Letter to the editor: Coralville has work to do to keep cyclists safe on 1st Avenue

The intersection between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue in Coralville. Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

By Jacob Simmering, Coralville

On Thursday, Oct. 17, I was nearly killed while cycling to work.

I was on 1st Avenue in Coralville, unavoidable for many routes through Coralville, when a minivan came within a foot of hitting and likely killing me.

This is not a hypothetical concern: hours later, the life of Joe Mann was ended outside of Muscatine when a motorist struck him from behind.

In October 2017, Coralville allowed the popular trail connecting IRL [the Iowa River Landing] to Iowa River Power to be torn up for the ease of the developer of the Latitude housing project. Despite that project finishing in late summer, no reconstruction has been started.

This gap forces bicycle riders onto 1st Avenue and the adjoining overwide sidewalks. However, these sidewalks are not safe due to the frequency of commercial driveways and use is discouraged by the City’s draft bike master plan. Sidewalks like these are actually the most dangerous places to ride.

This leaves us with the road. Despite going nearly 20 mph in a 25 mph zone, having a taillight visible from close to a mile away, riding in the right lane and in the right position, a motorist nearly killed me. There is nothing more I can do to increase my safety. My future safety is in the hands of my local government. Despite Coralville having an explicit Complete Streets requirement, at present no safe bicycle infrastructure exists on 1st Avenue.

I wrote my city council with three specific questions:

  1. When is the IRL/IRP connection going to reopen, avoiding the need to use 1st Ave?
  2. What is the plan for mitigating the design defects that make 1st Ave less safe for cyclists and pedestrians?
  3. Until the design can be fixed, what is the plan for enforcement to address issues with aggressive, unsafe driving and speeding?

The only reply I got was from Councilmember Laurie Goodrich, who did not address any of the three questions. Instead, she told me “for your safety and because drivers are idiots, can you accept the inconvenience to use the 10 foot wide side walks where possible?”

Yes, she means the sidewalk that is less safe than the road. If this is the best response we have, we are in serious trouble.

Today, in Coralville, human life comes after property developers’ wants and shaving a second or two off the time it takes to move a car from Iowa City to North Liberty.

The City must reevaluate its priorities. Programs like Vision Zero not only create safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians but also for motorists, with little additional travel time. Plus, by creating livable, lovable places, these programs can bring huge economic returns to local businesses and to cities through increased property values. More broadly, these changes help address the climate emergency (private cars and transportation are a leading source for greenhouse gases) and promoting social equity by making streets safer for children, the elderly and those differently able.

Or the City can carry on as usual: Johnson County did on Old 218 until this May, when 83-year-old retired pastor David Schuldt was killed, forcing a reaction.

A walking/biking path trails off near Iowa River Power in Coralville. Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

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