By Ben Botkin – Times-News writer | Posted: Friday, March 5, 2010 1:00 am
BOISE — Four proposals aimed at helping motorists and bicyclists safely share the road are in the Legislature this session, following a year that brought bicyclist fatalities to Twin Falls and Boise.
One bill would require motorists to maintain a three-foot distance when passing bicyclists and pedestrians, provided they can do it safely. That bill also has a requirement for bicyclists and pedestrians to move over to allow three or more slowed-down vehicles to pass.
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise and the sponsor of all four bills, compared bicyclists and vehicles to mice and elephants.
“I hope most people recognize that when the mouse tries to share something with the elephant, it’s not an equitable sharing mechanism,” Werk said in a hearing on Thursday in the Senate Transportation Committee.
In June 2009, a bicyclist died in a collision with a vehicle on Falls Avenue East in Twin Falls. In August, a bicyclist was killed in downtown Twin Falls after colliding with a semitrailer at the intersection of Shoshone Street and Main Avenue.
Another proposal would require bicycles to have a working brake and not enter a road in a way that causes an immediate hazard. There’s also a proposed $75 penalty for motorists who harass bicyclists and pedestrians in ways such as shouting or throwing objects at them. The fourth bill adds a $75 penalty for all infractions involving bicycles.
Kristin Armstrong, an Idahoan who won an Olympic gold medal in road cycling in 2008, testified in support of the legislation. While most motorists are courteous, she said, there are frequent instances when drivers pass closely, yell, or worse.
“I’ve had firecrackers thrown at me,” Armstrong said.
But Jerry Deckard, a lobbyist with Associated Logging Contractors of Idaho, raised concerns about truck drivers’ increased liability in cases where they have to make a split-second decision between hitting a bicyclist or moving over into a lane with oncoming traffic.
Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, disagreed, saying that truck drivers already move over more than three feet without a law requiring it.
The committee sent the proposals to the Senate that add the $75 penalty for infractions involving bicycles and require bicyclists to not enter roads in a way that causes an immediate hazard.
The bills requiring a three-foot passing distance and putting fines in place for harassing were recommended for amendments before a vote to clean up legal language and make it clear that trucks using loud compression brakes aren’t considered harassing.