Thursday, May 13, 2010

NC LEGISLATION CONSIDERING CYCLIST SAFETY?

Rep. Nelson Cole of Reidsville has introduced House Bill 1686 entitled “AN ACT TO ENSURE THE SAFE OPERATION OF BICYCLES BEING OPERATED IN GROUPS OF TWO OR MORE ON THE STATE'S STREETS AND HIGHWAYS, AS  RECOMMENDED BY THE JOINT LEGISLATIVE TRANSPORTATION OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE.” This bill would prohibit cyclists from riding more than 2 abreast on N.C. roads except on paths or parts of roads intended for the EXCLUSIVE use of cyclists. The bill would also require cyclists to move into single file “as quickly as is practicable” when being overtaken by faster vehicles and would prohibit cyclists riding two abreast from “impeding the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.”

After reading the legislation and a corresponding report in the Raleigh News and Observer, I’m contemplating the motive behind the legislation. Rep. Cole seems to indicate it is out of concern for cyclists but, the wording, per the News and Observer, sounds to me as if it is an attempt to get those pesky traffic impeding cyclists out of the way of “real traffic.” Cole is quoted as saying, “Drivers worry, he (Cole) says, about the hazards of suddenly meeting cyclists in wide packs on narrow roads.”

Perhaps I am too negatively ascribing motive to the introduction of the Bill. In my opinion and under the best possible light, it is poorly worded. In fact, it prompted me to write to my own Representative, who is a member of the Transportation Committee where the Bill now resides. Following is part of my correspondence to Rep. Ray Rapp:

…I wanted to write to you concerning HB 1686 introduced by Rep. Cole. I understand this bill to now be in the Transportation Committee for review. I am, of course, in favor of cyclist safety. As a 57 year old cyclist, I find that since my return to the sport some 3 years ago, I am in better health both physically and mentally, my weight is down 30 lbs., and I’ve reduced my carbon footprint significantly by commuting from my office to home in Bethel 2 to 3 days a week. I typically carpool into the office with my wife and ride the 23 miles home via Canton.

I have concerns about the wording of HB 1686 in its current state. There seems to me to be ambiguity in the requirement of “moving to the right as quickly as is practicable”. My question concerns who determines what was “quickly as practicable”? Can an auto or truck driver determine someone didn’t move quickly enough and use that as a defense to “tap” a rear wheel or cause more significant damage to a cyclist? Does an investigating officer, in the event of an accident, make the determination? Does the cyclist determine what is safe? Along these same lines, how far to the right is enough? If there are barriers such as dead animals, 2 X 4’s, broken glass, potholes, sewer covers, etc. in the direct path of the cyclist, must they still move to the right? Again the wording in its current state seems to put this bill in conflict with existing law where cyclists have the same rights to the road as other road users.

Inherent in any conversation about vehicles passing cyclists is the concern with distance between the passing vehicle and the cyclist. I have been “buzzed” numerous times while riding. “Buzzed” means that a vehicle passed so close to me that I was in danger of being hit by protruding mirrors or bumpers, etc. Sometimes, this is the result of impatient vehicle drivers who try to pass in a blind curve and get caught by oncoming traffic. Other times, it is because the vehicle driver is distracted, i.e., talking/texting on cell phones and drifting off the road, applying makeup, smoking and drinking coffee while trying to pilot a 2 ton vehicle. Finally, there are the less frequent but still very dangerous situations where auto drivers intentionally try to run cyclists off the road.

I strongly recommend that text be inserted into this bill, if it goes forward, that would require a minimum of a 3’ passing distance between the overtaking vehicle and a cyclist. If that space is not available, the overtaking vehicle should slow down, remain in line until such time as the 3’ space becomes available. The 3’ passing requirement is already law in numerous states. I believe that S.C. became one of the most recent to adopt the requirement last year.

In this day and age of increasing gas/oil prices, an apparent never ending thirst for fuel by the American people, and numerous chronic health issues (obesity, diabetes, etc.), we really need to be about reducing our reliance on the automobile and being car-centric and finding ways to share the existing roadways. I ask that you consider these comments in your deliberations as a member of the Transportation Committee…

 

Perhaps this bill offers, with some amendments and textual changes, an opportunity for some real safety changes for cyclists in North Carolina. As in all things, time will tell..

Until later,

- Zeke

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