LIMA — Allen County and Lima are the most dangerous mid-sized population areas in Ohio for bicyclists and pedestrians during a five-year span from 2011 to 2015, according to a study.
Allen County reports 105 bicycle crashes per rate of 100,000 people edging out Erie and Hancock counties as the next two. Lima reports 222 bicycle crashes per rate of 100,000 people for comparison blowing out the second closest, Marion at 171, according to records from the Lima-Allen County Regional Planning Commission.
The number of pedestrians hit by a vehicle was 112 for Allen County making it No. 1 in the state for mid-level population areas and Lima is No. 2 for pedestrians hit with 99, according to records. The numbers are for counties with populations between 50,000 and 135,000, and cities with populations from 30,000 to 50,000, according to records.
“When a car hits a pedestrian or bike, there is nothing minor about it,” said Tom Mazur, the executive director of the planning commission.
While that’s the bad news, the good news is there’s a local, concentrated effort aimed at lowering those numbers and a lot has been done in recent years through education and projects such as bike lanes and paths for both walking and cycling.
“I credit a lot of to education that Josh Unterbrink and Activate Allen County is doing as well as the work that Kirk Niemeyer, the city engineer, is doing to create bike lanes and the awareness of cyclists and pedestrians,” said Howard Elstro, the director of Public Works for the city of Lima and an avid cyclist.
A report showed five pedestrians hit by a vehicle were killed during the five years. There were 124 people seriously injured in Allen County.
There was no one killed in a bicycle crash in Lima and Allen County but 112 bicycle crashes occurred in the county, as a whole that were reported and someone was seriously injured, according to records.
While addressing the matter has been a priority in recent years it hasn’t always been the case. A part of the problem is funding and communities, such as Allen County and Lima, that have high pedestrian and bicycle crashes almost always have the fewest bike paths, bike lanes and sidewalks, Mazur said.
“It’s all about education, public awareness and having adequate infrastructure to accommodate these alternative modes of transportation,” Mazur said. “In these cities, such as Lima, we just haven’t done enough of that.”
But Mazur said Lima is working hard to catch up. He also said some of the townships that surround Lima need to do more. Shawnee Township, for example, Mazur said has invested in bike paths and done a good job with it but he would like to see bike lanes on the road to give cyclists more area to operate.
Cyclists mostly have to share the roads with cars and although Ohio law is very clear that people on bikes have equal rights to the road as cars, cars often pass bicyclists at high rates of speed a lot closer than the minimum 3-foot distance the law requires creating the potential for serious injury or death, Mazur said.
The idea behind bike-specific lanes on roadways, such as those in Lima, are to give bicyclists their own piece of real estate to safely ride on, Mazur said.
Kevin Haver, the director of the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District, has been working with others to increase safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. He has been working on plans to link the townships and cities in Allen County via bike paths. For example, he is waiting to hear word on whether his agency will receive a $1.16 million grant to build a bike path along the old canal path between Spencerville and Delphos.
He also wants to link the existing Ottawa River Walk with Ottawa Metro Park, Ohio State at Lima, and the Country Club Hills and Lost Creek subdivisions.
Elstro said he would like to see more projects address ways to get cyclists out of the city to safer rural roads. Elstro, who lives in the city, would really like to see that to the west where he often fights dangerous traffic to get out of the city far enough to safely ride.
“To me, that is our main problem in this county is getting people from the congested areas safely out to the rural areas. I hope we can continue working on paths and lanes in the city,” Elstro said Friday afternoon just before he was to head out for a bike ride ahead of the rain.
Haver said there has been discussion for a bike path along the Spencerville Elgin Railroad line that talked about a bike path from Faurot Park near Collett Street heading west out of town toward Spencerville.
There, however, have been several hang-ups with funding the biggest issue. A path down from the top of the grade where the tracks run would be most expensive but if that rail line, which averages about one train a week, ever became inactive, it would be a lot less expensive to just pull up the old tracks and make it a bike path, he said.
Reach Greg Sowinski at 567-242-0464 or on Twitter @Lima_Sowinski.