Trina Witter, Cindy Robbins, Ellen Castello and Chris Brow / For the Sun-News
Las Cruces recently received a Bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community award from the League of American Bicyclists in recognition of its efforts to improve road conditions, encourage bike riding for recreation, health and the environment, and promote safety through bike riding skills courses and more. The city is to be commended for the work accomplished to achieve this prominent national recognition. In spite of this recognition I continue to hear comments against cyclists.
Regardless of whether you’re a cyclist or not, we can all find common ground in improving the safety and usefulness of our roads, avoid conflicts, crashes, injury and death. We can all agree that cyclists and all users of the public roadways must comply with all applicable traffic laws in the interest of accomplishing those goals. However, there are those who continue to believe that cyclists do not belong on the roads, don’t pay their fair share, and should be regulated via licensing and fees. I would like to address these concerns with the hope that we as a community can work towards a mutual understanding.
Under both state and federal law, bicycles are considered vehicles and have every right to be on the roads, except where explicitly prohibited. By state law, bicycles are given the same rights and responsibilities as any other vehicle (see sections 66-3-707 to 66-3-707 NMSA 1978). Cyclists are prohibited on certain sections of New Mexico’s interstates under that same legal code, but even then cyclists are only prohibited where a suitable alternate route exists, such as where interstates pass through towns where local streets are an option. Many highways and interstates are in fact part of state and national bike routes. Federal transportation funding for cities also requires local municipalities to account for all users of a roadway to qualify for public funds. These users include vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. When cyclists ride on the roads following traffic laws and riding predictably and visibly, they are seen by motorists thus improving their safety.
The fees a bicyclist pays are the same as those paid by motorists. We all pay property taxes, sales tax, income taxes and often fuel taxes since most cyclists also own and drive cars. Just paying the fuel tax in no way implies sole rights to the use of roads. All roads are paid for by taxes, tolls, or development fees and the source of the funding is dependent on the road type. In most cities, new roads are paid for by developers and those costs are then transferred to the purchasers of the homes. The federal fuel tax is 18.90 cents per gallon in New Mexico and coupled with the state’s share, the total fuel tax to 37.2 cents/gallon, is well below the US average of 49.5 cents/gallon. The funds from these taxes are not all for road maintenance and only a portion of the state funds from the gas tax (5.76 percent) goes to road funds for municipalities. In terms of damage from wear and tear, bicyclists have a much smaller impact on roads and require very little in terms of maintenance when using in-road facilities. In addition, more people on bikes equal less traffic and congestion for those driving cars.
When the city implements a “road diet” as they did on Solano (lane reduction, bike lane striping) the primary beneficiary is the motorists. The number of motor vehicle crashes go down on these roads, traffic continues to flow smoothly without “stop and go” behavior and lane changing to pick the faster lane. The pedestrians benefit because they are further separated from the motor vehicles. And lastly, the cyclists benefit due to the bike lane. So contrary to what many believe, the city is not doing this to “cater” to cyclists. They are improving the road conditions for all users. In regard to Solano, the city is to be commended for saving money by restriping at the same time they had scheduled regular maintenance rather than later.
Some believe that bikes should have special insurance or licenses. Insurance for vehicles and licenses for drivers arises from the potential for causing harm. Bicycles simply do not have the same potential for causing harm, which is a main reason for licensed drivers. For thousands of years, everyone was free to use the road with the only restraint that they follow the rules of the road. It was not until the early 1900s when it was suggested vehicles be required to be licensed. The potential death and destruction caused by vehicles was the driving force in the licensing requirement. Today the requirement that motorized vehicles have licenses highlights the fact they have a regulated right to the road because their use of the roads is by permission of the state and subject to revocation. Bicycles and other non-motorized users are given the right to use the road as long as they observe the rules of the road.
The tragic death of Dr. Ron Fronczek who was hit and killed while riding up the San Augustine Pass earlier this year points out that all motorists have a responsibility to slow down behind cyclists until it is safe to pass. Yielding to slower moving traffic and passing safely is the law and should be enforced vigorously by law enforcement. The cycling community is a close one and mourns the loss of life and what it means to the families of the deceased as well as the loss to our community as a whole, whether we knew the rider personally or not. Remember that the cyclist you see riding on the road is someone’s mother, father, child, spouse, grandparent, child’s teacher, dentist, doctor, elected official, college professor, your neighbor, etc. Cyclists contribute to the fabric of the community economically, socially and culturally just as everyone else. We just happen to love driving our bikes, either by necessity or choice, and want motorists to drive respectfully, not because we ask you to but because it’s the law – to pass safely, to not follow too closely and to be attentive.
Anyone who is interested in bicycle advocacy, education, or other coalition activities to make the Mesilla Valley a more Bicycle Friendly City, should call (575) 650-8051 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Trina Witter, Cindy Robbins, Ellen Castello and Chris Brown are members of the Mesilla Valley Bicycle Coalition Board.