Senator Witkos Discusses Proposed Traffic Safety Legislation [Canton Patch]

January 18, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Canton Patch on January 18, 2013

Safety is Top Concern in Single File Riding Debate

Senate Bill 103 would require cyclists to ride single file on roadways. Some suggest leaving it up to individual municipalities.

By Jeff Brush

As the debate surrounding a proposed bill that would require bicyclists to ride single file on roadways continues, state and local officials continue to look for ways to improve safety measures for riders and motorists.

The primary reason behind Senate Bill 103, a proposed bill that would make riding bicycles two abreast on roadways illegal, is safety for cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians, according to Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-8th District). Read the proposed bill.

The response to the bill within the bicycling community is mixed, however the majority of cycling advocates tend to be opposed to the bill while others are in support of SB 103 or tighter enforcement of the existing law.

“I think for public safety reasons I could go either way,” Steven Mitchell, board member for the East Coast Greenway, said.

Witkos proposed the bill after he was contacted by a Simsbury Police officer who was concerned about safety issues presented by two abreast riding on narrow roads when vehicles move to pass cyclists.

Those opposed to the bill argue that there is no data that supports the need for such a law. Local law enforcement officials say that a lack of hard data does not mean there isn’t a reason to be concerned.

According to the Simsbury Police Department, there were seven accidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles in 2011 and five accidents in 2012.

“Usually it’s a turning issue or a crosswalk issue,” Simsbury Police Captain Nicholas Boulter said.

There were no accidents involving bicyclists who were riding two abreast in recent years, but Boulter said that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned.

“We’ve all seen and sometimes experienced the difficulty in passing even one [bicyclist] on a narrow road,” Boulter said.

Observation and experience can go a long way in determining laws that promote public safety, Boulter said.

“We might not have had any motorcycle accidents in a particular year but we know the risk is there because of the size of that vehicle,” Boulter said.

Currently there are only five states that have laws against riding bicycles two abreast, according to the Alliance for Biking & Walking 2012 Benchmarking Report: Hawaii, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, and Arkansas. Only two of those states are ranked among the top 10 safest states for cyclists.

Additionally, there are 20 states that have enacted a three foot passing law for motor vehicles when passing cyclists. Arkansas is the only state that has both the three foot passing law and a law against two abreast riding.

View the full report here.

Top 10 Safest Places to Bike (According to the Alliance for Biking & Walking)

1. South Dakota
2. Vermont
3. Oregon
4. Nebraska
5. North Dakota
6. Colorado
7. Montana
8. Wyoming
9. Idaho
10. Washington

Connecticut is #30 on the list of safest places to bike. Towns like Simsbury are working to change that by working to promote the use of bicycles through education, access, and by providing multi-use paths and designated bicycle routes.

Simsbury has been recognized as a bronze level bike friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists in 2010, the first Connecticut town to achieve that status, and the town continues to work towards the silver designation.

Both West Hartford and Farmington have formed bicycle advisory committees, and are also working to achieve bike friendly status. Farmington received an honorable mention for the town’s 2012 application for bike friendly status, but did not receive the designation. West Hartford plans to apply for the first time in 2013.

Larry Linonis, Director of Simsbury Free Bike, said safety is one of the areas Simsbury needs to improve before it reaches the silver level.

Witkos said he has received many suggestions about how to approach the safety issue with two abreast riding since he proposed the bill.

“This is exactly what I wanted,” Witkos said. “It could be that the bill never makes it out of committee, but we need to address it.”

One suggestion Witkos received was to allow individual municipalities to determine whether or not to allow two abreast riding. Mitchell, who didn’t make the suggestion to Witkos, said he was surprised when he saw a sign posted along the East Coast Greenway in Portsmouth, NH, that reads “Bicyclists, Joggers, Single File Only—Town Ordinance.”

“It made an impression on me and I said ‘Now that makes sense,” Mitchell said.

From a law enforcement perspective, that option could present other challenges.

“[Cyclists] and motorists don’t always recognize the varying laws in different towns,” Boulter said. “I think there are some things that require some uniformity.”

For Witkos, the first step will be to determine a concrete definition of the existing state law which allows two abreast riding as long as it does not impede traffic.

“I think we need to first define what ‘impeding traffic’ means,” Witkos said.

Witkos plans to request an interpretation of the existing law from the State Attorney’s office before the bill goes before committee.

“I’m not for adding unnecessary laws to the books, this is about safety,” Witkos said. “If it comes down to a situation where the bill goes nowhere but we can define what ‘impeding’ means, I’m okay with that.”