Transportation Bill slams road rights on Federal lands.

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.

Descent and sand on the Province Lands path in the Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

Descent and sand on the Province Lands path in the Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts.

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.”

View Larger Map

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.

Doane Road, Eastham, Massachusetts, 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.

You may read my earlier posts about the bike ban here and here.

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.

21 responses to “Transportation Bill slams road rights on Federal lands.

  1. The League links to a more detailed Bicycle Level of Service definition that does include consideration of intersection and driveway conflicts.

    But what’s most notable in today’s context is that most BLOS C roads, the roads bicycles would be banned from, have dedicated bike lanes or wide curb lanes for cyclists.

    This so-called safety rule would ban bikes from bike lanes if sidepaths are available — how stupid is that?

  2. I too am extremely worried about “getting bicyclists off the road for the convenience of motorists” and it seems that with more and more cycling infrastructure that is unsuitable for a strong fast rider it becomes more and more common and ingrained into your motorist culture. I want my right to ride on the road thank you very much. Some advocate for cycling change is going to shoot us recreational cyclists in the foot. Think before you advocate. Its not about “getting more people into cycling” it IS about cyclists rights to road use.

  3. That provision is a catastrophe for cyclists. Something along the lines of a compromise apartheid bill.

  4. To some extent, the National Park Service has already done this. A local scenic highway, the George Washington Pkwy, is verboten to cyclists. A fundamental reason given is that the substandard Mount Vernon Trail runs parallel to it even though it suffers from many of the problems you discuss John.

    • Here’s video of a ride on part of that trail system — a substandard and scary path which crosses several highway ramps. The video also shows some distressing examples of decaying infrastructure — crumbling concrete and a broken railing on bridges. This path is on the most direct route between residential areas in Arlington, Virginia and downtown Washington, DC. The adjacent highway (not Washington Parkway but Washington Boulevard, a high-speed limited-access highway) is not one I would recommend for bicycling, but given that, the condition of the path is appalling.

      • AFAIK, there were very few people consider riding GW Parkway around the Pentagon or Memorial Bridge area. Further south, GW Parkway provides a useful connection for a few areas. Motorized traffic sometimes gets busy; but most often it’s relatively light with decent lines of sight where the Mount Vernon Trail is particularly hazardous. Simply based on anecdotes from local forums, I understand that the NPS regularly has to get cyclists that fall off the trail into deep ditches in the area.

      • BTW, it might interest you to know that the speed limit on Washington Blvd there used to be posted 25 mph until wildly speeding motorized vehicles hit peds and cyclists at a few crossings in the area.

        old Google view/map …

        As a consequence, NPS decided to raise the speed limit instead of enforcing safer speeds.

        Note, I have not been in the area recently; but I understand from other people that the sign was taken down. Hopefully I’m wrong.

  5. Under this new definition of “adjacent”, the opposite end zones of a football field are “adjacent”.

  6. “Compromise” definition – an anti cycling measure passed by a house of Congress controlled by Democrats. The identical measure, passed by a house controlled by Republicans would be labeled as “outrageous” or “offensive,” or some other epithet. Cycling rights truly are nonpartisan.

    Cycling organizations and advocates are, unfortunately, not. Personally, I will never forget the Andy Clarke email broadcast bemoaning the loss of Blumenthal; a big spending liberal who fostered a “I want my share” mentality in preference to others that may be motoring-centric, but who are still less likely to dump the bill on the shoulders of my children. I’m willing to do without a subsidy if it means we cut off more Interstates through my town…

    • Steve, you’re politicizing an issue which, as you yourself say, is nonpartisan. As to the Congressional mud-slinging, seems to me it comes from either side of the aisle, landing on the other side!

  7. This bill would prohibit cycling on the very beautiful, very popular and very safe north-to-south roads in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This Park extends most of the way between Cleveland and Akron, and is popular with cyclists in those cities plus the surrounding towns.

    The existing roads (for example, Riverview Road, ) are low traffic, peaceful, safe and scenic. They are used for area cycling events, and some cyclists use them for transportation access to the weekly Farmers Market at Howe Meadow. But because a crushed limestone path runs nearby, the roads would be forbidden to cyclists. Yet that limestone path is absolutely packed with joggers, walkers, baby carriages, etc. on weekends. Safe speed is often less than 10 MPH. It’s adequate for slow cruisers who are willing to stop and walk at times, but frustrating if not nerve-wracking for those who prefer to ride at 15 MPH.

    It’s astonishing that any bicycling advocates would consider this bill to be less than a disaster.

    • Well, there is a saving grace for Riverview Rd. and Akron Peninsula Rd. The amendment states a “adjacent paved path” and most of the Towpath is not paved, and certainly not paved for the full length of any duration between entry points. I plan to stay on the road most times, as I do now.
      Of course, I still think this law, like many other transportation laws treat cyclists like second class citizens.
      Perhaps if our members of congress would spend a little time on a bike, the fresh air and exercise would allow their minds would be more capable of fair and coherent thoughts.

  8. Pingback: Road use bans in state laws | John S. Allen's Bicycle Blog

  9. Can this be fought in court?

  10. Not yet — it isn’t law. The effort should be to convince Congress not to pass it. It is so far out of line with the laws of the states that I think that may succeed.

    It directly contradicts Massachusetts statutes, under which bicyclists have the right to ride on all public ways in the Commonwealth. That means mean, any street that is open to the public, regardless of who owns or controls it. Unless the Federal law trumps the state law, in can’t be enforced in Massachusetts. Similar situations probably exist in other states.

  11. If the bill contradicts UTC, this will create confusion indeed.

  12. Time to organize a well-worded, and others support these.
    Excellent results, usually, on these sorts of public interest efforts.
    Thank you to all the bicycle advocates.

  13. Agree about the need for a public web-based petition. The League did launch a petition campaign on this issue a few months ago, and it garnered over 14,000 signatures. For an organization that claims to represent 300,000 cyclists, however, that number is underwhelming. Could an outside effort be more effective? Sadly, the League’s priority is preserving federal funding for bikeways.

    • Allen, concerning the League’s work on this issue, please note the comment from Virginia Sullivan of Adventure Cycling. Most of the cyclists which the League represents are members of member clubs, not members of the League itself. As a percentage of the League’s individual and family memberships, the number of signatures is impressive. The publicity effort on this needs to go much wider.

  14. Pingback: Street Smarts » Blog Archive » Letter to Sen. Brown on Federal mandatory sidepath provision

  15. Pingback: Transportation Bill slams road rights on Federal lands. | John S. Allen’s Bicycle Blog « In The Spin

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