Transportation Bill Includes Draconian Mandatory Sidepath Provision

Concerning the transportation bill currently making its way through the U. S. Senate committee process, please see this analysis on the Washcycle blog.

The bill has adverse effects on funding, and also it contains the most draconian mandatory sidepath provision I’ve ever seen. Get-bikes-off-the road provisions like this one were deleted from the laws of most states which had them in the 1970s. This is on Page 226 of the bill:

(d) BICYCLE SAFETY.­The Secretary of the appropriate Federal land management agency shall prohibit the use of bicycles on each federally owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater and an adjacent paved path for use by bicycles within 100 yards of the road.

The Washcycle comments on this:

Even if the trail is in very bad shape, and the road is perfectly safe, the Secretary will have no leeway to allow cyclists to continue to use the road if a trail is available. This is very bad policy. Among other things it would end biking on portions of the Rock Creek Parkway where the speed limit is 35 mph.

Note that this applies not only to roads in parks but to any Federally-owned road. If there’s a trail within 100 years of a road, then to get to a destination on the other side of the road this law would require you to lug your bicycle through some environmentally-sensitive area in a National Park, or through private property, or swim across a river. If the trail is covered with snow but the road is clear, you would still have to use the trail. The legislation does not even state that the trail has to serve the same destinations as the road, or refer to any standards for design, etc. Excuse me. The conclusion the states reached in the 1970s is based on a simple principle: let bicyclists decide. If the trail is better than the road, they will use it.

Furthermore, the Federal Government does not have jurisdiction over traffic laws. The states do. The predictable outcome is dozens of court battles which will be an embarrassment to the Congress. There also is liability exposure in restricting bicyclists to a substandard path.

I am sending a version of this message to my Senators, John Kerry (D-MA) and Scott Brown (R-MA). Both, by the way, are avid bicyclists.

All I see in the America Bikes document about the bill is about funding. I want confirmation that the lobbyists all of the America Bikes member organizations are working to have this provision deleted. I am a member of three of these organizations: the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals, the League of American Bicyclists and the Adventure Cycling Association, and I need to know that they are supporting my interests. And, as a member of the National Committee for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) task force currently working on revisions to the Uniform Vehicle Code, I am especially concerned about this provision.

9 responses to “Transportation Bill Includes Draconian Mandatory Sidepath Provision

  1. Pingback: Mandatory Sidepath Rule Attacks Bicycle Rights | 16incheswestofpeoria

  2. John, I’m not sure this is really Draconian (a total ban will be Draconian). I only say that because we (bicycle advocates) have been steadily moving towards this for the last 15+ years, and it has been no secret. Simply quid pro quo.

    I constantly saw requests and demands for bicycle facilities pitched with the pro-bicyclist point that “bicyclists need to be protected from cars”, combined with the all-to-happy-to-agree anti-bicyclist desire to see bicycles removed from the roadways in the name of ‘safety’. The Dallas (Texas) City Council co-chairs of the New Dallas Bike Plan (that LAB takes great pride in) have expressed these two positions at public meetings with no one even raising an eyebrow.

    As we sow (fear), so shall we reap (imposed protection).

  3. A correction: the Federal Government can establish traffic law on federally-owned lands, which include national parks and Bureau of Land Management property (for example, national forests). The proposed provision would hit especially hard in western states which have large areas that fall within those categories — though also right here in Massachusetts, on the Cape Cod National Seashore — and it isn’t a theoretical issue there at all because there are several multi-use trails within the National Seashore. I thank Tim Young, League of American Bicyclists Board member and Executive Director of Friends of Pathways in Jackson, Wyoming for this correction.

  4. I find it interesting that so far only LAB has noted the provision, with the path and industry groups completely silent except about the funding element. I also find it notable that the D & R committee members collaborated on this, suggesting once again that anti-cycling actions are truly nonpartisan. It will be revealing who says what about this in the days and weeks to come.

  5. I’ve asked Los Alamos National Lab if this law would apply to Dept. of Energy roads, which make up some of the most critical roads in Los Alamos County. Technically, enforcement is by the County of Los Alamos, but maintenance and legal ownership is by the Dept. of Energy. Of course if the bill doesn’t become law it is moot.

    This could be a real mess for us out in the West, as John has mentioned. Between BLM, National Park Service, and specifically here in BombTown, Dept. of Energy and Bandelier National Park roads, we in the West, such as in New Mexico, could be hit pretty hard. Especially if there are few if any reasonable definitions on what constitutes an acceptable sidepath.

    I sent an email on this topic to Andy Clarke today and he took it pretty seriously as I am sure folks like Tim Young from Wyoming would as well. As PM Summer said, we need to beware of what we wish for unless we are calling all the shots, which of course we rarely do. I sent out an email blast to the Los Alamos peloton today referring to this law as the “2011 Federal kick the bicyclists off the road act”. Sad, but potentially true.

  6. Please note specific examples of where this provision would apply, in the next post.

  7. Pingback: Transportation Bill slams road rights on Federal lands. | John S. Allen's Bicycle Blog

  8. John,
    The League of American Bicyclists and Adventure Cycling Association were tasked with working on this provision while America Bikes focused on the funding issues in MAP -21. We worked with numerous Senators and they offered two amendments to strike the language entirely. These amendments were not accepted by the Big Four of EPW. The Senators offered to have language changed from “shall” to “may prohibit” — again, the change was not accepted. The only change that was accepted was the BLOS of B or higher. It’s a terrible provision. We are not done fighting. The bill will move into Conference and the entire bicycling community must rally and talk to all their representative about why the provision is bad business – it has major financial implications not to mention it’s bad for cyclists and eliminates local control. I will be speaking about this during the National Bike Summit session on Wednesday. Thank you for you analysis on this issue.

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