The Kirksville Police Department recently launched a bicycle safety program. A lot of people have asked me, “Did you have anything to do with this?” Yes, I did!

Several months ago our City Manager asked Chief Hughes to do something about the bicyclists on the sidewalks on the square. Chief Hughes thought I might have some useful input. I’m all for encouraging bicyclists to use the street. Bicyclists use the sidewalk because they think it is safer from cars, but sidewalks put cyclists at a greater risk of a car-bike collision. That is because sidewalks cross driveways, parking lot entrances, alleys, and streets. Backing-out collisions are a common type of bike-car collision.

My main concern was that the proposed “No bikes” signs discourage bicycling. According to my bike advocacy network, neither positive nor negative approaches get bicyclists off the sidewalks. Promoting bicycling in appropriate places does get more people bicycling on the street, but the ones biking on the sidewalks don’t change. “No bikes” signs aren’t effective either.

But to give it a more positive spin, we changed the wording from “No bikes” to “Dismount”.

Sadly, the decision didn’t make it through all the levels of bureaucracy, and our downtown sidewalks are now stamped with “NO BIKES” and a crossed-out bicycle. “Seems like a pretty unfriendly move,” one person told me. “It makes it look like ‘No bikes downtown whatsoever.’”

While my input didn’t change the signs, what is more important is that we have expanded the scope of the effort from getting bicyclists off the sidewalks to encouraging safe bicycling. We want to promote lights at night and stopping at stop signs and lights for bicyclists. We want to promote safe passing distance for motorists and discourage motorist harassment of bicyclists. I’m working with Officer Nick Panos on a brochure and a grant.

With programs like this, campaigns from nonprofit health organizations to promote bicycling and walking, and improved infrastructure like bike lanes and FLATS, Kirksville could be Missouri’s sixth Bicycle Friendly Community. Columbia is Missouri’s only silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community, with Kansas City, Springfield, St. Louis, and Lee’s Summit at bronze-level.