After her son, Brad, was killed by a teenage motorist while bicycling in 1999, Jean Gorman became a determined advocate for traffic safety.
Her lobbying efforts in 2000 were crucial in crafting legislation requiring that drivers give cyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing. Gorman is now an integral part of the push
for Tucson and surrounding communities
to be awarded the League of American Bicyclists' platinum-level ranking for
bike friendliness. After winning the silver last year, citizens in Pima County formed a committee, Platinum Challenge, to reach that goal. If their efforts succeed, the area would be the first community in the United States to achieve this rank. Gorman and her husband, Jim, sat down with the Weekly at their eastside home. For more information, contact the Platinum Challenge committee chairman, Jesse Morales, at 790-0720.
Tell me about the Platinum Challenge.
Jim: The entire valley here, all of the communities, have gotten together--all their mayors, all their staff--to work toward the award ... of platinum from the League of American Bicyclists. It has never been won by any city before. Everybody here--the (Pima County) Board of Supervisors--everybody is online to work toward this award. ... It includes more than just bicycles--pedestrians, (the) Safe Routes to School (program). You're not familiar with that. It's to allow the parents the freedom of not having to transport their children, and still know their children are safe walking or biking to school. Cut down on the pollution, cut down on the chubby kids--blah, blah, blah. Get the kids on their bikes, get the kids walking to school safely, safely, safely.
When will you find out about the award?
Jean: Well, we'll put in our first draft application in October. The draft goes in, because they do it every two years. And then next March will be the permanent application, I believe ... and then we'll know next May.
Do you think Tucson has a good shot?
I think we've been working really hard on it. We started right after the silver award, and we've got another 75 miles of bike lanes installed already. There are just so many improvements: the bike paths, the river paths they're adding and finishing, and new education programs for law enforcement. I mean, you can see every place you go lately, there's tons of work being done. This all fits into the five E's of the Platinum Challenge--engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation.
What do you think about the fines for hitting a bicyclist? They were raised after your son was killed from $66 to $500 or $1,000, depending on whether the bicyclist was injured or perished.
The fines were raised, yes. But where we're having problems is with cases being prosecuted. I have so much respect for our police officers, both our sheriffs and TPD (Tucson Police Department), but they can't do their jobs properly, because they have to make sure that whatever ticket they give is prosecutable. ... There are so many cases that I know of that are just going by the wayside.
Is there anything you want people to keep in mind when they're driving?
When they're in an automobile, I want them to realize what they're driving--it's a weapon weighing two, three, four thousand pounds. I want them to realize that they are driving a weapon and to stay off the phones, pay attention to what they're doing--not just in front of them, like they have on blinders.
Some bicyclists need to be more careful, too, right?
I'm not just for bicyclists, because some bicyclists do wrong things. There are some that'll blaze through a stop sign or whatever.
What can cyclists do to protect themselves?
Be very visible. They've got to ride their bike like they're driving a car, with assurance and knowledge. ... They've got to be looking and moving and letting people know what they're doing in traffic. And they've got to obey the laws just as well as drivers do.
Have there been any disappointments over the years?
My biggest disappointment is that the 3-foot bike law that was passed isn't readily enforced. ... There's only been one or two tickets that I know about that have been issued.
What keeps you pushing for change?
It's a necessity to keep the word out there, to keep reminding people that this can happen to them. You know, I have to stay positive and know that the Platinum Challenge is going to work, and that we're going to get it, because everyone in the (area) is working so hard toward it. That's the only thing that keeps me going. I feel that there is a light at the end of tunnel--we just have to keep educating people.