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Archive for July, 2010

The Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage recently sent out this note about a planned rewrite of Title 9 of the Anchorage Municipal Code, a change that will shift the liability to the cyclist instead of the motorist for any car-bicycle wreck while a bike is crossing a roadway. Here is the text of a note written by BCA secretary Kristi Wood that was e-mailed to a statewide biking/walking group and posted on the BCA site:

Our city is considering changing a law –- Title 9 of the Anchorage Municipal Code –- to make cyclists liable for accidents if they are hit while crossing a roadway. No other place in the country gives the right of way to a motorist over a bicyclist. Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage (BCA) is teaming up with citizens to make sure Anchorage, Alaska, will not become the first.

Here is what you can do to help:
1. Tuesday, July 27th, 8pm attend the Anchorage Assembly meeting to speak out against this potential change. We are allotted three minutes each.
2. Contact Public Safety committee members, and let them know the proposed change is a bad idea.
• Paul Honeman, chair, HonemanPS@muni.org, 947-0500
• Chris Birch, chrisbirch@gci.net, 346-3265
• Mike Gutierrez , gutierrezm@muni.org, 382-5972
3. Join us from 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm on Thursday, August 5, for an important meeting of the city Traffic Department at the Municipal Planning and Development Center (First Floor Conference Room Number 30 at 4700 Elmore Road).

Title 9 of Anchorage’s Municipal code handles traffic law, including the rights and duties of cyclists. Since last Spring, when Title 9 rewrites were proposed, BCA has strongly objected to changes in the law which hinder public safety protections for bicyclists.

Giving cars the right of way is unintuitive. Most people instinctively give the right of way to the most vulnerable. Bicyclists give the right of way to pedestrians and cars give the right of way to cyclists and pedestrians. Does the city really want to make a child riding their bike on a sidewalk liable if that child were to be hit by a car while crossing a driveway? The proposed law defies common sense.

The evidence is on our side.
1. According to the Anchorage Bicycle Plan, crash statistics for bicycle versus car accidents in Anchorage went down by 40% since 2004 when Title 9 was originally changed to ensure cyclists have the right of way when crossing a street.
2. BCA researched traffic law in all 50 states, and did not find any other communities give the right of way to the motorist over the cyclist. In most communities, the right of way is granted to the cyclist, for the obvious reason that cyclists can be put at risk when crossing the street.

This change is dangerous because of the increased number of bicyclists.
1. Bicycle ridership, according to Anchorage 2010 Bike to Work Day observational counts, nearly doubled since 2007.
2. Anchorage has more bicycle shops, bicycle rental businesses, and more money being spent on bicycles and bicycling gear than ever before.

This change is dangerous to children
1. Children ride their bikes 40% more than adults
2. Bicycle crashes are the leading cause of hospitalization and fatalities of children
3. Children ride their bikes on sidewalks. This new law puts the burden of responsibility on children whether they are riding or walking their bicycle across a driveway or intersection.
4. Many motorists are driving while talking or texting, this distraction can lead to a motorist hitting a cyclist and still it will be the bicyclist’s fault.

BCA recommends
1. Maintain the same language as 2004, as the rewrite reduced crashes.
2. Start a campaign to educate motorists to stop at red lights and not roll through stop signs.

What BCA already is doing
1. BCA holds education clinics nearly every two months, educating bicyclists on following the rules of the road and bicycle safety.
2. BCA designed a bicycle safety curriculum and taught bicycle safety to 60 youth, age 8-14 this summer through Camp Fire USA.
3. BCA is hosting a three-day bicycle certification clinic to teach instructors how to teach bicycle safety.

Please join us in our efforts to keep Anchorage’s cyclists safe! If you have any specific questions about the Title 9 re-write, please contact Kristi Wood at bikemoredriveless@hotmail.com.

The Title 9 rewrite issue has been around for several months, and in December the Anchorage Press published a story about the Title 9 rewrite and what it could mean for cyclists. In February, Thomas Pease wrote this guest editorial against the Title 9 rewrite that appeared in the Anchorage Press, Anchorage Daily News and other media. Thomas Pease’s guest editorial had this discussion on the BCA site. Here is the current discussion thread about the Title 9 rewrite on the AKSpokes.com forum site.

The language in the Title 9 rewrite not only would make Anchorage the only place in the country where cyclists are liable for any car-bike wrecks when crossing an intersection, but it is totally out of character with the language in the Anchorage Bike Plan unanimously passed by the Anchorage Assembly a few months ago. Changing this language is a bad move and you are encouraged to let your local Anchorage Assembly members know.

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A cyclist wears a t-shirt reminding motorists that cyclists are traffic during the Sitka Community Bike Ride in August 2007

A cyclist wears a t-shirt reminding motorists that cyclists are traffic during the Sitka Community Bike Ride in August 2007

Over the years, one of the biggest battles for cyclists has been becoming accepted as a legitimate part of traffic in a car-centric world. Cyclists have made several gains in their efforts to become more accepted in city, state and federal transportation plans, but there still is a long way to go.

That’s why this recent news story from KFSK-FM public radio in Petersburg was disheartening (click link for audio). Petersburg police are asking bike riders to obey traffic signs, follow the rules of the road and be more careful around pedestrians and motorists this summer. The department and the city’s public safety advisory board have both been fielding complaints about bikers riding on sidewalks and on the wrong side of the road, among other problems. KFSK news reporter Joe Viechnicki rode his bike down to the police department Monday (June 24), crashing once along the way, and spoke to acting chief Jim Agner about bike safety.

Cyclists round a corner during the Sitka Community Bike Ride in August 2007.

Cyclists round a corner during the Sitka Community Bike Ride in August 2007.

These concerns about cyclists obeying the rules of the road aren’t limited to Petersburg. Even in Sitka, Alaska’s first Bicycle Friendly Community, there have been education efforts designed to remind cyclists to ride on the right side of the road, obey stop signs, stay off of sidewalks and follow other basic safety rules. The Sitka Bicycle Friendly Community Coalition’s education campaign included a two-sided flier (see two PDF files posted below) inserted into the Daily Sitka Sentinel reminding people there are Rules of the Road for Motorists (one side) and Rules of the Road for Cyclists (other side). There also were radio PSAs broadcast on Sitka stations KCAW-FM and KIFW-AM (scroll down on link for audio clips). The Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage is another organization that has launched a safety campaign that includes safety courses for commuters.

Just as we ask for motorists to respect our rights to ride our bikes in the road, we also must respect motorized traffic by riding in a safe, sensible manner. This includes knowing the local and state laws regarding cycling (see attached PDF), which may include local helmet laws for children in some communities (Sitka, Juneau, Bethel, Kenai and Anchorage are some of the communities with helmet laws).

You may ask why it is important for cyclists to respect the rules of the road. Well, even though there have been gains in cycling becoming a more accepted form of transportation, there also has been some backlash against cyclists in other communities. For example, recently a couple of mining communities in Colorado (including Black Hawk) banned cycling on city streets. Then there’s St. Charles County, Mo., which is debating a similar ban on bikes using state highways in its part of the state. We can’t expect cyclists to be respected on the roads unless we also respect the rights of motorized vehicles.

• Sitka’s Rules of the Road for Motorists flier

• Sitka’s Rules of the Road for Bicyclists flier

• Alaska Bike Laws flier (last updated in 2003, but reviewed for accuracy in 2010)

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