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Bicycle safety focus of new bill

The Sioux City Journal: Bicycle safety focus of new bill

By Rod Boshart, Journal Des Moines bureau | Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2010 12:00 am | No Comments Posted

DES MOINES – Bicycle enthusiasts have shifted gears and revamped legislation intended to improve safety for riders and others on Iowa roadways in hopes of getting a measure to Gov. Chet Culver’s desk this session.

A House subcommittee has begun work on a proposal that would expand state law governing vehicle passing rules to include overtaking a bicycle by requiring a motorist to pass a bicycle on the left while staying at least 3 feet from the bicycle.

The provision also requires the overtaking vehicle to maintain a safe distance away from another vehicle or bike before returning to the right lane of a highway. The overtaken vehicle would be prohibited from speeding up to prevent the passing vehicle from moving back into the right lane.

The proposed House language also provides protections for a “vulnerable user” of a roadway, crosswalk or shoulder that would apply to a pedestrian, person riding an animal, the operator of a tractor or machine that doesn’t have an enclosed cab, a skateboarder, a rollerblader/rollerskater, highway worker, a person riding an electric scooter or bicyclist.

The new protection applies whether the vulnerable user is using the highway in accordance with the new code chapter or not, although the person could be fined or cited for violating a separate law that might apply.

The proposed House language states a vehicle operator cannot drive carelessly or unnecessarily close to a vulnerable user or knowingly throw or project an object or substance at the user.

“It’s a start, it’s a good start, I think,” said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City.

The proposed changes were made after Senate File 117, a so-called bill of rights for bicyclists, passed the Senate last year but stalled in the House. Steckman said she was hopeful the new approach could get the bill moving in the legislative process.

Rep. Clel Baudler, R-Greenfield, a member of the House Human Resources subcommittee considering the changes to S.F. 117, said the bill “has a lot of problems,” including the fact it is not being considered by either House transportation or public safety panels.

Baudler said he would support a requirement that bicyclists wear bright orange or yellow apparel, such as deer or small-game hunters in Iowa do, so they could be better seen and identified by vehicle operators in judging their speed. He also said he had a problem protecting people who are breaking Iowa laws, such as electric scooter operators or others listed as vulnerable users who should not be on highways or shoulders.

Rep. Brian Quirk, D-New Hampton, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he would give the bill a “50-50 shot” at House passage, noting it does not address safety concerns he has and may create a false sense of security for bicyclists when dealing with a multi-ton truck that can’t “stop on a dime.”

“It’s going to put people in harm’s way,” he said. “The law of physics tends to take over.”