Bicycles aren't just for kids and those interested in a recreational workout. Many people use bikes as transportation for a variety of reasons, including economics, exercise and lessening their overall carbon footprint. Bicyclists have as much right to be on the road as car drivers, and it's time Louisiana drivers acknowledge this before more people are injured or killed.
In the current legislative session, state Rep. Michael L. Jackson, I-Baton Rouge, has introduced House Bill 725, which would require a motorist passing a bicyclist on a roadway to maintain at least 3 feet between the vehicle and the bike. Additionally, the bill provides for a public awareness campaign to notify motorists of the provisions of the proposed law and signage encouraging drivers to share the road with bicyclists. It also would prohibit taunting or throwing objects at bicyclists and authorizes a $250 fine against those who violate the new statute. The bill has cleared the House and a Senate committee. It is up for final passage this week in the Senate.
We urge senators to pass HB 725, which also is known as the "Colin Goodier Bicycle Protection Act." Goodier, a 28-year-old doctor and New Orleans native, was killed last year when a pickup truck struck the back of his bicycle on River Road in Baton Rouge. The driver of the pickup told state police he had briefly looked away from the road. A few seconds of inattention is all it took to kill Dr. Colin Goodier.
Motorists need to remember they don't own the road. The 2 tons of steel surrounding them not only serve as protection for themselves, but also can inadvertently act as a deadly weapon. Cyclists are vulnerable, and therefore motorists should follow a few simple steps provided courtesy of Tulane University's Bike Tulane:
• Pass a bike only when there's ample room. If there isn't enough space, slow down and wait. Don't take a chance with someone else's life.
• Be aware when turning. Passing a bicyclist and then immediately turning cuts off the cyclist. Instead, just as with another car, wait for the bike to pass the intersection.
• Keep your hands on the wheel, not on the horn. Cyclists can hear approaching cars, so there's no need to honk, which can startle a rider.
• Bicycles are traffic, too. Give them enough room and be careful when opening your door onto the street.
Dan Jatres, manager of the Regional Planning Commission's bicycle and pedestrian program, says it was only recently that the state's driving manual included any information about driving near cyclists. With many motorists unaware of how to operate on a road with cyclists, he says educating the public through outreach campaigns is a good idea, and that drivers should know there are consequences for breaking the law.
"The first step to that is outreach to law enforcement to make sure they have a total, clear understanding as to the rights and responsibilities of cyclists, which isn't always the case," Jatres says. "It traditionally has not been a top priority in police academy training to learn all the intricacies of the law as it pertains to cyclists or pedestrians."
If outlawing taunting and throwing things at cyclists seems like overkill, think again. Both Jatres and Lauren Sullivan, founder of NolaCycle, a citywide bike route-mapping project, say harassment of bicyclists is a common occurrence. Sullivan has been cut off, doored and drawn into shouting matches with car-driving aggressors numerous times in New Orleans. Jatres thinks this kind of behavior is a result of people perceiving bikes as childish playthings, not as viable means of transportation, leading drivers to feel it's OK to scream at cyclists. "They view cyclists as something keeping them from where they want to be as quickly as they want to be," Jatres says.
What more drivers should realize is that the "something" preventing them from going faster is a human being. Behaving discourteously toward cyclists is a form of bullying, especially when you consider that a car weighs at least 200 times what a bicycle weighs.
Cyclists shouldn't be let off the hook either. Too many cyclists bike against traffic, ride on the sidewalk and don't yield or stop. Bicyclists can't expect motorists to obey the law while they're breaking it.
Hopefully, education, empathy and the occasional $250 fine will go a long way toward ensuring a peaceful coexistence between motorists and cyclists.