Bicyclists and pedestrians have an opportunity to shape an initiative from the Ohio Department of Transportation designed to improve safety for people-powered transportation.

An online survey is available through the end of August via ODOT's website, dot.state.oh.us. It will serve as the first step of the Walk.Bike.Ohio initiative, a program with the goal of encouraging more people to use active transportation forms, such as biking and walking, in an environment in which motorists share the roadway with them, said Matt Bruning, an ODOT spokesman.

The initiative was launched in response to an increase in pedestrian-related crashes, Bruning said.

According to ODOT's 2018 end-of-year safety review, pedestrian-related fatalities in the state have increased over the past decade. In 2009 and 2018, the number increased from 84 to 135. Serious injuries to pedestrians increased from 471 in 2009 to 540 in 2018.

Bicyclist fatalities also increased, from 18 in 2009 to 22 in 2018, according to ODOT statistics. Serious injuries to bicyclists decreased, however, from 215 in 2009 to 124 in 2018.

The report cites several factors that contribute to the increase in pedestrian and bicycle fatalities on the state's roads, including high speeds, a lack of sidewalks or bike facilities, alcohol or drug impairment, an increase in vehicle traffic volume and a rise in distracted driving.

Changes in age, mobility or economic status for individuals also have resulted in increased walking and biking by necessity or choice, according to the report.

ODOT wants to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and one of the ways in which leaders hope to achieve that is by collecting feedback from state residents, Bruning said.

"The most important thing is for people to let their voice be heard," he said.

Many questions focus on how people use active modes of transportation and how frequently, Bruning said. A few questions present images and ask participants if they are comfortable walking or biking in those scenarios, he said.

In addition to collecting survey data, Bruning said, ODOT also plans to meet with such advocates as Yay Bikes! -- a Columbus nonprofit organization with the mission to influence the conditions that help people safely ride bicycles.

Yay Bikes! executive director Catherine Girves said the organization is pleased ODOT is invested in thinking about how to create better conditions for people who bike for transportation.

Yay Bikes! will promote the Walk.Bike.Ohio survey through its social media channels, as well as in its newsletter, Girves said.

"This is very exciting," she said.

By the beginning of 2020, Bruning said, ODOT could start evaluating strategies for pedestrian improvements. A final report should be completed by the end of 2020, he said.

The survey data could be shared with partners in local government, Bruning said. Plans for ways to improve active modes of transportation could include working with cities to install certain types of crosswalk designs or bike lanes, or installing more shared-use paths, he said.

"That will all be something that will be part of the discussion," he said.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is assisting with the final report, said Stephen Patchen, assistant director of planning and sustainability for the regional organization.

MORPC will provide information about regional opportunities and challenges with walking and biking travel, he said.

The survey for Walk.Bike.Ohio is a great tool for ODOT to receive information to give a sense of how many people walk and bike, as well as the obstacles that prevent people from using these forms of transportation, Patchen said.

One of the main findings in MORPC's Insight 2050 report is the expectation that a half million to a million more people will be in central Ohio in 30 years, Patchen said. That means more people driving, using public transit and biking and walking -- more activity on the city's streets, he said.

MORPC was interested in researching how safe central Ohio streets are now, and leaders went about working on a safety plan to be released later this summer or early in the fall, Patchen said. The plan included a study area largely within Delaware and Franklin counties, with some areas within Fairfield, Licking and Union counties, he said.

Bernice Cage, senior public-information and diversity officer for MORPC, said the Fairfield study areas included Bloom and Violet townships, Licking included New Albany, Pataskala and Etna Township and Union included Jerome Township.

The safety plan was funded by ODOT for a total of $246,804; half was allocated in fiscal 2018 and the other half in fiscal 2019, Cage said.

Data from the safety plan showed an increase in the number of accidents in recent years.

According to a presentation shared with ThisWeek, from 2013 to 2017, a total of 196,792 crashes were reported within MORPC's five-county study area, with an overall increase of more than 21% over the five-year time period.

The presentation also included a study of the "units" involved in crashes.

According to the presentation, passenger vehicles are most commonly involved in these accidents, at 91.3% of units measured. Pedestrians make up 0.8%, and bicyclists make up 0.4%.

But pedestrians were the most likely to get hurt in accidents.

According to the presentation, the fatal-and-serious-injury rate for pedestrians was 20.3%, followed by motorcycles at 19.1%. The fatal-and-serious-injury rate for bicycles was 9.5%.

Passenger vehicles had a much lower rate of 0.8%.

For more information about MORPC, go to morpc.org. To access ODOT's Walk.Bike.Ohio survey, go to dot.state.oh.us.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah