BY JUSTIN FRITSCHER • JFRITSCHER@JACKSON.GANNETT.COM • JANUARY 28, 2010
Lawmakers from both the Mississippi House and Senate are backing bills that address rules of the road for both motorists and cyclists.
Credit is due to Mississippi cyclists who have pushed bike-friendly legislation for three years
“What we need in this state is a friendlier atmosphere for bicyclists,” said Jackson Metro Cyclists former president Rich Adair.
Bike Walk Mississippi member and veteran Clinton cyclist Bruce Alt helped draft the legislation. Similar bills await action in both chambers.
“We want people to be aware that cyclists, runners and walkers are using the road,” said Alt, also a member of Jackson Metro Cyclists. “We’re asking people to simply share the road.”
State Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, said the House bill he drafted clarifies duties of both bicyclists and motorists. “We want to make sure the cyclists are conducting themselves (in a manner) that is safe and make sure that motorists are looking out for them,” Jones said.
If passed, the House bill will:
- Protect cyclists from harassment from motorists (like objects thrown from vehicles at bikes);
- Make sure bicyclists are using signals and proper equipment, such as lighting, and not riding more than two abreast.
Addressing harassment and safety is important, Alt said. “We need to define (by law) a safe passing distance. The slogan we’ve given it is, ’Give ’em 3,’ ” he said. “When cars and trucks pass cyclists, runners or walkers, give is three feet of safe passing distance. Don’t brush up close to us.”
This week, Alt spent time at the Capitol talking to members of the House and Senate about both the House and Senate bills, which are basically the same, Alt said. “My hope is that both chambers will pass one identical bill,” he said. “We’re very optimistic.”
Alt said Bike Walk Mississippi wants to “reach out to bike clubs all over the state to bring them into a position of awareness and activism focused on passing legislation this year.
“We’ve won a lot of support, and we’re very confident and appreciative of the interest and support shown by the Senate Transportation Committee chair, Tom King of Petal, and chairman Warner McBride of the House Transportation Committee.”
Adair agrees harassment of cyclists is common. “We’re competing with the same space, and cars seeing us as competition,” Adair said. “We have a problem with cars swerving at us or having items thrown at us.”
Other states have adopted legislation that requires vehicles passing bicyclists to leave a specified gap.
Jones said cycling clubs and other advocates continue to reach out to senators, letting them know the importance of such legislation. “It’s crucial to get some version of the bill passed to help to protect cyclists,” Jones said. “I was flexible working the bill through the process.”
The city of Tupelo approved a passing rule in mid-November, requiring vehicles to give a three-foot buffer to bicyclists.
“We’re the first city in Mississippi to do it,” said Tupelo’s senior planner, Renee Autumn Ray. The city is also writing a pedestrian bike plan, focusing mainly on education, awareness and signage, Ray said.
Jones said he hopes the legislation will promote more outdoor activity among Mississippians and visitors to the state.
“We want people to pay attention to their personal fitness. It’s difficult to encourage people to go out and use the roadways if we don’t have laws to protect them.”
Said Clinton Parks and Recreation Department Director Ray Holloway: “We’re always trying to figure out ways to keep people in the parks and to have access throughout the city.”
Alt said that as the bills continue their committee rounds, “I’m available for questions. We want to explain the bill to legislators.
“We want to make sure our ideas are heard in both chambers.”