By: Paul Schattenberg
COLLEGE STATION – Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service safety experts know college towns may have more bicycle and pedestrian traffic than normal, but their message of pedestrian and bicyclist safety is being taken on the road throughout the Brazos Valley.
“As staff driving to and from our campus offices, we witness the student bike and foot traffic daily,” said Mary Jo Prince, AgriLife Extension program coordinator for the Safety City Program, College Station. “We notice a lot of potential injuries as students move across campus wearing headsets or ear buds or walk while looking down at their phones or other hand-held devices, unaware of what’s in their path.”
She added that with all this pedestrian and bike traffic, “it’s equally important that those driving are aware and alert instead of distracted or impaired.”
Prince is one of the safety experts involved in the agency’s Bike and Pedestrian Safety Education and Outreach initiative, which is intended to increase pedestrian and bicycle awareness and help reduce accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists. She and other AgriLife Extension personnel have already distributed about 1,000 educational posters on bicycle and pedestrian safety in English and Spanish, along with other related safety education materials, throughout the Bryan-College Station area.
They will soon expand their efforts throughout the Brazos Valley.
“Pedestrian and bicycle safety will be an important aspect of the Brazos Valley Safety City effort, which is a collaboration of AgriLife Extension and the Texas Department of Transportation,” Prince said. “When completed, Safety City will feature a miniature town with streets, buildings, traffic signals and signs, crosswalks and bike lanes where young people can learn safety practices in a secure environment. But until then, we’re taking Safety City directly to our citizens with the mission of reducing risks, reducing injuries and saving lives.”
Another way AgriLife Extension is working to deliver its bike and pedestrian safety messages is through the Brazos Valley Injury Prevention Coalition, another collaboration with the Texas Department of Transportation.
“In fact, our impetus for starting this pedestrian and bike safety effort was that we were reviewing TxDOT crash statistics,” said Cindy Kovar, AgriLife Extension program coordinator for the coalition, College Station. “We noticed a significant increase in vehicle accidents involving pedestrians in Brazos County – up 48 percent from 2013 to 2014 — and vehicle accidents involving bicyclists – up 24 percent over the same time frame.”
She also noted that two Texas A&M students were killed in such accidents the past year, and there have been another four pedestrian deaths reported in Brazos and an adjacent county in recent months.
“Myself and other AgriLife Extension personnel provided copy, photos and graphics for the posters and TxDOT printed them,” Kovar said. “We also produced them in Spanish to serve the Hispanic population in the areas where we intended to distribute.”
Along with distributing materials in the Bryan-College Station area, in the near future AgriLife Extension personnel will expand their efforts throughout a 10-county area in what is known as the Bryan-TxDOT District. This region includes the counties of Brazos, Burleson, Freestone, Grimes, Leon, Madison, Milam, Robertson, Walker and Washington.
“We have already placed these posters on the Texas A&M and Blinn College campuses, as well as in area school districts and in businesses such as restaurants, to raise awareness among our college students due to the high prevalence of distracted bicyclers and pedestrians in these locations,” Prince said.
She said they will also be spreading their safety message to family medical practice and pediatrician offices in the 10-county district.
“Family physicians and pediatricians are among our advocates and we hope many would be willing to serve as ‘ambassadors’ in injury prevention,” she said. “We will be sharing the posters with them in the hopes they will display them in their waiting areas and examination rooms. These will serve as reminders to the kids and their parents that it’s important to wear helmets when riding bicycles, scooters and skateboards, and to use caution when walking to and from school, parks and in their neighborhoods.”
Kovar said additional safety messages she, Prince and others intend to deliver through their efforts include pedestrian and bicyclist responsibility along with driver responsibility.
“While drivers are behind the wheel of a potentially dangerous machine that can injure or kill, they need to be aware of their surroundings,” she said. “It’s also important those on foot or riding a bike are alert and not distracted.
“Our messaging will address the dangers of being impaired – as a driver, rider or pedestrian. We will emphasize the dangers of pedestrians or bicyclists being distracted by listening to music or of looking at a hand-held device while walking. We’ll also remind bicyclists to respect stop signs and traffic signals and use bike lanes and remind pedestrians they should walk in the opposite direction of traffic, while bicyclist should travel with traffic.”
True safety requires that all parties on the road remain alert to potential dangers and do what is socially responsible in order to help avoid a crash, Kovar said.
For more information on Brazos Valley Injury Prevention efforts, go to http://brazosvalleyinjuryprevention.tamu.edu/ .
For more information on Bravos Valley Safety City, go to https://www.facebook.com/Brazos-Valley-Safety-City-1495058230775836/.