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Archive for the ‘Legislation/Laws’ Category

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is one of 12 U.S. Senators who have signed on to co-sponsor the Complete Streets Act of 2011, which was sponsored May 24 by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The bill was read twice on May 24 and referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The Complete Streets Act of 2011, aka S.1056, is “a bill to ensure that all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, children, older individuals, and individuals with disabilities, are able to travel safely and conveniently on and across federally funded streets and highways.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

Sen. Harkin introduced similar legislation in 2007 and 2009. This time the introduction comes in the wake of the release of a new safety report, Dangerous by Design 2011, which finds that 67 percent of all pedestrian fatalities in the last 10 years took place on federal-aid roads. Children, older adults, and minorities are especially at risk. The report notes that from 2000 through 2009, more than 47,700 pedestrians and thousands of bicyclists were killed in road accidents.

“In many places across the country, there is a complete lack of sidewalks and bike lanes. This not only makes our roadways more dangerous for pedestrians, it discourages people from being more active by walking or riding a bike,” Sen. Harkin said. “The legislation I am introducing today aims to address this issue by making streets safer for everyone and promoting healthier living. It is truly a double win for our communities.”

The Complete Streets Act of 2011 creates a national standard as 25 states and more than 200 communities in the U.S. have adopted Complete Streets policies. The National Complete Streets Coalition and many other public interest organizations support the legislation.

In addition to Sen. Begich, the Complete Streets Act of 2011 is co-sponsored by Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.).

This bill comes three weeks after Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.)  introduced the similar Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2011 (H.R. 1780) into the U.S. House of Representatives, co-sponsored by Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio). That bill has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

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While there hasn’t been a vulnerable roadway user bill introduced in Alaska yet, the concept is gaining momentum nationwide.

Three states already have vulnerable user laws on the books (Oregon’s took effect in 2008, and Delaware’s and New York’s took effect this year), and more states are introducing the bills. Vulnerable roadway user bills mandate stiff fines, loss of license and/or other penalties when the driver of a motorized vehicle severely injures or kills a pedestrian, bicyclist, wheelchair user, motorcyclist or construction worker.

On Monday, April 18, Washington’s State Senate voted 44-2 to accept House amendments to SB 5326, its version of a vulnerable user bill that now goes to Gov. Christine Gregoire for her signature. Cycling and walking advocates in Washington have been trying to pass a vulnerable user bill for three years, but the bill usually ended up dying in committee. This year the Senate and House both passed their own versions of the bill by large margins, then the Senate bill crossed over to receive House approval (with amendments) and now can go to the governor.

“The real crux of this bill is that outcomes matter,” David Hiller of the Cascade Bicycle Club told the Sammamish Patch website. “A DUI with a death is not a DUI with a tragic outcome; it’s vehicular manslaughter. If you have an unsecured load in your vehicle, it’s simply an infraction; but if you kill someone, it’s a felony.”

Image from sharethedamnroad.com/

Image from sharethedamnroad.com/

Possible fines would range from $1,000 to $5,000, and drivers charged under the bill would lose their licenses for 90 days. A driver could reduce the fine to $250 by showing up in court, completing a traffic safety course, and doing 100 hours of community service.

“It will hopefully encourage people to behave more responsibly around populations that are defined as vulnerable,” Hiller told Sammamish Patch, although “we’ll have to watch it closely to see if it has its desired effect.”

New Mexico also had a vulnerable user bill moving through its state legislature, and HB 68 even passed unanimously in the House (68-0). Unfortunately the bill died in a Senate committee and won’t make it to the governor’s desk this year. Even if a bill passes, New Mexico bike/pedestrian advocates worry about a possible veto from Gov. Susana Martinez, who already vetoed SB 124, a bill that would have given New Mexico the nation’s first statewide five-foot passing law (Albuquerque and Los Alamos have local five-foot passing laws) that passed the House and Senate with relative ease.

According to the League of American Bicyclists blog, on April 11 the Maryland State Senate passed HB 363, which creates a new misdemeanor level offense: vehicular negligent homicide. This closes a loophole that had let negligent drivers off with mere traffic fines for killing other road users, while still allowing for felony level charges to be brought in instances of gross negligence such as  drunk driving. Guilty drivers will face up to 3 years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. According to the Baltimore Sun, the House accepted the one Senate amendment to the bill and it has been sent to the governor to be signed.

Vulnerable user bills with varying language also were introduced in the Rhode Island, Connecticut, Nevada, Michigan, Massachusetts and other states. In other states, such as Florida, recent fatal “accidents” involving cars/trucks and cyclists/pedestrians have led to a demand for vulnerable user bills. In February, Dan DeWitt of the St. Petersburg Times wrote this column promoting a vulnerable user law for Florida in response to a recent series of fatal wrecks in the Tampa area (at least 15 cyclists killed since mid-2010). A similar series of deaths in Wisconsin during 2010 prompted Tom Held of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to write this appeal for a Wisconsin vulnerable user bill on Sunday.

In 2009, the Texas Legislature overwhelmingly passed a vulnerable user bill (25-5 in the Senate, 140-5 in the House), but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it after the legislative session ended and the legislature wasn’t able to get back together to override the veto. Now, several Texas communities are bypassing Perry’s veto by passing localized vulnerable user laws. Earlier this month, Denton became the eighth Texas community to pass a local vulnerable user law.

For those wanting to learn more about vulnerable user laws, Ray Thomas of the Portland law firm, Swanson, Thomas and Coon, played a large role in crafting Oregon’s bill, which has become the model for many states. Thomas’ law firm’s website has a page devoted to vulnerable user laws and also posted a YouTube video. There have been similar laws on the books in many European countries.

