Support for Nebraska Legislative Bill 39

The word is getting around about LB39, which is designed to increase bicycle safety on Nebraska roads.

I wrote a letter in support of this bill to my senator, the senators on the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee, and the senator who introduced the bill. If you’d like contact information for your senator, check out the list of senators’ web pages. For the current status of LB 39, see the Nebraska Legislature page.

The text of my letter is below:

Dear Senators,

I realize that I have missed the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee hearing on LB 39, but I wanted to write and let you know of my support for this bill, and why I would like to see it become state law.

I have been a bicycle commuter since 1996, when I landed my first post-college job but did not yet have a car. Cycling as a form of transportation became a habit for me and my husband – we get by with one car and two bicycles. We keep it up because it saves us maintenance and operating expense on a second car, and it allows us to get exercise while we are commuting. In recent years, as our bodies have aged and running for exercise has become less attractive, we have taken up long-distance road cycling as well.

I support the repeal of the “mandatory sidepath” rule because this law could unfairly penalize cyclists for acting in the interest of their own safety. Personally, I much prefer to ride on dedicated cycling paths out of the flow of traffic when I can, but when hazards are present because that sidepath is narrow, because it crosses multiple driveways or side streets, or because it is busy with pedestrians or slower cyclists, etc., I would ride out in the lane of traffic to be safe.

I support giving cyclists the right of way when operating legally in a crosswalk. This just makes sense.

But, above all, I support the “change lanes to pass” rule. I was glad when the “3-foot minimum passing distance” law passed, as it gave acknowledgement that automobiles need to give cyclists a safe clearance. However, as others have noted, not everyone is good at judging a 3-foot passing distance. I actually contemplated attaching 3-foot, horizontal, flagged poles to each side of my bike, to demonstrate to people the safe distance they need to give me to pass, as well as the safe distance I need to give when I pass objects on the road (like parked cars).

In my 3,000 miles of road cycling over the past two years, I’ve come to find that the vast majority of drivers are courteous and operate safely around me on my bicycle. However, there are a scary few that – for reasons of ignorance, misjudgement, or malice – have passed dangerously close to me on my bike. I believe that the new law will help reduce errors of misjudgement, and enable law enforcement officers to educate and ticket ignorant or malicious drivers.

I have had two instances that I can recall in detail of cars passing too close, in which I hope the new law would have made a difference.

Once, westbound on two-lane Highway 92 west of Scottsbluff, where there is no shoulder, a westbound Subaru squeezed past me in my lane, while oncoming traffic was going by me eastbound at 55+ miles per hour. The Subaru was less than a foot away from me on my bike, and so far over to the left that they could have instigated a head-on collision with one of the oncoming cars, had someone not been paying attention. That Subaru should have slowed and waited until oncoming traffic had cleared before they passed. I guess I should be grateful that they slowed down, or their airstream might have blown me off the road.

Another time, southbound on Highway 71 south of Gering, where the road is divided with two lanes in each direction, I was riding on the shoulder. A southbound motorhome passed me in the right-hand lane, just a couple feet from my left elbow, at 65+ miles per hour, creating an immense airstream that blew me sideways. Luckily, I did not crash, but it was a terrifying encounter. That driver had a completely clear left lane, and could have moved over to pass me. Professional semi-truck drivers always move over for me when they can, so I suspect the motorhome driver was a novice. This motorhome driver might have been the minimum 3 feet away from me, but it was clearly not enough. I’m not sure if the current law as proposed would apply in this situation, as I was on the shoulder and not in the lane of travel, but I hope it would at least get that concept in people’s minds – “change lanes to pass!”.

We cyclists need all the help we can get. The infrastructure and legal framework of our roadways have been biased towards the automobile and against non-motorized transportation since the 1920s. I welcome shifts in the law to support the needs and rights of bicyclists and pedestrians.

I support any law that will make bicycling a more feasible mode of transportation and exercise for myself and others. By making our roads more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians, we make it easier for people to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and make transportation easier for those who may have difficulty with automobile transportation.

Thank you for your attention.

Copyright 2015 by Katie Bradshaw

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