Find local advocacy groups, bike shops, instructors, clubs, classes and more!

Find by Zip Code or City, State
Find by State
Find based on current location

Proposed law would force cyclists off roads on federal land and onto paths

The draft of the Senate’s transportation authorization (S. 1813 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act) has been a bit of a disappointment for cyclists. It reduces funding for dedicated bicycling programs and allows state departments of transportation an opt-out for spending it. However, even aside from funding, there is an egregious clause that has rightly upset cyclists.

Section § 203 (d) (p. 226), the part dealing with the “Federal lands transportation program”, states:

(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.

Sign the petition to tell the Senate to remove this clause.

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. This paragraph would introduce a mandatory sidepath law on roads in our National Parks and other Federal lands.

For those unfamiliar with this term, it’s a provision that used to be found in a lot of state vehicle codes that says that when a sidepath (bike path, trail) is provided for cyclists, they have to use it and can’t ride on the parallel roadway. Over the past 20 years, the number of states with this law still on their books has dwindled to just a handful. The problem with the provision is that the restriction applies regardless of the quality, safety, and utility of the path provided; it disregards the needs of cyclists to be on the roadway to access shops, services etc.; and ignores our fundamental right to the road.

The law is rooted in a couple of mistaken philosophies. One such idea is that it’s just not safe for cyclists to sharing the road with cars going more than 30 mph and thus, for our own safety, we should have to use a path that is provided. This paternalistic (at best) approach is guilty of not only blaming the victim but simply doesn’t make sense unless every higher-speed roadway has a path alongside it.

The second principle at play is the idea that “we provided this path for you, you’d darned well better use it”. To which our response should be…if the path is any good, you shouldn’t have to force anyone to use it; they will use it voluntarily because it works. Our communities are replete with examples of poorly designed, built and maintained paths that are little more than glorified sidewalks. Many of these are throwbacks to the 1970s and 1980s; we are generally getting better about this. Anyway, cyclists routinely ignore these shoddy paths because they are dangerous, slow, and out of the way – but anyone that rides any amount knows that’s kind of hard to explain succinctly as you respond to the inevitable “get off the road” epithets yelled by passing motorists.

The inclusion of this provision in the Senate bill is really troubling on many levels.

  • Given the Park Service’s general track record on accommodating bicyclists of late – i.e. we really don’t want you in our Parks – it’s hard to assume any positive motives behind this proposal. Is there data or any factual basis for this move?
  • What precedent does this set? Two pretty awful ones come quickly to mind: why stop at Federal land highways; and if roads with higher than 30mph speed limits are so unsafe for bicyclists to share with motorists, bicyclists shouldn’t be using them, period.
  • This throwback to a paternalistic 1950s approach to cyclists safety is bad news; flies in the face of a 30-year trend of removing these bad laws from state vehicle codes; and threatens our long-cherished and very basic right to the road.  We will do all we can to stop it from becoming law – but that won’t happen overnight.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee just voted the bill out of Committee with minimal changes (the authors had such hard-fought and finely-negotiated language that they really didn’t want to change anything at this stage). There are quite a few things that have to fall into place before the bill comes to the Senate floor for a vote (like the entire transit section, finances to pay for the bill, and floor time on the Senate schedule).

Because there isn’t a specific opportunity to strip the language from the bill right now, you won’t likely see an action alert or all-out campaign – but that doesn’t mean we aren’t working to get the job done. All our colleagues in the America Bikes coalition are on the same page, and can’t believe this language has reared its ugly head again after so many years.

We are ready with proposed changes – in this case, simply striking the provision altogether – and we’ll need to have support lined up to make it happen. For the meantime, you can write your Senators an e-mail or letter saying that you REALLY don’t like this provision. Tell them that it’s the wrong thing to do today and sets an awful precedent for tomorrow. This will help get the issue on their radar and will help with a specific push later.

Sign the petition to tell the Senate to remove this clause.

Posted in