The HB232 Bicycle Safety and Traffic Law Committee that was established recently by NCDOT to report to the NC Legislature had its third meeting on October 6.
The committee composition includes law enforcement officials, a roadway safety researcher, city and county staff, a trucking industry representative, a bike shop owner, a bike event promoter, a BikeWalk NC board member, an NCDOT expert in bicycle transportation, and the State Traffic Engineer. The committee also includes a Wake County farmer who is vocal and very concerned about the safety and delay of motorists who must share the road with cyclists. One story he shared involved a motorist pulling a boat to Jordan Lake on a two-lane hilly road with a posted limit of 55 mph. Driving at the limit, the motorist drove his vehicle and boat into the ditch after coming over the crest of a hill and seeing a single cyclist riding on the right edge in front of him. There was oncoming traffic so the only safe place to drive was the ditch since he didn’t think he could stop in time to avoid the cyclist. Thankfully no one was injured; however, there was substantial damage to his vehicle. The gentleman concluded that cyclists must be prohibited from high-speed rural roads. He said he speaks for many North Carolinians who want cyclists off the rural roads.
The farmer who shared that story at the committee meeting seems to have an ally in our State Traffic Engineer, who articulated his belief that our state roads are meant for motorists who expect to be able to drive at the posted speed limit. The farmer reiterated that use of the roads is a privilege that can be revoked. He said that goes for all users; however, the only circumstance he cited was revoking a citizen’s right to ride a bicycle on a high-speed-limit, two-lane road.
An entirely different perspective was shared by committee member, and BWNC Board Member, Steve Goodridge. He stated due to the narrow width of the lanes on many rural roads, same-lane passing unreasonably endangers cyclists, and that prior to any movement into the oncoming lane, motorists must be prepared to wait for oncoming traffic to clear. In the case cited earlier about the driver pulling his vehicle and boat into a ditch, Steve asked about the circumstances behind the incident. He wanted to know why the motorist was driving at a speed faster than his available sight distance – in other words, if you’re cresting a hill and can’t see the other side you should slow down. It could have been a left-turning vehicle rather than a cyclist. Steve teaches cycling safety as a master instructor certified through the League of American Bicyclists and he calmly shared his expertise and an engineer’s eye for detail with the committee.
Another thorny issue the committee discussed, but did not conclude, is what to do about cycling two abreast on high-speed, two-lane roads. Again, the State Traffic Engineer suggested a single-file law is needed. The farmer added that at a minimum, the cyclists should pull over if too many motor vehicles are stacked up behind them. He offered that cyclists were arrogant. We’d like to invite him on our next group ride so he can see arrogance from another point of view.
Steve Goodridge educated the committee that cycling two abreast on narrow roads provides significantly higher degree of safety to the cyclist because it adds to our visibility compared with riding single-file. We all know that riding two abreast is more fun because we can talk to each other, but there are inherent safety benefits as well. Steve asked the committee to only pass along recommendations to the Legislature that are rooted in crash and safety statistics and sound engineering judgment. He pointed out that none of the committee members have found any record or documentation of actual collisions happening between bicyclists riding two abreast and same-direction motorists in North Carolina.
The majority of the committee members did not feel that the state should require bicyclists to ride single file. The NCDOT representatives, however, insisted that some type of legislative proposal was needed. The issue was tabled until the next meeting.
The committee voted officially in favor of three recommendations during the meeting:
- The committee voted in support of a recommended change to the no-passing zone law that would provide a defense for drivers who pass a bicyclist safely with good sight distance and no conflicts.
- The committee voted unanimously to direct NCDOT to examine the impacts of road closure special events (particularly races) on local residents and businesses in order to address reports of repeated and extended periods of road inaccessibility.
- The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the legislature pass a resolution directing NCDOT to conduct education and outreach activities that would promote best practices for group rides.
The next HB232 Bicycle Safety and Traffic Law Committee meeting is scheduled for November 18 at the Transportation Building at 1 South Wilmington Street in downtown Raleigh (across from the Capitol). Anyone is welcome to attend, however, there is no time on the agenda for public comment.