Kristi Wood and Brian Litmans from Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage recently sent out this update about the Title 9 rewrite issue Anchorage cyclists were having with the Anchorage Police Department. Our two previous stories about the Title 9 issue are linked here and here. It looks like most of the safety issues have been resolved in favor of the cyclists and pedestrians who use the bike trails, sidewalks and other separated paths. For more information, here is the letter Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage (BCA) sent to members and posted on its website:
Since the summer of 2009, BCA has been working to ensure that the Title 9 rewrite is sensible and provides adequate protections for bicyclists. Title 9 is the Municipality of Anchorage Traffic Code, providing the rules and regulations of the road and it is going through a major update that, in the near future, will be reviewed and eventually approved by the Assembly.
When the initial proposed changes were released, BCA became concerned about one rule in particular because it placed bicyclists in a dangerous predicament. The proposed change sought to require bicyclists utilizing sidewalks to yield to motor-vehicle traffic when crossing driveways, intersections or crosswalks. The underlying reason for the change was that one of our most common crash scenarios is when bicyclists traveling on sidewalks are hit by motorists. When a bicyclist on a sidewalk approaches an intersection traveling quickly, it gives the motorist little time to react. But that is only part of the problem. The other aspect of these crash scenarios is that motorists just aren’t looking for bicycle (or pedestrian) traffic when coming out of driveways, parking lots or intersections.
Anchorage Police Department’s (APD) original proposed language to change Title 9 would have taken an auto-centric approach placing all duties and responsibilities upon the bicyclist and turned the classic “yield to the more vulnerable user” system on its head, requiring bicyclists to yield to motorists. It could have led to situations where the bicyclist would be liable for damage due to a motorist while they lie on the sidewalk injured, or even worse in a hospital, simply because they were traveling on the sidewalk and crossing an intersection or driveway without yielding.
BCA worked tirelessly behind the scenes to search for sensible and safe alternatives. We have spoken with bicycle attorneys from across the country. We have researched language in all 50 states to see how others address bicycle use on sidewalks (hint – not one state requires bicyclists to yield to cars). In August, BCA put the APD in touch with an expert in the field, Preston Tyree. Preston Tyree is the Director of Education for the League of American Bicyclists and was brought up to Alaska by BCA to provide a 20-hour course where graduates would then become League-certified bicycling instructors. Preston provided examples from other states that have worked to find a solution to the problems posed when bicyclists are on sidewalks.
Over the Fall, BCA worked closely with APD to reach consensus. The result is that bicyclists do not have to yield to motorists when traveling on sidewalks but they do have to approach driveways, parking lot entrances and exits, curb cuts and street intersections at a reasonable and prudent speed and they have to slow down to a reasonable and prudent speed when passing pedestrians. So what does that all really mean? It means you should be able to stop if you see that the motorist has no intention of stopping and yielding to you, or if you see that the motorist clearly isn’t looking in your direction, and you should be able to avoid hitting a pedestrian if they make a quick turn or stop.
BCA’s first priority is making Anchorage safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and we feel the revised language meets those needs. It is a good law because it protects bicyclists without being overly burdensome.
BCA is also very excited with the other improvements to Title 9 that we pushed for, including the revision of the code to provide a three foot passing zone for bicyclists. Throughout the Nation, states and cities have been passing the “3 foot rule.” This safe passing distance helps motorists know what a safe passing space is.
BCA would like to thank APD for their sincere efforts to work closely with the bicycling community to find a solution we can support. We also want to thank all the BCA supporters who contacted the Anchorage Assembly and the Public Safety Committee last summer to tell them what you thought of the proposed language. That effort led to placing the Title 9 rewrite on hold while the Anchorage Police Department reviewed the language and looked for alternatives with BCA, and is in large part the reason we can now strongly support the changes to Title 9.
We have worked hard to get changes that protect bicyclists. But it is really up to you. Following the rules of the road is the key to staying safe. And it helps motorists respect the cycling community in general.
You can view the new language on our website. The Anchorage Assembly wants to complete the Title 9 rewrite, and plans on a December vote. We look forward to a successful conclusion of our collective effort to making Anchorage more bicycle-friendly.
Thanks again for all your support. All those emails and letters you wrote, and those phone calls you made, are what made this possible.
Kristi Wood and Brian Litmans
You can find the proposed changes here: Title 9 Bicycle Update – proposed changes (opens as PDF file).