Some will read this as I watch Stage 2 of the 2018 Tour de France. Sadly, Anthony “Buddy” Amoroso IV will do neither.
A Metro Council member in Baton Rouge since 2013, Amoroso was killed at the end of last month in rural West Feliciana Parish while cycling with a friend, who remains hospitalized. The driver of the vehicle that allegedly struck them faces charges of negligent homicide, negligent injury, and infringing on the rules for passing bicycles.
According to national statistics, this happens all too often in Louisiana. Among the states, using data from 2011-15, Louisiana had the second-worst bicycle fatality rate per capita; despite that, the advocacy group The League of American Bicyclists rates the state around the middle of the pack for a bicycle-friendly environment.
In fact, the League gives Louisiana good marks when it comes to laws and policies that support bicycling safety. The Pelican State scored perfectly in the category of laws creating protection for those who bike or walk and well in several other categories.
But while the legal environment promotes safe biking, the state fails to follow through in other ways. Louisiana ranks below average on evaluation and planning and on education and encouragement, and its infrastructure and funding efforts don’t impress the League. Some of the lowest scoring comes in spending, both in use of federal transportation money to create safer biking and willingness to integrate cycling into designing and building.
Encouragingly, some Louisiana cities on their own recently have placed greater emphasis on facilitating cycling as a means of transport. The League calls New Orleans and Baton Rouge friendly communities for cyclists, and recent improvements have occurred in Lafayette and Shreveport.
If nothing else, allocating more money to cycling in the greater Baton Rouge area may get more people traveling by bike, which aids the region in maintaining air quality. Shedding a few pounds this way also can’t hurt in a state with over a third of the population obese, the fifth-highest rate of obesity among the states.
As Amoroso’s tragic end highlights, Louisiana must join cities in translating good laws and policies into safety. The League suggests more federal spending on cyclist and pedestrian safety — a sore spot in a state with highway demands in the tens of billions of dollars. A dedicated source, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Fund from specialty “Share the Road” license plates, provides just a few thousand dollars annually toward these efforts.
The League also advises revising Louisiana’s aging Strategic Highway Safety Plan to stress safety issues. That may have the best payoff, as too many impatient drivers treat cyclists as impediments to their journey. How many realize state law, for example, dictates that a motorist must leave at least three feet between vehicle and bicycle in the same lane during the entire passing process? Driver education coursework must ensure adequate delivery of this kind of information.
And cyclists have their part to play as well. Failure to adhere to other state laws, such as having inadequate illumination during periods of low visibility or at night, or not giving hand signals when in control of the bike, not only invites serious injury but also raises drivers’ ire that inflames a culture of disrespect to cyclists.
The community also may help. Several state and local groups exist that, among other things, promote bicycle safety. Through these groups or by public commentary to governing agencies and in contacting policymakers, individuals can make a difference.
Money matters, but altering attitudes best addresses this problem. Simple, inexpensive behavioral change can prevent senseless, needless tragedies like that which befell Amoroso.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics at www.between-lines.com. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email firstname.lastname@example.org. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.