Lander incident cited as lawmakers explore funding options for increased pedestrian safety in Wyoming

Last month’s pedestrian-vehicle collision in Lander has become part of a statewide discussion about funding for increased pedestrian safety efforts in Wyoming.

The incident involved a 9-year-old bicyclist who was injured after being struck by a vehicle at the intersection of Main Street and Baldwin Creek Road.

It was a “very close call,” Wyoming Department of Transportation director Luke Reiner told the legislature’s Judiciary Committee last week.

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“Luckily, the child was not killed,” he said.

She has, however, “lost use of her right hand,” according to Wyoming Pathways executive director Michael Kusiek.

Outdoor recreation ‘boom’

Kusiek was one of three Lander residents who addressed the legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee last month about funding options for outdoor trails and pathways – including in-town pedestrian infrastructure.

“There’s great demand for this,” he said, referring to the community needs survey his group conducted last year outlining about $100 million in pedestrian infrastructure projects that could be implemented throughout the state. “(There are) ways to makes sure our kids, and folks who want to get about town on bicycles and on foot, have a safe route to travel.”

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The effort will require “meaningful, dedicated, permanent funding” that can support “planning, education and infrastructure,” Wyoming Outdoor Council conservation advocate Kristen Gunther said.

She pointed out that more and more people have been traveling to Wyoming to take advantage of the state’s recreational opportunities in recent years.

Those new visitors are a “benefit for our small-town economics and our travel and tourism industries,” Gunther said, but they also cause “more impact,” and “without adequate management to disperse people, or to place them in the places where we’d like to see people go, we run more risks of incidents.”

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“We (can) either put ourselves in the driver’s seat of this boom and guide it for our Wyoming ways, or we can be run over by it,” WOC program director Steff Kessler said, suggesting the state create a “well-staffed, professional agency” with “sustainable funding” to help local communities address the issue.

The question is, how would Wyoming fund such an effort?

The Travel committee considered one option last month – scratch-off lottery tickets – but decided not to vote on the proposal at that time.

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Instead, they set up a small working group to investigate the funding question further.

Salazar, Winter vote ‘no’

The Travel committee did approve a draft bill that would create a $40 million grant program for transportation and recreation projects in Wyoming.

Wyoming Sen. Tim Salazar, R-Riverton, and Wyoming Rep. John Winter, R-Thermopolis, both voted against the proposal.

Neither offered any comment on the topic during the discussion, though Salazar did confirm that the grant program would be created using a “new appropriation” and not “simply a reallocation of existing funds.”

The Judiciary Committee also took action on pedestrian safety last week, voting unanimously to draft a bill appropriating $10 million for pedestrian bridges in school safety crosswalks.

Another motion, to approve a bill draft enhancing penalties for vehicular homicides that occur in crosswalks or school zones, failed, despite an “aye” vote from Wyoming Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep.

Wyoming Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, is also a member of the Judiciary Committee but was not present at last week’s meeting.

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