Op-Ed

Kentucky needs safe-passing bike law

A bicyclist rode in the bike lane near the intersection of Citation Blvd. and Greendale Rd. in Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, September 23, 2015. Citation Blvd. opened to traffic Monday afternoon and there have already been numerous accidents at this intersection. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
A bicyclist rode in the bike lane near the intersection of Citation Blvd. and Greendale Rd. in Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, September 23, 2015. Citation Blvd. opened to traffic Monday afternoon and there have already been numerous accidents at this intersection. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Kentucky needs a safe-passing law for bicycles. We bike for commuting, short trips, errands, health and recreation, and cyclists are at more risk of crash-related injury and death than motor vehicle drivers or passengers.

Kentucky law considers a bicycle to be a vehicle. The current law states “ … vehicles overtaking other vehicles … shall pass to the left of them and shall not again drive to the right until reasonably clear ... ”

But a proposed new law would direct the overtaking vehicle to move to the immediate left lane or, if a lane is not available, to pass with a minimum of three feet between the vehicle and bicycle.

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have three-foot minimum clearance laws for passing bicycles. With the exception of Missouri, all the states surrounding Kentucky have these laws, have pending legislation or have cities with similar ordinances.

Nationally in 2012, cyclist deaths accounted for two percent of all traffic fatalities and two percent of all traffic injuries, while bicycles were estimated to be less than one percent of vehicles on the road. Data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggests that 45 percent of bicyclist deaths may be the result of unsafe passing.

Cycling is becoming a larger part of our transportation mix. U.S. Department of Transportation policy encourages more bicycling in urban and suburban areas. That is because cycling reduces traffic congestion, transportation costs, air and noise pollution and has benefits for tourism, health and recreation.

In Kentucky, bicycle commuting increased 128 percent between 2005 and 2014. The average bicycle trip is 3.9 miles. Concerns about safety consistently rank as the top deterrent to bicycling.

The Bicycle Safety Standards in the Kentucky Administrative Regulations were updated after several years of work by cyclists and the Transportation Cabinet. In 2014, Kentucky ranked fifth nationally in the percentage (3.2 percent) of federal transportation dollars applied to bicycling and walking.

Kentucky has been falling behind as a bike-friendly state, according to the League of American Bicyclists. In 2015, Kentucky was ranked 49th as a bike-friendly state, down from 27th in 2009. Two of the main reasons given for that decline were the lack of a safe-passing law and lack of bicycle infrastructure networks.

Safe-passing laws are not a replacement for safe bicycle infrastructure, but they promote safety through education and enforcement.

There would be little cost associated with enacting a safe-passing law, and it would have many benefits. Such a law would clearly communicate proper behavior to motor vehicle drivers. It would be:

· A clear public message on how to safely pass a cyclist.

· A public policy response to the most common reason for the death of a cyclist.

· A basis for high-visibility enforcement and education about sharing the road with bicycles.

· An assist for punishing unsafe behavior by drivers that results in a fatality.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee for the Lexington Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeway Commission have given encouragement to advocacy for a safer-passing law. More information about this proposed law is on the Facebook page “Safer Passing Law for Bicycles.”

Sen. Robin Webb, representing Carter, Boyd and Greenup counties, is drafting a safer passing bill for the upcoming legislature.

We can make cycling safer in Kentucky for the benefit of all.

Dixie Moore of Lexington is a semi-retired psychologist and urban cyclist.

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