In the transportation bill recently passed by the US Senate, the following language remains, as reported on the League of American Bicyclists blog
(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 unless the Secretary determines that the bicycle level of service on that roadway is rated B or higher.
The League describes this as a compromise. It is a compromise with the National Park Service but more than that, it compromises cyclists’ right to travel — and our safety.
Safety depends to a very large degree on the characteristics of individual cyclists, who should be allowed to make up their own minds, or decide for their children, where to ride. A strong, fast adult cyclist is a very poor fit on a crowded path. Many paths in Federal lands are unsafe for children too. Here’s an example on the Province Lands paths in the Cape Cod National Seashore. The roads in this area now carry “share the roads” signs. The proposed legislation would require replacing them with signs prohibiting bicycling.
The photo gives you a taste of what the Province Lands paths are like. Family cyclists enter the trail innocently enough from a parking lot, and soon they are confronted with the scene in the photo. In a 1987 study, the National Park Service counted 106 bicycle crashes on the trails in the National Seashore, 11 in the parking lots and 4 on roads. Some of those roads, by the way, are part of a very popular bicycle touring route. It isn’t as if nobody rides bicycles on them. I have a Web a Web page giving more details.
I have prepared a video about these paths, so you can see for yourselves.
The wording also pays no attention whatever to cyclists’ travel needs, saying only that a path need only be within 100 yards of the road, and nothing about whether the path is much longer, or hillier, or serves the same destinations.
The wording isn’t really about safety. It is, as usual, about getting bicyclists off the road for the convenience of motorists. The wording is particularly blundering and insensitive, even for a mandatory sidepath law.
Cycling advocates have succeeded in having mandatory sidepath laws repealed, state by state, over the past few decades, generally after pointing out that prohibitions denied access and required riding on poorly maintained, unsafe paths. The laws that were repealed did generally include a requirement that a path at least be usable — in a sense, a level of service requirement for the path. A path might be slow, crowded with pedestrians, unsafe, hilly, much longer than the road, or deny access to some destinations, but at least it had to be usable. The Transportation Bill includes no such wording. A path could, for example, be heaped with the past winter’s snow and sand from the adjacent road, or awash with mud, or have a fallen tree across it, but the prohibition on cycling on the nearby road would still hold.
Here’s an example of an access issue. The Google map below shows Doane Road and the Nauset bicycle path in Eastham, Massachusetts. The path is the narrow, curvy line near the bottom of the image. There are a number of private residences and points of interest off Doane Road which would be totally denied access by bicycle, under the proposed legislation. Cyclists wishing to get to Nauset Road would have to take a long way around on the path, Tomahawk Trail and Macpherson Way. Or could they get there at all? Depends on the interpretation of the wording “adjacent” and “within 100 yards.”
Would Doane Road meet the requirement for a Bicycle Level of Service B? That gets us into the issue of the Bicycle Level of Service, and of what a level of service is. There is no reference in the wording as to how Level of Service is to be measured, other than that the Secretary gets to make the call. The so-called Bicycle Level of Service which is probably intended, though not spelled out in the bill, is really only a comfort index, based on research which has been heavily criticized: video was shot with a stationary camera at the side of the road, then reviewed and rated on a TV screen. The comfort rating didn’t, then, account for either the presence or the speed of a cyclist. You may read about it here. The research also pays no attention to crossing and turning conflicts, or to travel time.
At present, Doane Road has a 30 mile per hour speed limit and share-the-road signs, as in the photo below taken on August 1, 2011.
To get a level of service B, you need to have bike lanes or shoulders on a road. So Doane Road is out unless the Secretary overrules the Bicycle Level of Service rating.
The bicycle ban in the Transportation Bill also directly contradicts Massachusetts state law.
Section 11B. Every person operating a bicycle upon a way, as defined in section one of chapter ninety, shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted, and shall be subject to the traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the special regulations contained in this section…
A similar problem exists in other states too. I leave it to lawyers to figure out which law rules.
Another cyclist comments on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi:
A place where I know this will affect riders is the Natchez Trace Parkway. There is a MUP [Multi-Use Path; the technical term is actually "shared-use path"] roughly paralleling about 10 miles of the Trace near Jackson, MS. At some points it is ‘adjacent’, but it is mostly in the woods 100 yds. away. There are 3 or 4 points where the trail can be accessed from the road. While the trail is in good condition, pedestrian users, grade, and winding nature make it unsuitable for fast riding.
The most ridiculous thing is that the Trace (which could not have a BLOS of B) is open for cycling along its entire 400+ miles. If this change goes into effect, cycling would only be prohibited on this section. I know it would be enforced. When I was being ticketed for riding abreast (and too far from the edge), the ranger suggested that if I didn’t feel safe riding near the edge of the roadway, I could
ride on the MUP.
This provision of law can’t stand. If it does pass, legislators who supported it don’t deserve cyclists’ votes, or those of anyone who has an understanding of the right of access.
Next week is the League’s annual Congressional lobbying event, the National Bicycle Summit. I hope that attendees give their members of Congress an earful about this.
Update: my next post on this blog“Mandatory sidepath laws, state by state”, gives the wording of the laws in the 7 states which still have them. All but one require the path to be usable, and that one is toothless.