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Guest column: Legislation will help promote bicycle safety

The Des Moines Register: Guest column: Legislation will help promote bicycle safety

CARL VOSS IS A LEAGUE OF AMERICAN BICYCLISTS CYCLING INSTRUCTOR. CONTACT: CARLVOSS@MAC.COM • FEBRUARY 22, 2010

In a Feb. 15 guest essay, "Legislation Isn't the Answer for Bike Safety," Will Rogers of the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association made several valid points that deserve affirmation, and he asked several questions and made statements that deserve clarification.

Rogers asks how the bicycle safety bill currently under consideration in the Iowa House would make it safer for bicycles to be on the road, while he states that the law wouldn't be enforced. The proposal requires bicyclists to obey traffic signs and signals, requires a minimum passing distance of 5 feet, and makes it illegal to intentionally buzz or throw items at people on bicycles.

For an answer to his question, ask the woman near LeMars who was hit with a full beer can, knocked unconscious, and left for dead on the road. Ask Leesa Shoemaker, a sheriff's deputy who was riding to work at the Polk County Jail when she was struck from behind, fractured her leg in two places, and endured a year's worth of surgeries and rehab. Each of them would tell how this bill would have made them safer.

These proposed changes would become part of Iowa law, as well as the state driver's manual and driver's education curricula. They would provide uniformity in law enforcement across the state. It's been shown over the past several years that enforcement and prosecution of traffic laws are not uniform.
Ken Sherman was hit in Des Moines last year, clearly having the right of way. No traffic ticket was issued. Randy Van Zee was killed near Sheldon in 2008, and the driver was given a $35 traffic ticket. The O'Brien County Attorney's Office felt the law was not clear enough to prosecute with the same penalties as vehicular crashes. But a similar crash that killed Mark Anderson near Spencer last year was clear enough to bring the same charges as a vehicular crash.
In a 2001 Iowa Supreme Court case, Vasconz v. Mills, a teacher riding a bicycle was struck from behind by a person driving a truck. The Iowa Supreme Court said the person riding the bicycle was operating lawfully. It was the driver of the truck who had a choice to pass safely or follow until safe to do so. This law defines that safe distance.

People may still drive dangerously with or without a 5-foot passing distance, but many people will think twice when the law clearly states the action is dangerous and that there will be a penalty if the law is violated.
Rogers also states that the majority of cyclists on our roads are there for leisure or exercise. For many Iowans, commuting by bike is their only option.

The Des Moines Bicycle Collective spends about 40 percent of its staff time helping Des Moines residents who rely on a bicycle as their only form of transportation.

Most rely on their bicycle for economic reasons; they simply can't afford a car. In the brutal month of December, there were more than 900 uses of the bike racks on DART buses in the Des Moines area. By combining bikes and transit buses, many residents get to precious jobs and reduce their commuting costs.
Unfortunately, the multi-use paths that Rogers references do not lead to many places of employment. In addition, most people would have to use streets and roads to access the bike trails.

Iowans, including commuters, recreational riders, and children riding to school and for play, need and deserve the provisions of the bicycle safety bill.