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Safety cushion sought for bicycle riders

The Argus Leader: Safety cushion sought for bicycle riders

Son of accident victim pursues change in law

Peter Harriman, September 27, 2009

When Tony Anderson’s father was killed in a collision with a van while bicycling in August, it helped him realize the ongoing conflict between cyclists and motorists.

Now, he would like to see the South Dakota Legislature adopt a version of a statute in force in 14 other states. It requires motorists to establish a three-foot cushion - six feet for commercial vehicles - when passing a bicycle.

According to a newspaper report about the accident, Mark W. Anderson was riding legally when he was struck from behind.

"Motorists just don’t see bicyclists. The awareness needs to be raised," said Anderson of Harrisburg.

Sen. Sandy Jerstad, D-Sioux Falls, has agreed to introduce such a bill when the Legislature meets in January. Jerstad met with Anderson a week ago.

Jerstad herself is a dedicated cyclist. After a 600-mile solo tour when she turned 60, Jerstad said her own appreciation of the tenuous relationship between bikes and motor vehicles was sharpened, especially for lone cyclists who are not part of a group of riders large enough to draw attention to itself.

She and Anderson will meet Monday with the Sioux Falls Metro Planning bicycle committee to talk about sharing the road safely. "We really need to educate people in our city about the fact bicycles belong on streets. A lot of people think they don’t," Jerstad said.

Three area bicycle shops, Spoke-N-Sport, Two Wheeler Dealer Cycle and Fitness and Prairie Cycles, have helped in the early stages of raising awareness about the three-foot law, Anderson said.

Cyclists approve of the effort.

"They have to respect that we share the road," said Rhonda Lundquist of Sioux Falls. "For some people, a bicycle is their main means of transportation. They should not have to risk their life to get where they are going."

Jerstad can’t find much party divisiveness in the safety zone proposal but said she has seen political interest swallow up other legislation, including a failed seat belt bill she introduced last year. "It hit partisanship when it got to the House," she said.

She also acknowledged that some legislators tend to focus on potential unintended consequences of bills. "One of the things that is most aggravating to me in Pierre is the slippery-slope argument. That’s the biggest excuse in the world," Jerstad said.

As far back as 2000, Mark Lansing, a columnist for Oregon Cycling Magazine, tried to get the City Council in Grants Pass, Ore., to adopt a three-foot safety zone city ordinance.

The Grants Pass council eventually passed an ordinance 7-1. It since has been superseded by a state law that requires a five-foot safety zone on rural roads. That law was written after a woman in Eugene was killed when she fell off a bicycle and was run over by a motor vehicle. Lansing also was instrumental in the passage of that bill.

In Oregon, the attention given the issue has been almost as valuable as legislation, Lansing said.

"I don’t know that anybody in our town has been cited for a violation of this. What it does is it enhances awareness of the idea that it’s not good enough not to hit a guy on a bicycle," Lansing said.