RUPERT – Concern over recent bicycle/vehicle accidents prompted Paul resident and avid bicyclist Alice Schenk to present an ordinance to county commissioners in which a three-foot space between motorists and bicyclists would be required by law.
“Some people oppose this and believe there are too many laws on the books. Truly, there are a lot of laws, but, if people used common sense, perhaps this wouldn’t be necessary,” she said.
Bikers presented the ordinance to commissioners last year, but commissioners had not yet considered passing the measure.
Bicyclists presented a similar ordinance to the Idaho State Legislature that declined to pass the ordinance last year. It’s Schenk’s hope that if enough counties sign on to the proposal that the state will again reconsider making it law. She’s also hoping that a new generation of drivers will adhere to new laws and abide by them.
Currently, 20 states require motorists to give three feet or more when passing. It was suggested that the Idaho legislature failed to pass the three-foot law because legislators may have felt that wasn’t enough room and opted instead to wait for a better proposal, Schenk said.
The proposed ordinance asks that motorists approaching a bicyclist or a pedestrian slow down. It also asks that when a motorist approaches or passes a bicyclist riding in the same direction, and, where a lane change is permitted, and there is no conflicting traffic, that the motorist will change lanes. It goes on to say that if there is oncoming traffic not allowing for a lane change, that the driver move as far left as possible without crossing the centerline. It also asks that the motorist slow down and allow the bicyclist and pedestrian to pass or make a lane change.
“Old school (drivers) wouldn’t know, and they would just get out of the way a little bit. For the younger generation, it might make a huge difference,” she said.
The proposed ordinance also asks motorists, when driving past a bicyclist heading the opposite direction, not to cross the center line to avoid encroaching on oncoming traffic. Anytime a motorist approaches a bicyclist, they’re asked to yield the right of way to bicyclists.
The proposal also suggests that motorists give the right of way to bicyclists when making a right turn.
“A motorist specifically passed me and turned right in front of me. It was either I hit it or go off the road. He never stopped. I went down and had to have stitches,” Schenk said.
The proposed ordinance further states that the driver of a car not intimidate or harass a bicyclist. While that just sounds like common courtesy and common sense, there have been numerous reports of motorists doing just that. Schenk reported one case where prosecutors charged a motorist with throwing water balloons at a biker.
The proposed ordinance calls for those breaking this ordinance to pay a fine not to exceed $500. Should they be involved in a fatality it would involve a fine of $1,000 and jail time not to exceed six months.
The road is to be shared and bicyclists are considered a vehicle on the road.
“Bicyclists have the same right to use the road as do vehicles,” she said.
Schenk was quick to add that responsibility on the road goes both ways, and cyclists need to be aware of the challenges drivers face when passing bikers. She noted that bikers often ride along the Burley-Declo Highway in the mornings.
“I don’t think that’s smart; there’s too much traffic. People are trying to get to work. We need to be mindful of those [drivers] and do our best not to aggravate drivers. We need to be mindful and get out of the road and pull over if we can,” she said.
Schenk brought with her a picture of her late friend Lona Hymas-Smith who was hit and killed by a truck while biking near her home. Schenk emphasized she wasn’t pointing fingers at anyone and felt immense sympathy for the driver involved.
Yet, an ordinance like she’s proposing might make a difference later on for someone else, she said.
“A new generation will know that there’s a cyclist, there’s conflicting traffic – I can’t make a lane change. They’ll know better to slow down until they can move over,” she said.
Schenk was open to suggestions to revise the ordinance.
“Feel free to alter this, but don’t take out the meat (of the ordinance),” she said.
The commissioners agreed to take the ordinance under advisement. They will meet at 9 a.m., Monday, July 2, at the Minidoka County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public.