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West Lafayette Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee

West Lafayette Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee

"Improving West Lafayette, Indiana for Bicyclists and Pedestrians"

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The Committee >  History

History of the West Lafayette Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee

The committee was formed early in 2003 by City Councilor Jan Mills in response to an objective within West Lafayette's 2003 Strategic Plan to set up such a body.

No enabling ordinance was passed by the council so the committee considers itself to be sponsored by the City and has no specific authority, no budget, no official charter or bylaws, and no official membership.

The strategic plan objective that led to the creation of the committee in 2003 partly stemmed from concern by many people over safety issues. These issues included unsafe practices by some bicyclists and pedestrians. During its first year, the committee was chaired by Councilor Mills and there was a large group participating in the committee, including representation by the WL and Purdue police departments. The committee put effort into each of the "three Es": Engineering, Education, and Enforcement, with the greatest effort made with education. Programs included awareness building events in the community (for motorists) and on the Purdue campus (for bicyclists) and also safety training for new students during fall orientation.

Starting in 2004 through the present, the committee has been chaired by Curt Ashendel. The participant makeup slowly changed. Also, over time, the emphasis on education and inclusion of enforcement were replaced by an emphasis on infrastructure, advocacy, public policy, community development, and health.

The shift in emphasis had two principal causes. First was the realization that education and enforcement (to reduce unsafe behavior) take considerable effort and resources away from our police departments and have a temporary impact on safety that is very modest at best. Enforcement, in particular, consumes the most resources and can produce negative responses, making it the least effective approach. Education efforts that involved radar-base speed indicator signs are effective, but only temporarily. Similar temporary results are obtained from awareness-building events on the Purdue Campus. In other words, attitudes about bicycling, crossing streets, and driving are strongly ingrained in people, whether Purdue Students or others in the community, and efforts towards education and enforcement on the scale that can be afforded by this community are not going to make a lasting improvement in those attitudes.

The second reason for the shift in emphasis resulted from the realization that there are two effective ways to improve the relationship between motor vehicle drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. The first is to have more bicylists and pedestrians use the transportation infrastructure. The greater their presence, the more they are accepted and accommodated by motor vehicle drivers and by the transportation planners. The result is an infrastructure that better accommodates ALL modes of transportation simultaneously, and a general improvement in attitudes and behavior by all. The other effective way to reach the goal is to encourage bicycle and pedestrian accommodations in public works projects as well as private development. This has the dual effects of reducing conflicts between modes in the transportation system and enhancing the perception of safety, thereby encouraging more people to use non-motorized modes of transportation. Thus, these two effective approaches reinforce each other.

But there is a role for education in the work of the Committee. It continues in the efforts to build an informative web site; to encourage bicycling and walking to school (Bike and Walk to School Day Event and Safe Routes To School projects); and in the encouragement of bicycling by commuters and children (LAB Safe Bicycling courses).

The emphasis on health benefits has several merits. Primarily, it allows outreach via numerous individuals, organizations, and business units whose mission or passion is a focus on health, producing effective partnerships that provide additional support for the mission of the committee. Secondly, it provides an avenue for advocacy to individuals; an avenue that resonates with the relatively recent and belated realization that people must increase the activity level of their lifestyles.

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