How to Stop Getting Buzzed - A Call to Action on Three Key Bills

By RICHARD FRIES, Executive Director  

I’m riding 2x2 with a good friend in Gloucester, which sees more than its share of bicycles. Car traffic is light on this splendid autumn Sunday. We’re riding to the right, tightly enough so that our forearms occasionally bump as we chat about our spouses, our families, our jobs and - of course - cycling.

Under state law riding two abreast is legal. But I believe cyclists - like motorists and pedestrians - should operate with a degree of consideration for all. In certain circumstances, riding single file is simply courteous. And motorists, in my opinion, should afford cyclists similar courtesy.

But on this morning we enjoyed each other’s company as we rode.

With neither traffic backed up behind nor traffic approaching ahead we feel the car as much as hear the car. The driver chooses not to yield any pavement and buzzes us...passing within about a foot to our left at speed.

Although frustrated, we never missed a beat and pedaled on. Fortunately we were not wobbly charity riders or beginner commuters or college students riding dilapidated bikes or restaurant workers at night without lights.

Was the driver rude? Definitely.

Dangerous? Sure.

Illegal? No.

As of last count, 23 of the 50 states have a three-foot passing law. Even such states with high fatality rates for bicyclists as Mississippi and Florida have a three-foot law.

But here in Massachusetts? Nope.   

That is just one example of Legislation that needs to be passed and then enforced to improve cycling here in the Bay State. The Joint Committee on Transportation is about to hold hearings on key Legislation filed by MassBike. In the coming weeks, your voice could make a difference. Contacting your lawmakers will help.
Here are the three bills that, if passed, will improve the bicycling environment in Massachusetts and elevate us in national bike friendly rankings.

Bill One: The Vulnerable Users Bill

H.3073, S.1807, S. 1879

Nearly half of the states in the U.S. have three-foot rules that require drivers to give a minimum of three-feet when passing a bicyclist. Massachusetts currently leaves it up to the driver to interpret what they consider to be a “safe distance.”  And the Bay State also does not define the legality of the motorist’s ability to cross the centerline to provide that room. So to some degree the motorist’s confusion can be translated as hostility.  

For the second time, the Massachusetts Legislature will consider a three-foot passing bill. But there is one bright-and-shining difference in this effort. This bill will be called a “Vulnerable Users Bill.” My predecessor, David Watson, did a lot of great things at the helm of MassBike. In crafting this bill, however, he showed what eight years of experience can do. Instead of making this bill just about cyclists, Watson included pedestrians, first responders, police, road workers, firefighters, etc. under the tent of vulnerable users. Note that automobiles typically strike and kill more police officers per year than bullets.  And on average a tow truck driver is killed every six days.

This is also politically savvy in that firefighters and police and other trade organizations have far more political sway than bike advocates.


Of note, passing this bill alone could very well move Massachusetts, currently ranked fourth in the country for its bike friendly rankings, up a few pegs to challenge Washington and Minnesota.

Bill Two: The Bike Lane Bill

H. 3072, S. 1808

The second bill simply makes it illegal to stop and/or park in a marked bike lane.

What? That’s not illegal?

No!!!

If passed, the bill would insert this language:

The operator of a motor vehicle shall not stand or park the vehicle upon any on-street path or lane designated by official signs or markings for the use of bicycles, or place the vehicle in such a manner as to interfere with the safety and passage of persons operating bicycles thereon.

Duh….Right? After all it … is … a … bike lane, right?

But the key to this bill’s passage is to point out that such a restriction will improve the safety and flow for all road users. Anybody who has pedaled through an urban rush hour realizes that folks who use bike lanes as turning lanes, drop-off lanes, parking lanes, wait-for-my-friend zone, loading zones, cab stands, etc. only causes traffic to back up. Their actions are not just rude, but also dangerous in forcing cyclists out into traffic and hiding pedestrians trying to cross.  

Bill Three: The Crosswalk Bill

S.1809

The third bill came about from the legendary Andrew Fischer, who helped to create MassBike and has supported Bay State bike advocacy spiritually, financially, and intellectually since the early 1970s.

With more than 200 miles of bike paths now opened in Massachusetts and an expected tripling of that mileage in the next decade one would think some rules would have been laid down around those crosswalks that serve bike paths. Like most cyclists on the Minuteman Bikeway, I never dismount to walk through the crosswalk. But under current law, a motorist that hits a three-year-old boy riding with training wheels alongside of his pedestrian mother would only be charged for striking the mother and not the child.  

The new bill would simply amend language regarding crosswalks to insert the word “and bicyclists” after the word “pedestrians”. (Our pedestrian friends should relax, as the bill will include this language: “Nothing in this statute shall relieve a bicyclist from the responsibility of giving right-of-way and yielding to pedestrians in a crosswalk.

So How Do You Get Involved?

We need MassBike members to contact their lawmakers to ask for passage of these bills. Doing so is easy and requires little time.  

Step One: Find your lawmaker. We made it easy with this link: Find Your Massachusetts Lawmakers

Just click through and you’ll find your State Representative and your State Senator and their contact info. E-mail works fine.  Or find them on twitter.

Step Two: List the bills. Cite the bills listed above by name and number when you ask for them to vote for passage.  

Step Three: Tell them your story. Don’t worry so much about national or state trends or data. Instead focus on your experience in their district and how those bills, if passed, will positively impact all of the voters in their district.

We have an opportunity to make Massachusetts a safer place to live and work and travel. Your help now is critical.

[box]Need help writing Beacon Hill? Here is some language to consider copying and pasting into a personalized letter to your lawmaker:

We have an opportunity to make Massachusetts a safer place to live and work and travel.

The Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition has filed a Vulnerable Users Bill that will improve roadway safety for far more people than just bicyclists. And we write to urge you to support this important legislation.

On average a tow truck driver is killed every six days while on the job in America. We know that a law enforcement officer is struck and killed every month on average. Construction workers, first responders, EMTs, and countless others whose work puts them on the edges of our roadways are at increased risk from motorists who presently are not required to provide sufficient room to pass.

The vulnerable users bill requires motorists to provide a minimum of three feet clearance when passing a bicyclist or any other person deemed a “vulnerable user.” This law will also make it legal for passing motorists to cross the centerline to provide sufficient room to pass.

These laws have been passed in nearly half the states in America, but Massachusetts has yet to enact this basic law to make our roadways safer for every user.

We urge you to please write the chairs of the Joint Committee on Transportation on Beacon Hill, Sen. Thomas M. McGee and Rep. William M. Strauss, to outline your support of House Bill 3073 and Senate Bills 1807 and 1879, collectively referred to as the Vulnerable Users Bill. And please vote to support these critical bills when called upon to do so. [/box]

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