Coalition Provides Testimony In Support of The Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act

Testimony in SUPPORT of LD 1301
An Act to improve the Safety of Vulnerable Users in Traffic and to Clarify the Responsibilities of Bicyclists and Pedestrians

Good Afternoon Chairman Collins, Chairman McLean, and Members of the Committee. My name is James Tassé and l am here on behalf of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and our 5,000 members. l urge you to vote in SUPPORT of LD 1301.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is the statewide organization that advocates for bicyclists and pedestrians. We work to make Maine better for bicycling and walking.

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine believes that this bill will improve the safety of our public ways for pedestrians, bicycles and motorists. In my testimony today, l will discuss some of the core provisions of the bill, and explain how this bill will improve safety for lvlainers of all ages and situations.

But let me begin by acknowledging what might be a shocking fact to all of you: bicyclists sometimes break the rules. So do pedestrians. And believe it or not, this probably bugs the Bicycle Coalition of Maine more than it does you, because we are trying hard to educate cyclists and walkers that the safest and most courteous way to behave on roadways is also the LEGAL way. Let me admit that the changes to l\/laine law that LD 1301 would enact are not going to solve every problem that exists on the roads with walkers and bicyclists, any more than any one motor vehicle law is going to stop cars from speeding or failing to yield or texting. Alas, the roads are used by humans, and we are all imperfect—motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair operators. We’ve all seen faulty behavior on the part of all these users.

That all being said, we firmly believe that LD 1301 is balanced, fair and effective in its approach to increasing accountability on the part ofall users. And in doing so, LD 1301 will improve safety.

LD 1301 does three critically important things: .

1. LD 1301 clarifies the operational responsibilities of bicycles and makes it easier for law enforcement officers (LEOs) to issue citations for bicyclists who flagrantly blow through stop lights and signs without consideration of other users, or who operate against the traffic flow on one~way streets, or who fail to yield to pedestrians. Current gaps in language and differences in how the law is interpreted complicate efforts to police these dangerous practices. LD 1301 will make it easier for LEOs to know that they are on solid ground when writing tickets to bicycle riders. The bill adds references to bicycles in the specific sections of the traffic code that regulate traffic control devices (§2057) and one way streets (§2059), and includes a requirement for bicycles to yield to pedestrians.

2. LD 1301 helps clarify and improve the rules concerning a motorist’s responsibilities to pedestrians in crosswalks. In changing §2056, the bill proposes a full stop, rather than just a yield, to people in crosswalks. The bill also spells out exactly which lanes are obligated to stop as a pedestrian is crossing a roadway. And most importantly, the bill improves and clarifies the “trigger moment” when a motorist has to stop. Current law requires that a walker be in the street and in harm’s way, before traffic must yield. Current law requires, for example, that an elderly woman venture into the roadway and be “within a marked crosswalk” before her right of way is triggered and traffic must yield to her. LD 1301 better protects people crossing streets by clarifying that their right of way can be asserted before they have to step into traffic, as soon as they show a desire to cross. LD 1301 requires that motorists must come to a full stop as soon as a pedestrian indicates an intention to cross by doing something as simple as waving their hand or their cane over a marked crosswalk. The clarity of these new rules will help guide motorist behavior, and remove ambiguities that make enforcement of pedestrian law difficult.

3. LD 1301 protects a category of roadway user called ”Vulnerable Users” that includes anyone who is not in the protective metal shell of a motor vehic|e—walkers, bicyclists, motorcyclists, horseback riders, ATV operators, roller-skiers and so forth. By introducing a Vulnerable User law, LD 1301 expresses our state’s commitment to protecting children, senior citizens, the disabled, and anyone else who uses Maine’s roadways without being a car. We’ve all been on a walk or bike ride when a car passed too close, or too fast, for comfort. The goal of LD 1301’s Vulnerable User provision is to emphasize that it is the motorists’ responsibility to drive safely near people who are not in cars. The bill creates this emphasis by both education and enforcement. The bill would require that all Maine driver’s ed programs include 30 minutes of education about driving conduct near vulnerable users. The bill also creates a category of traffic infraction that is punishable by fines and other penalties if warranted. This law provides a simple option for LEOs to reference when a motor vehicle operates unsafely near a variety of unprotected users, and it prohibits harassing or menacing behavior as well. The fines are the same as those in the §2119, which prohibits texting while driving—we think that driving a car too close or to too fast by a person who is, say, out walking under physician’s orders, deserves at least the same penalty as texting while driving.

In addition to these three critically needed changes to l\/laine law, LD 1301 makes a modest revision to the 3 foot passing law by clarifying that three feet is a minimum distance, and that it may be “reasonable and proper” to leave more space in some situations. 3 feet may be ok at 25 miles per hour, but that distance feels mighty close if the car or truck is moving at 55mph.

In closing—|’d like to emphasize that the changes LD 1301 makes to l\/laine traffic law are neither new nor untested. 11 other states, including New England states Vermont and €onnecticut, have VU laws similar to the one proposed in LD 1301. The language for the pedestrian section is based on Oregon law and was developed in part with reference to templates provided by America Walks, a national pedestrian advocacy group; our law is most closely based on language from Oregon. The measures proposed in LD 1301 are consistent with national best practices for improving the safety of roadways for non-motorized users.

We believe that LD 1301 will do very positive things for Maine roadway safety. And we are not alone: 64 other organizations in Maine signed a letter of support for this bill, which I will submit as part of my testimony. We feel that this bill is needed, effective and balanced, as it clarifies expectations for bicycle, pedestrian, and motorist behavior in a fair manner. We ask you to support LD 1301.

Thank you, and I’d be happy to answer any questions.

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