Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cyclists Are Fighting the New Bike Law

It is interesting that I leave NYC, a city that is pushing as hard as they can to add bike lanes to as many roads as possible, to come back home to a town/state that can't decide whether they want bikes to ride in bike lanes or if they should just get rid of bike lanes all together. I can't understand how all the statistics from other cities that invest in bike facilities that show that ridership and safety increase, doesn't prove that they are necessary and should be encouraged. I have copied the Orlando Sentinel's article describing the issues. 

I would encourage you to also click here, and see all of the comments that were left on the Sentinel's website. It is pretty entertaining to see car drivers, vehicular cyclists, spandex cyclists, commuters, etc, all arguing over who owns the road and which one is right. This kind of infighting just pushes the issue farther out and leads to laws being signed into place that help none of the people involved. The politicians see all of the parties involved as being one sided and unwilling to compromise on anything. The governor and other politicians are then put in the position of compromising for everyone and then everyone is pissed. God forbid that all the groups act like adults and look around and see where there is room for a little give and take.

Cyclists want right to ride in middle of road like cars, will fight bike-lane law


Edgewater Drive bike lane

Angry bicyclists are hoping to strike back and repeal a law taking effect in September that would force them to ride in bike lanes or hug the right side of the road.

They've even enlisted the help of state Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, himself an avid bicyclist and tri-athlete.

"I'm one of them. … I'm open to just about anything," Gardiner said, including filing a bill next year.

And the bikers might not stop with just the law.

Another possibility they are considering is doing away with bike lanes altogether. That could result in more bicyclists using the roads just like a car.

"Bike lanes might not be all that we thought they were cracked up to be," said Mighk Wilson, a smart-growth planner and bike advocate at MetroPlan Orlando.

Wilson said he thinks riding in the midst of traffic is safer than bike lanes or the side of the road because bicyclists are more visible to motorists. Bike lanes, he said, often run too close to parking spaces, making riders vulnerable to people who open their car doors without looking.

He also contends that drivers who are turning often fail to see bikers because they are too far off to the side.

Bicyclists are entitled to use the roads by law right now, but a 16-word addition to a state highway-safety bill passed by the Legislature in April essentially shunts them off to the side, unless there are potholes or other impediments. The law, which Gov. Charlie Crist signed last week, takes effect Sept. 1.

Conflicts between cyclists and motorists often come down to the number of bikers in the road.

It's usually not a big deal if one or two of them ride in the middle of the lane because motorists can pass pretty easily, Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Kim Montes said. Large groups of riders are a different matter, though, because long lines of cars can pile up behind them.

And that can lead to short tempers, with cars passing too close – by law they are supposed to give bikers three feet of clearance – and too fast.

Sgt. Barbara Jones of the Orlando Police Department said officers working traffic detail in the city routinely hear "from drivers fearing that a rider will get hurt. The complaints have included that riders are in the way of cars on roadways or blocking the flow of traffic when they do not have the right of way."

Montes said she supports bike lanes because "it defines for drivers and bicyclists where each is supposed to be. It's less confusing."

Bike lanes started showing up in Central Florida during the late 1990s. Now, there are 184 miles of bike lanes in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, plus 74 miles of unmarked lanes and an additional 210 miles of road shoulders where a bike can be ridden.

Those counties, and many of the cities within them, have a policy of adding bike lanes, when possible, if a road is being repaved or a new one is being built.

During the past legislative session, Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R- Cape Coral, added the bike-lane language to the bill he sponsored at the request of a South Florida lawmaker who had been fielding complaints from motorists about large packs of riders they accuse of hogging State Road A1A.

He has said he cannot understand the fuss caused by the law because he thought cyclists liked bike lanes. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Wilson said he would like to launch a study looking at the effectiveness of bike lanes, specifically whether they lead to fewer accidents between motorists and cyclists. He doubts they are safer, and he would not miss the lanes if they were gone.

"It's not that you would take the width [of the road] away, just the stripes," said Wilson, who regularly commutes to work by bike.

Hal Downing, a cyclist and board member of Ride/Walk Central Florida, said he would settle for a return to the status quo where bikers are not, by law, relegated to the side but could use whatever portion of the road is best for them.

Montes said FHP will enforce whatever the law is. The key going forward, she said, is that motorists and cyclists both "need to give, physically and in their attitudes."

Dan Tracy can be reached at dtracy@orlandosentinel.com

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