Cyclists and city officials agree that Casper has a long way to go to shed its reputation for being unfriendly to pedestrians and bicyclists.
But in the wake of a downtown crash that left one cyclist severely injured, they said more public education and awareness could help. However, officials stopped short of committing to any structural changes to how cyclists and drivers share the road.
“We have a pedestrian-unfriendly town. Most people know that. It’s not just cyclists, but pedestrians in general,” Vice Mayor Charlie Powell said Friday. “It’s tragic that these accidents have happened, but we’ve had a bunch of them, and we need to do something.”
Powell suggested a public education campaign, with billboards and commercial spots encouraging motorists to share the road and pushing cyclists to follow the rules.
City and business leaders have been promoting downtown as a walkable, bike-friendly area of Casper, but not everybody is convinced.
“It’s (about) getting people more comfortable with (cycling),” said Stefanie Strang, manager of Mountain Sports downtown. “I get scared to ride on the road sometimes.”
Strang said she feels safer mountain biking or riding in Denver than in Casper.
“If people can ride bikes in a place that has 3 million people in a metro area and be confident, we should be able to ride here,” said Strang, a lifelong Casperite.
A trails, path and bikeway plan approved by the Casper Metropolitan Planning Organization in November includes more involved strategies for improving cyclist safety, including a reduction of speed limits or the removal of parking or driving lanes in favor of a bike lane or path.
Council members worry that the expense and disruption to traffic may outweigh the benefits.
“The pedestrian plan is very ambitious,” Powell said. “Those are controversial (decisions). … That’s part of the political process to see what people want us to do.”
Two rides to promote safety have happened in the past two weeks. One, the Ride of Silence, was to honor people injured or killed while riding on public roadways. The other, the 24-hour Bike Safe Casper ride, was organized by local musician and cyclist John Kirlin.
Kirlin approached the City Council earlier this month to complain about an accident he says was caused by a driver cutting in front of him. He said the responding officer did not cite the driver and seemed unconcerned with Kirlin’s safety.
“They can’t just be cutting people off and running people over,” Kirlin said. “Luckily, I didn’t get too injured, but police didn’t cite the guy … so, my insurance company won’t cover any of my medical expenses or damage to my equipment.”
Kirlin said that Thursday’s fatal crash involving a bike and an SUV was the final straw. He is starting a nonprofit bicyclist advocacy group.
“It’s time for Wyoming to step up and show that, you know, we need to be safe,” Kirlin said.
Kirlin envisions bumper stickers, billboards, pamphlets, even race sponsorships to get the word out — to cyclists and motorists alike — about how to share the road.
He is also planning a statewide cycle tour, with live shows along the way.
His social-media call for support garnered more than 300 "likes" on Facebook in the first few hours of its inception, but Kirlin said he has no way to take donations yet. The 24-hour ride raised $750, he said.
No amount of bike lanes, signage, education or street markings could have prevented Thursday’s accident, said City Manager John Patterson, but awareness and education are a good start.
The City Council has no specific projects budgeted this year to make Casper more bike-friendly, but he hopes bike advocacy gains traction in the public, he added.
Patterson said he has been talking with cycling advocates and expects some among that group to organize mass rides in the coming weeks.
One event is called a “slow roll” and is essentially a ride through downtown with stops at various businesses for drinks, food or shopping. The other is a “critical mass” ride meant to run along city streets and get drivers’ attention.
Patterson said similar events in other cities have been known to become unruly, but he’s also participated in orderly rides of the same nature.
“I’d ride in it,” Patterson said.