Michael McKisson might be the most passionate cycling advocate in Tucson.
McKisson runs Tucson Velo, a blog dedicated to news from the local cycling community. It’s rare for a day to pass without an update on the site. He writes about a range of topics, everything from races and accidents to new publicly-funded bicycle infrastructure projects.
"There’s a pretty vibrant bicycling community in Tucson and there’s a lot of stuff happening," he said.
And while accolades for the city as a cycling destination have come from people like George Hincapie, a veteran of 17 Tour de France races who recently named Tucson as one of his 10 favorite riding locations in the U.S., McKisson and others think the city could do more to promote rider safety.
Last year, three cyclists were killed in collisions with motor vehicles. McKisson said, while Tucson has had a spotty reputation for safety, he thinks the problem is getting worse.
"Cyclist and pedestrian safety has been an issue we’ve had in Tucson for quite sometime. I think there’s lots of reasons for that, the League of American Bicyclists have not rated us platinum for a couple reasons, but one of the things they cite is our safety, our lack of safety," he said. "I think it’s an increasing problem, because people are driving more distracted. I can count...the number of drivers that I see on any given commute who are texting while driving.”
Cycling advocates also criticize the city for the way grants from the Regional Transit Authority have been used for increasing bicycle traffic enforcement, a tactic that puts more officers on the streets to hand out tickets. Instead they say the money could be used to educate drivers and cyclists about how to better share the road.
“I think one of the other big challenges we face, not only in Tucson, but in all of Arizona, is how to coexist," said Emily Yetman, the executive director of Living Streets Alliance. The nonprofit is dedicated to creating walkable and bikeable neighborhoods in the Tucson metro area.
She said one of the major complaints she hears from cyclists is the need for separated infrastructure on traffic-heavy streets such as Speedway Boulevard.
"There’s so much more we could do to design our streets with pedestrian and cyclist safety in mind," she said. "Whether that’s bicycle boulevards or creating separated bike lanes. (Construction that) clearly helps them be separate from fast moving traffic."
Tucson cyclists could see such change on the roads soon.
After the recent acquisition of a $5.5 million dollar grant from the RTA, the city is planning a number of separated bike lanes. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said building this type of infrastructure makes sense.
“Over the course of the next three to four years, you’ll see those go in. Absolutely that is the single best way to help (cyclist safety), and it just makes for a far more bike-friendly community and it quite frankly just makes the roads look nicer," he said.
McKisson said looking at examples set by cities, such as Chicago and New York, Tucson could see a rise in the number of commuter cyclists once these separated bike lanes are in place.
“It takes a certain kind of person to feel that they can ride their bike on Speedway. You’re seeing in places like New York or Chicago...a huge uptick in the number and the types of people that are cycling," he said.
If that comes about in Tucson, the city’s reputation as a cycling community could keep growing in the future, he suggested.