Spring is here, and with it comes the annual emergence of thousands of bicycles from garages across Iowa onto sidewalks, streets, and recreation trails.
And as bicycle riding becomes the favored mode of transportation for many, the roadways become increasingly dangerous for those on two wheels. In Iowa, 340 riders were injured as a result of vehicle collisions in 2016; eight were killed.
Cara Hamann wants to change that. An associate in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, Hamann is spending the year as a policy fellow in the college’s Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy learning how to use her bike safety research to influence public policy and increase rider safety.
Like many, Hamann rode bikes as a child in Eldridge, Iowa, and her bike was her primary form of transportation to and from campus as an undergraduate at the UI. Not until later did she take riding seriously. She spent time as a triathlete but liked cycling so much she mostly dropped the running and swimming to focus on riding.
Today, her riding is both practical and recreational. She is a member of a local racing team, the Iowa City Cycling Club sponsored by the UI Heart and Vascular Center, and rides off-road for fun. It’s also her primary mode of transportation around town, commuting to work, visiting friends, and running errands. She guesses she fills her car’s gas tank once a month, if that.
“I like the freedom of it,” she says. “You can go by your own schedule, and you don’t have to worry about parking. I can ride right up to my office door. It’s a nice stress reliever too. It’s good exercise, and it’s good for the environment.”
Hamann made bicycle safety her research focus as a doctoral student at the UI College of Public Health—her thesis is titled “The Risk and Burden of Bicycle Crash Injuries in Iowa and Nationwide.” Now, as a policy fellow, she’s learning to use her research for the greater good. She worked with the Iowa Bicycle Coalition on a statewide policy agenda that improves access for bicycle riders and increases safety on the roads. She helped organize a bike safety policy action forum in Des Moines that brought together numerous state agencies and advocacy groups, rallied at the state capitol, and met with legislators and policy makers to advocate for safety improvements. She also advocated for legislators to introduce bills requiring motorists to change lanes when passing bicyclists and increased penalties for vehicle–bicycle crashes caused by distracted driving.