The tragic death of Belgrade teacher and coach Richard Vos as he rode his bicycle on U.S. Highway 71 almost certainly would not have occurred if there had been a paved shoulder for him and other cyclists to use on this well-traveled road.
Instead, recent resurfacing projects in western Minnesota have eliminated paved shoulders, returning them to gravel on portions of Minnesota Highway 7 in Kandiyohi County, Highway 23 in Yellow Medicine County, and other roads in our region -- a region that offers fewer safe off-highway bicycle trails than other region of our state.
Our state's highways are a patchwork of variable situations regarding shoulders, speed limits and rumble strips. U.S. Highway 212 has paved shoulders and a speed limit of 55 mph. Minnesota Highway 7 occasionally narrows from paved to graveled shoulders but yet uniformly allows a faster 60 mph.
Rumble strips on Minnesota's highways are sometimes at the far edge of the paved surface, sometimes right by or atop the white line, and sometimes in the middle of a shoulder. Shoulder widths vary throughout the state.
Highway safety degrades when legislators fail to provide funds to resurface paved shoulders. This penny-pinching of course keeps a few more coins in the pockets of taxpayers, but cars and trucks are also inherently less safe on gravel shoulders. The narrowing of well-traveled roads obviously brings greater danger for bicycle riders and now has brought a promising young life to a premature end.
As a memorial to Coach Vos and for the benefit of many more Minnesotans, I urge our state legislators, especially Minnesota Senate Transportation Committee chairman Joe Gimse, to finally show some leadership on this issue and stop the narrowing of our highways. Working forward from this tragic death, legislators must provide Minnesotans with consistent, rational, understandable and safe standards for Minnesota highways, including safe shoulders.
Bicyclists like Coach Vos should not be forced to play a deadly game of competing for space with semi-trucks in the same lane.
Steve R. Marquardt