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New bike rules in Senate

IdahoReporter.com: New bike rules in Senate

By Brad Iverson-Long
February 21st, 2010

Additions to the rules of the road proposed by Boise Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk could add new regulations and potential fines for bicyclists and drivers. Werk said the four pieces of legislation dealing with bikes and cars he’s pushing would help many people, including cops on the road.

His plan would require drivers to give three feet of space as they pass around bicycles. “Giving bikes three feet to pass protects everybody,” Werk said. “It’s a safety thing for the drivers and the cyclists.” Eleven other states, including Utah, have a similar law. Werk said three feet is an easy-to-understand rule and that drivers could pass with less space if needed. “If you can pass safely without giving three feet, you have an exemption to do so,” he said.

The three-feet-to-pass proposal would also require slow-moving bicyclists holding up more than three cars to pull off to the side of the road to let the cars pass. Slow-moving cars and trucks on narrow roads already have the burden off pulling over when at least three vehicles trail behind them.. “You could be holding up 72 cars for half an hour and they can’t get by you, and you don’t have any affirmative obligation to get over,” Werk said. “If you’re not going to be courteous, we’re going to give you a ticket.”

Another proposal from Werk would make it a misdemeanor to threaten a bicyclist on the road, punishable by a $75 fine. “You have to do it maliciously with an intent to harass,” he said. Law enforcement officials in Boise and Ada County told Werk that a harassment law would be easier to enforce involving incidents where people yell or throw things at bikers. “The reason it’s important for cyclists is, if you’re riding down a peaceful road and then somebody comes up and honks at you and it scares you and you fall off your bicycle. You could get hurt, and the next car down the road might run you over.”

In addition to that fine, Werk wants to add an additional $75 penalty to any traffic incident involving a bicycle. That $75 fine, which both people in cars and people on bikes could get, would go into a fund dedicated to road safety improvements near public schools. “We’re not trying to pick anybody out here,” Werk said about the enhanced penalty. “If you’re not going to be safe on the roads, as a cyclist or as a driver … we’re going to give you a civil penalty that provides extra revenue to safeties in school zones.”

Werk’s last proposed new rule would require bikes to have working brakes and penalize bikers for creating a hazard by darting into crosswalks. Current law forbids pedestrians from walking into the path of cars. Werk said the targets of the brake requirement are bicyclists who ride “fixies,” which are bikes with one fixed gear and no brakes. “Look guys, you might think you’re great at stopping those things, but we’re going to make it so you have to have an operating brake on any bike that’s on the road,” Werk said.

The deaths of three bicyclists in Boise and one in Twin Falls played a part in Werk introducing the legislation in the Senate. He often rides his bicycle to the Capitol, which has bike racks underneath the east and west steps. Reps. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, and Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, are co-sponsors on all four of Werk’s measures, which are awaiting a full hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee.