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How advocates are making states better for biking in 2019

By August, just as summer miles are beginning to really add up, many state legislatures have adjourned for the year, so it’s a good time to look at how local advocates and state legislatures made bicycling better this year. The League has been proud to support several state-level legislative campaigns in 2019 in places like Alabama, Texas, and Colorado. We have also written letters of support to state leaders in Arkansas and Maine to explain why we support certain bills.

Thanks to the work of League members and bike advocates throughout the country, there is momentum across the country for better biking.

Probably the most interesting advancement was in Arkansas, which joined Idaho as the second state where bicyclists can both treat stop signs as yield signs and treat red lights like stop signs. This builds upon the work done in Delaware in 2017 with the Bicycle Friendly Delaware Act, which allows yielding at stop signs when the intersection is clear among other improvements. Several other states also had laws introduced that would have allowed people bicycling to yield at stop signs and Oklahoma adopted a “dead red” law, which allows bicyclists to proceed through a steady red light in certain circumstances.

While the League opposed Idaho’s law in 1982, perspectives change and research shows safe outcomes. This time around, we wrote a letter in support of Arkansas’s law and are hopeful that Arkansas will see a similar safe implementation of the law. With continued interest, and perhaps a modern example of policy change to study, Arkansas’s law could start a trend.

Across the country, two types of laws were by far the most common type of bicycle-related law to be pursued by state legislatures, with each being pursued in more than 10 states. Those types of laws were:

  1. Allowing the operation of e-bikes under existing laws relevant to bicycles, and
  2. Requiring motorists to safely pass a person bicycling or improving an existing safe passing law.

The bicycle industry had a successful legislative season with e-bike legislation. Of the 12 states that had e-bike-related bills in the database of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), eight used a version of the 3-class system promoted by the bicycle industry through BPSA and PeopleforBikes. The bills that used the 3-class system were also successful in moving through the legislature – becoming law in Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Only one state – Hawaii – adopted an e-bike bill that did not follow the 3-class system and several states have non-3-class system bills pending.

Safe passing bills had a mixed outcome in state legislatures. Of the 12 states that had a safe passing bill in the NCSL database, only three were enacted – with Indiana and Washington adopting a 3-foot or better safe passing standard for the first time and Oklahoma updating its 2006 law to include provisions that require drivers to change lanes to pass on multi-lane roads and allowing drivers to cross a centerline to pass if needed. Several states that introduced safe passing laws incorporated changing lanes to pass requirements, a practice we support in our model safe passing law. Several states still have safe passing laws pending, but as of now 35 states have a safe passing distance of at least 3 feet and 37 states meet our Bicycle Friendly State criteria for a safe passing law.

As usual, there was a lot of interest in making bicycling better through state legislative actions. The NCSL database showed more than 150 bills that were introduced or carried over from previous years into the 2019 legislative session. While this post can’t go into every bill a few deserve special mentions:

  • Colorado became the 10th state to define a “vulnerable road user” and provide legal protections to vulnerable road users.
  • Maryland created a Vision Zero program with the goal of zero traffic deaths or serious injuries by 2030, and with reporting on progress to the legislature each year.
  • Several states, including Maine, New York, and Illinois, tried to improve driver training related to bicycling.
  • Both Tennessee and Georgia raised penalties for hit and run offenses, one of the most common offenses cited when a person bicycling is killed.
  • Minnesota introduced a bicycle commuter benefit that would only apply while the federal bicycle commuter benefit is suspended, as it was under the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. You can make the need for this law moot by taking action now on the Bicycle Commuter Act and creating a better bicycle commuter benefit.

It’s thanks to the dedicated work of our League member advocacy organizations that so many states are making forward progress in being more welcoming to bicyclists. Connect locally with groups in your area using our map and sustain this work by joining us in membership. Together, we can build a more Bicycle Friendly America for everyone.