike led me to one of my first jobs as a young boy, working in a Schwinn bike shop. I later got to know my future wife when we first rode a long distance charity bike ride together nearly 30 years ago. My bike has always taken me places … most expected … some unexpected.
While most destinations are planned in advance, and you usually have a clear idea where you’re headed, one event in 2012 took me by surprise but has led me to a rewarding, unexpected destination: bicycle advocacy.
Rumble strips lead to cooperative efforts
In Spring 2012, Utah Department of Transportation was doing routine resurfacing maintenance on state Route 18. During this particular project, UDOT was also adding rumble strips, the bumps along the roadway edge as a part of its Zero Fatalities initiative. From statistics, UDOT knows the majority of highway deaths in Utah are caused by single vehicles leaving the roadway, whether by drivers falling asleep or losing concentration. Rumble strips can be an effective tool in making our highways safer.
However, in this particular project, something went wrong. Normally, rumble strips are only added to roads that have a very wide shoulder; in this case, SR-18 had a very narrow shoulder, less than 18 inches, and this new rumble strip was placed in the center of that small space. This left no place for a bicycle to ride other than the active travel lane of the busy highway. More significantly, this wasn’t just any section of highway, but one of the most heavily traveled roads by cyclists; it is a key part of the iconic 40-mile Gunlock-Veyo Loop and used by events such as Ironman, Huntsman World Senior Games and the Tour of St. George.
The route was ruined by this well-intentioned but poorly planned maintenance project. Local cyclists and event organizers were panicked.
What should be done? Write letters to the editor? Send email and phone messages in the hundreds to UDOT and elected officials? Entice the local news media to write an expose on the failing of UDOT?
No, what a small group of clear-thinking, friendly, polite cyclists did was ask the local senior UDOT manager if he would be willing to meet to discuss a serious safety issue. To our surprise, he agreed, and about a dozen of us met one afternoon at a local coffee shop.
I was a part of this initial meeting but was certainly not the leader or the organizer. I had no experience in advocacy or public policy; I just liked to ride my bike. However, something happened at this meeting that my bike had led me to; I saw the incredible power of personal communication and levelheaded discussion.
It was possible for ordinary people to have a significant impact on local problems. At this meeting, UDOT officials clearly understood the problem, agreed it needed a solution.
Over the next few weeks, $1.6 million was raised and within a few months, nearly 5 miles of new, wider shoulders were added to the highway.
Southern Utah Bicycle Alliance is born
After this success story, this core group of cyclists decided to create a permanent nonprofit organization dedicated to cycling advocacy in Washington County. The Southern Utah Bicycle Alliance was born.
Since that early beginning, SUBA has developed into a respected, all volunteer, nonprofit organization devoted to improving cycling in Southern Utah. Guided by a 13-member board of directors, there have been hundreds of SUBA projects and successes in the last four years. Projects have included installing curb-cuts where none existed, issuing free helmets to kids, promoting “Road Respect” between motorists and cyclists, improving local road surfaces, adding trails and bike lanes, providing input on all local road projects and hosting the “Annual Bike Summit” for cyclists, civic leaders and planners.
SUBA is funded through financial donations by individuals, corporate gifts and grants from organizations such at the Utah Department of Health and the Ironman Foundation. Anyone can learn more about SUBA by visiting it’s website.
My bike will continue to lead me to new places and destinations, but perhaps the most satisfying has been to the understanding that we can all make a difference in our local communities just by getting involved and having a friendly, positive attitude.
Written by Craig Shanklin.
Craig Shanklin, a resident of Ivins, is retired from the health care industry. He holds several degrees including a Master in Business Administration. He is currently the president of Southern Utah Bicycle Alliance, a member of the Snow Canyon Citizens Advisory Team, an appointed member of the St. George City Active Transportation Committee and a member of the Healthy Dixie Council.
St. George News Road Respect column is developed with the Southern Utah Bicycle Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy organization devoted to making cycling safe and convenient for everyone who rides a bike. Opinions stated are those of the columnist and may not be representative of St. George News.
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