By Brad Iverson-Long
March 4th, 2010
Idaho lawmakers want to see some changes in a proposal to give bicycles a three-foot buffer on roads. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said he’s willing to adjust the legislation that could clarify cyclists’ place on the road. “Right now, the rules of the road are kind of a bit fuzzy,” he said.
“Three feet: it’s not much, it’s a yard,” said Kurt Holzer, a Boise attorney who spoke in favor of the legislation at a Senate Transportation Committee meeting Thursday. “It’s not asking for a lot of the roadway, but some of the roadway.” The three feet to pass legislation calls for cars to give bikes ample space when they pass and also gives them an exemption to cross over a double yellow line if needed. If vehicles could pass safely with less than three feet, that would also be legal. Vehicles also would be barred from doing “right hooks,” in which they pass a bicycle and then quickly make a right turn directly into the bike’s path.
Several senators said they had problems with the legislation. “I want to help bicycles out, but I don’t want to do it at the expense of everyone else,” said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d’Alene. “I’m not sure that we’re quite there yet.”
“The more I read the bill, the more I am concerned that it’s got some flaws,” said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle. She said it would be difficult to apply the three-foot rule to large trucks on rural highways, which couldn’t necessarily cross yellow lines to give cyclists space.
Olympic gold medal bicyclist Kristin Armstrong of Boise spoke in favor of the law. She said Idaho is a great place to ride bikes, but can be very dangerous. “Most Idaho motorists are courteous and provide ample space, but it only takes one that doesn’t,” she said.
Jerry Deckard with the Associated Logging Contractors of Idaho spoke against the legislation, saying it could increase liability for large trucks passing cyclists. “I don’t want to have to be the one to exercise the law of physics and then be the one taken to court,” he said.
Werk said he didn’t think the proposal would increase liabilities for truck drivers, but said he’s willing to rewrite some sections of the three-foot legislation. The Senate Transportation Committee sent Werk’s legislation to the amending order so that he can make changes.
The transportation committee also sent a proposal to create a new law against harassing bicyclists to the amending order. Holzer said it would crack down on bad actors on the road. “There are idiots out there, and we all know it,” he said. Adding a specific harassment law for bicyclists, which would include throwing objects or yelling at bicyclists, would help prosecutors protect bikes, according to Holzer. “This would give them that tool to do it.”
Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, said he was concerned about the enforceability of the proposed harassment law. “I’m not particularly worried that we might pass a law that we don’t need,” he said. “What I’m concerned about is that we pass a law that we can’t use.” Werk said he will make an amendment removing honking horns and potentially other noises from the harassment legislation.
The committee approved two other pieces of legislation from Werk that could penalize reckless cyclists. One would create an enhanced $75 fine for bicycle traffic incidents for the cyclist or driver at fault. Werk said the fine would be a tap upside the head to cyclists. Money from the fines would go into a fund to increase road safety near Idaho schools. “It’s kind of poetic justice that if cyclists endanger themselves and others, we would expect them to pay a fine that would go into a Safe Routes To School Fund that would make children’s commute to and from school safer,” he said. Broadsword asked Werk if now is the right time for a new fine, given the sluggish state economy. “Good times or bad, an enhanced penalty gets people’s attention,” Werk told Broadsword.
The committee also approved a proposal that would require bikes to have working brakes, and prevent them from darting dangerously onto crosswalks.