On my trip home from Indianapolis earlier this week, I passed through the Amish Country of Northern Indiana. In particular through the charming town of Middlebury, Indiana which also happens to be home to two very large recreational vehicle manufacturers and employers – Jayco and Coachmen.
While I am used to seeing the quaint, horse-drawn black buggies traveling slowly along the narrow county and state roads of this scenic region, I was not prepared for the number of Amish citizens riding bicycles for both commuting and shopping purposes. In a several mile stretch near Middlebury, I observed eight separate un-helmeted Amish cyclists hugging the edge of the payment (no paved shoulder here) as noon hour traffic whizzed all around them. It looked terribly unsafe.
In some Amish areas of Northern Indiana, paved shoulders have been added to the roadways to provide a some measure of increased safety both for the horse-drawn buggies and cyclists. Unfortunately, that was not the case in the Middlebury area, even on the state roads. Given the enormous Amish population in this region (over 19,000 in Indiana according to recent data, most of which are concentrated in an arc from Nappanee to Middlebury to Shipshewana to La Grange to Angola, it would seem to me that wider shoulders would be a safety priority, as well as promoting greater usage of helmets.
I must admit that until this week, I had never perceived this problem. Perhaps that is because I am usually traveling in Northern Indiana on weekends instead of weekdays. In the past, the only cyclists seen were recreational riders, whether Amish or not. But, if a noticeable proportion of the Amish population are now bicycle commuting, then it seems the area road agencies need to start steering a portion of their road allocations toward shoulder improvements and local cycling advocacy organizations need to step up their media campaigns for increased safety, increased helmet usage by all riders, and greater road improvement spending.
Will this prevent tragedies from still happening? Probably not. But at least they would increase the margin of safety, which is razor-thin in too many areas without at least some semblance of a shoulder. Considering the huge number of tourism dollars that flow into the part of Indiana due to its Amish residents (whether they want the tourists or not), adding road shoulders would be a small way for the larger community to say thank you.