One reason for vulnerable user laws is recent research shows the vast majority of car-bicycle wrecks occur at the fault of the driver, not the cyclist (at fault fewer than 10 percent of the time in one study by Charles Komanoff and the Right of Way organization of New York). Cyclists, pedestrians and others are the most vulnerable because there is no protective metal shell around them like there is in a car.

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HB 57 (Alaska’s Bike Bill) was passed by the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday, March 29, and now moves to the House Finance Committee, according to a story from the Associated Press.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) and co-sponsored by Rep. Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage). Once passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the bill “creates the Safe Bicycle Ridership grant program for municipalities and non-profits, which will provide increased access to bikes so Alaskans have a choice of transportation modes during an unstable economy with high fuel costs,” Rep. Seaton wrote in his sponsor’s statement. We had more information about the bill last month.

 

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I received a message from Mary Jane Shows, a Legislative Aide for Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer), that HB57 (Alaska Bike Bill) will be up for a hearing in the House Transportation Committee at 1 p.m. on Thursday, March 10 Friday, March 11. (EDITOR’S NOTE: The time on this hearing has changed from what previously was published. Please note the change.)

This is the second hearing before that committee, and the bill is early on the agenda so hopefully people won’t have to wait long to testify. The committee will vote on the bill, and if it passes it will move on to the House Finance Committee.

If you want to testify, contact your local Legislative Information Office to find out how to conference call into the hearing. If you have written testimony, ask your LIO staff how to make sure the committee members receive it in time for the hearing.

More information about the bill was posted last month on the Alaska Bicycle and Pedestrian Alliance website.

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Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer (Juneau Empire photo)

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer (Juneau Empire photo)

Bicycle riders might want to keep an eye on HB 57 (Bicycle Program), a bill filed in the Alaska House of Representatives by Rep. Paul Seaton (R-Homer) and co-sponsored by Rep. Max Gruenberg (D-Anchorage).

The bill, which Rep. Seaton is calling “Alaska’s Bike Bill,” is “an Act authorizing municipalities and non-profit organizations to sponsor a program to encourage the safe use of bicycles as a mode of transportation, and amending the duties of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to include administration of state funds appropriated for that purpose.”

According to Rep. Seaton’s sponsor statement, the bill creates the Safe Bicycle Ridership grant program for municipalities and non-profits, which will provide increased access to bikes so Alaskans have a choice of transportation modes during an unstable economy with high fuel costs. The House Transportation Committee held a hearing about the bill on Thursday, Feb. 10. The bill also has been assigned to the Finance Committee.

If the bill passes, the Department of Transportation will develop regulations establishing criteria for community grant awards so municipalities and non-profits can propose programs to increase bicycle ridership in their communities. Some of the suggested programs include bike-share programs, safety education, voucher systems or other program variations that meet the unique needs of the community. Rep. Seaton filed a similar bill during the last session (HB 132), but this version (HB 57) doesn’t have the path construction and maintenance sections listed in HB 132 because those items are taken care of by other DOT and Parks and Rec programs.

“The Safe Bicycle Ridership program would give government agencies and non-profits the opportunity to apply for grant monies to promote sage bicycle use with the intent of using it as a mode of transportation,” said Mary Jane Shows, a Legislative Aide for Rep. Seaton. “This could be a non-profit wanting to distribute bicycle helmets to kids who ride their bikes to school, or to educate the public about the proper way to ride on the bike routes. Money also could be used for bike racks or covers for bike racks, etc.”

In his sponsor statement, Rep. Seaton highlighted a program in Juneau called “Bikes, Bikes, Bikes Community Program,” which is a bike-loaner partnership between the City and Borough of Juneau and several local non-profit groups. The program offers a healthy learning environment for youth and, in turn, provides free bikes for community members to use around town. The Zach Gordon Youth Center provides a maintenance room where young adults can learn to fix up and take care of the program’s bikes (they all are painted the same color). Members of the community are encouraged to stop by and borrow a bike as a healthy alternative to moving around Juneau.

To learn more about the bill, or to find out how to testify when it next appears in committee, contact Rep. Seaton’s office at 1-800-665-2689.

In addition to Rep. Seaton’s bill, there are several other bills before the Alaska Legislature of interest to cyclists and pedestrians.

SB 37 (Transportation Infrastructure Fund) has been introduced by Sen. Joe Thomas (R-Fairbanks) to endow a $1 billion transportation infrastructure fund that would be supplemented by state fuel taxes, motor vehicle registration fees and other appropriations to the fund. This bill doesn’t specifically mention bicycles, pedestrians or other alternate forms of transportation, but in one section it does promote public transportation.

Finally, there are four different bills in the State House to ban the use of cell phones while driving — HB 22 (Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau), HB 35 (Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage), HB 68 (Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage) and HB 128 (Rep. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage). The first three bills are somewhat similar as they ban the use of cell phones while driving, except in an emergency or when used in a hands-free mode. Rep. Gardner’s bill prohibits the use of cell phones while driving for minors (the other three apply to drivers of all ages).

Of the four bills, Rep. Muñoz’s bill is given the best chance of advancing, and Rep. Doogan and Rep. Gruenberg acknowledge Rep. Muñoz’s bill has an advantage since she’s in the majority party. Rep. Gruenberg said he plans to make a couple of technical changes to Rep. Muñoz’s bill and co-sponsor it. Cell phone bills have been popular in several state legislatures in recent years, especially as more research shows distracted drivers are as dangerous on the road as drunk drivers.

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