A recent PEMCO insurance company poll of Washington drivers found that 43 percent of respondents feel "somewhat uncomfortable" when driving around bicyclists and 23 percent feel "very uncomfortable." Forty-eight percent of respondents incorrectly said it's illegal for bicyclists to ride two abreast or take up an entire lane of traffic. Accordingly, driver discomfort and misunderstanding is one of Seattle-based, statewide advocacy group, Bicycle Alliance of Washington's five main legislative priorities they plan to push during the 2011 legislative session.
Bicycle Alliance's goal is to add bicycle and pedestrian education component to the traffic school classes taken by drivers wanting to defer their infractions. According to Bicycle Alliance Executive Director Barbara Culp, the curriculum is about teaching drivers to share the road with bicyclists and pedestrians. It includes lessons as simple as "don't honk when passing bicyclists" to turning when there's a bike lane present to interacting with bicyclists and pedestrians at intersections.
The proposed traffic school legislation builds off of a 2008 bill that introduced similar bicycle and pedestrian curriculum into drivers education programs (the ones taken by drivers before they get their licenses).
This is Bicycle Alliance's second attempt to get bike and ped curriculum into traffic schools. Last year, Rep. Brad Klippert (R-8) sponsored the bill, which passed the House, but failed to pass the Senate. According to Culp, it appears Rep. Klippert will reintroduce the bill in 2011. The education program would be partially funded by proceeds from the "Share the Road" license plates (which currently fund the drivers education version of the curriculum).
"I'm an optimistic person," said Culp. "I believe that our safety education proposal will resonate with legislators. We're not asking for money, we're asking for help to continue our public safety campaign. It's a win-win."
If the consistent uproar over road diets is any indication (see: 125th St, Nickerson), Bicycle Alliance's second legislative priority is bound to draw ire. They're proposing legislation that would grant cities and counties the authority to reduce speed limits to 20 mph in certain areas. Culp was quick to point out that it wouldn't be a blanket speed reduction, but would allow speed limits to be reduced on specific roads (such as neighborhood streets or popular areas with high pedestrian and bike traffic).
"There are stark statistics that the higher the speed limit, the likelier it is for pedestrians and bicycles to die in a collision with an automobile," said Culp.
The 20-mph speed limit movement is gaining traction in the UK, New York City, and Portland. UK's 20's Plenty For Us campaign is pushing for 20-mph limits on all residential streets in the country. New York just announced it's plans to experiment with 60 miles of 20-mph hour streets. Portland Mayor Sam Adams has expressed interest in reduced speed limits as part of his push to improve transportation safety.
"I'm also optimistic about lowering speed limits," Culp said. "It seems like a natural improvement, it's backed by such good data, and it gives municipalities an additional tool to reduce fatalities."
Though she's optimistic, Culp says they've gotten a little push back on the speed reduction from the Seattle Department of Transportation over potential enforcement and reengineering issues, though they did express interest.
In that same vein of roadway safety, the Bicycle Alliance is pushing for clarification of the state's safe passing law. The current law simply states that a driver must "pass to the left [of a bicyclist] at a safe distance." The group's proposed Mutual Courtesy and Safe Passing Act would provide a more concrete definition of safe passing (likely at least three feet, but that is still to-be-determined) and "clarify mutual responsibilities so that bicyclists and motorists may be better informed as to safe practices that will reduce collisions and conflicts."
Additionally, Bicycle Alliance is pushing for bicycle map and signed route-waviers which would prohibit maps and signage from being introduced into court in cases where a bicyclists was injured while following a signed or mapped route. Fear of litigation has kept some counties, such as Pierce County, from pursuing signed routes and maps. Bicycle Alliance is also lobbying to "codify Complete Streets into state law, establish it as a broad policy for transportation planning, and create a grant program." The grant program would provide funding to implement complete streets projects in communities that already have complete street policies. They lobbied for a similar bill in 2010, but it died in the House rules committee. Culp questions whether the bill will gain any more traction this year given the continuing desperate revenue situation.
The City of Seattle is also in the midst of outlining their legislative agenda for the upcoming session. Bicycle Alliance met yesterday with Mayor Mike McGinn's office to present their legislative agenda. It's too soon to say whether they have the Mayor's support or whether there will be a coordinated lobbying effort, but Culp says they "work to create partnerships with the City, SDOT, as well as the Sheriff and Police Chief to make sure these proposed safety tools become available to all municipalities."
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