HB 1073 – Get Off the Road, Cyclists?

by Tony Helland

A handful of state legislators have introduced a bill that places South Dakota’s bicycling community at odds with traveling motorists. Language within HB 1073, introduced late last week, would require bicyclists under certain conditions to stop and allow faster vehicles to pass unimpeded. Essentially this bill seems to lend preference to automobile travel while actively delaying the movement of bicyclists.

The major change to state law in HB 1073 reads, “If a person is operating a bicycle within a no passing zone on a roadway that has no shoulder or a shoulder of less than three feet in width, the person shall stop the bicycle, move the bicycle off the roadway, and allow a faster vehicle to pass.” The intention as far as I see it seem pretty clear: cars should not have to wait for a slower vehicle in order to continue at a high rate of speed. But there are some important takeaways that need to be considered.

First, HB 1073 removes an important safety clause written to protect bicyclists. The bill strikes a clause in state law that gives bikers reason to move from the right-hand side of the road due to substandard lane width. This clause is important when it comes to the safe passing of roadway bicyclists. In taking the lane on narrow roadways, bicyclists signal to surrounding auto drivers that it is unsafe to pass or for both to occupy the same area at the same time. It also provides opportunity for bicyclists to remain visual – an added measure of safety while on the roadway. If it is safety that is at the heart of HB 1073, lets address it. But lets start that safety conversation on equal ground for both cyclists and automobiles.

Secondly, it undermines the shared use of state roads. Sure, roadways are inherently the realm of automobiles. But nowadays the shared use of roads amongst a diversity of travel modes is a given and has been promoted by public policy at all levels. HB 1073 is a push against that important norm. It offers exclusive solutions favoring the motor vehicle where simple, inclusive solutions could solve the problem. Looking to initiatives like Complete Streets, which has shaped policy in a number of municipalities across the state, is a great place to start. Complete Streets is smart policy that fosters healthy growth plans through the incorporation all forms of transportation. Rather than simply pushing the bicyclist, pedestrian, or any other slower, human-powered traveler off the road, state legislators should look to creating roadways that incorporate diversity of travel.

One should also realize the possible economic loss that could be seen with the passage of HB 1073. Areas seeking tourist dollars heavily promote the ease in access of bicycling as recreation. This is especially the case in the Black Hills where the natural landscape lends to the desire for open-air cycling tours through the crisscrossing of winding roads. But who would want to take part if you’ll be required to stop and leave the road for passing automobiles? That’s just too much to ask. And let’s not forget that bicycling is a primary means of travel for many!

Let’s be clear, HB 1073 seems to place the burden of efficient road travel on the backs of bicyclists. Rather than having a real conversation on how to address the shared use of narrow roadways, this bill has automobiles given unequal access while the bicyclist is left literally to side. I’m curious to hear what legislative sponsors have to say about HB 1073. The bill is scheduled for hearing in the House Transportation Committee on Thursday, January 28th at 10:00 AM.

http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/complete-streets

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Comments

  1. Tony, good post. I wholly agree with your assessment that striking that part of 32-20B-5 that allows the cyclist to “take” the road where the right hand side is of “sub-standard width.” This is essential, as you indicate, for visibility. However, I may be disagreeing with you when it comes to safe and proper cyclist behavior when they are approached by a car on such a road. For the safety of the cyclist and motorists, it seems to me appropriate for the cyclist to get off the road. The danger is that if the cyclist continues on the road that the motorist may be tempted to try passing the motorist. Passing the motorist on such a road is dangerous for the cyclist, the motorist, and others on the road. Statute 32-26-26.1 requires a 3 ft separation when passing a cyclist at speeds less than 35 mph, and 6 ft otherwise. Such passing will often legally require the motorist to travel into the oncoming lane. I often see cyclists going down a road not in single file. This is discouraged by all cyclist activists. Yes, a better organization of roads can be easily imagined. But this is not likely to occur any time soon, and even where it is making progress this is in urban areas. As a cyclist activist in the early 80s, we supported treating the bicycle like any other vehicle on the road. This means not driving on sidewalks, unless specifically assigned for bicycles. From this perspective, the question with regard to this legislation is, “What would you do with any vehicle that is moving much slower than the traffic?” Consider farm vehicles that not only move slowly, perhaps more slowly than bicycles, but take up most of the road. In some cases, special arrangements are required. But, generally, given the roads that they frequent, we simply learn to live with it. Nonetheless, it can be dangerous. We might want to consider whether you would even permit some of these farm implements on the winding roads in the hills. The point is that being cyclist is generally irrelevant. Rather it is the speed of the vehicle, and, in the case of the cyclist, the visibility of the cyclist.

    • “I often see cyclists going down a road not in single file. This is discouraged by all cyclist activists.”
      False. Nearly all cycling advocates will encourage two abreast riding, especially on roads without room for a car to bass in the same lane. It raises visibility of the group and shortens the length of the group allowing the cars to pass in less time.

  2. You were a cycling “activist” in the ’80s and you think it “seems to me appropriate for the cyclist to get off the road.”?? I call your bluff. No self-respecting bicyclist could come to that conclusion.

    Why is it that vehicle drivers are under the assumption that it is their right to an unimpeded free-flowing speedway wherever they go? That’s what the interstates are for.

    “Such passing will often legally require the motorist to travel into the oncoming lane.” Well, boo-hoo. Take a few seconds out of your day to pass in a safe manner. It’s not that much to ask.

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