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New legislation aims to improve bicyclist safety, create guidelines

February 23, 2018
<p>Pictured is a parked bike on Nov. 21, 2017 on Grand River Ave. The recently defeated income tax proposal leaves the City of East Lansing unable to install more bike racks.&nbsp;</p>

Pictured is a parked bike on Nov. 21, 2017 on Grand River Ave. The recently defeated income tax proposal leaves the City of East Lansing unable to install more bike racks. 

Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

Michigan Rep. Holly Hughes introduced a bill to the House floor on Feb. 23, 2017, which might establish new regulations to make bicyclists safer on Michigan roads. 

HB 4265 would require drivers of motor vehicles to maintain a five-foot distance between their vehicle and bicyclists when passing. The bill was referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and has yet to be passed by either chambers of Michigan’s congress. 

An additional hearing for the bill also took place in November 2017.

Safety for bicyclists on MSU’s campus is lacking compared to other big universities, MSU graduate student and officer of the MSU Cycling Club Dakota Hewlett said. 

MSU has a large, “spread out” campus, and is less of an urban cityscape, compared to many other universities, Hewlett said.

However, the safe passing bill will likely improve safety for bicyclists on campus because of the measurable distance requirement, Hewlett said. 

Current Michigan vehicle code requires drivers to pass bicyclists at a “safe distance,” with no other requirements.

Without a state law with quantifiable regulations, public knowledge of how to safely drive with bicyclists on the roads is difficult, Sustainable Transportation Manager with MSU Bikes and bicyclist safety advocate Tim Potter said. 

“All you can do is say, ‘please, pretty please don’t hit bicyclists,’” Potter said.

Potter’s daily commute consists of a bike ride down Grand River Avenue. Most people wouldn’t be comfortable riding along such a busy stretch, but Potter has been doing it since he was a kid, he said. 

The wind from passing cars is sometimes all it takes to knock someone off their bike, Potter said. 

“Until you’re actually a bicyclist and feeling the effects of a close passing vehicle, you really don’t understand how dangerous and scary it is,” he said. 

HB 4265 was brought up in a January hearing by the Michigan House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. A workgroup on bicycle safety recommended removing the five-foot distance and replacing it with more general language, according to the League of Michigan Bicyclists

Potter said he hopes the bill will pass with the five-foot requirement, despite the recommendations, he said. Without the measurable distance, the vehicle code would remain nearly the same. 

Taking the five-foot requirement out of the bill would be “the do-nothing option,” Potter said. 

“A motorist doesn’t really know how wide their vehicle is, if they think that there’s enough width between (them and the bicyclist), then they’re going to try to squeeze through,” he said. “They can misjudge that and someone’s dead.” 

HB 4265 is a “protection mechanism,” which will help educate drivers on safety, Michigan House Rep. and sponsor of HB 4265 Steve Marino said. 

“I do think there certainly needs to be more education,” Marino said. “We’ve got to find a way to not just throw information at individuals, and make sure the only reasons they’re reading (isn’t) because of some misfortune.” 

However, Potter said HB 4265 isn't the end-all in making roads safer for bicyclists.

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If the bill become Michigan law, the next steps would require campaigns to get the message out and police to enforce it diligently, he said. 

New measurement technology, which attaches to the handle of a police officer's bike, would help police enforce the five-foot requirement if the bill passes. 

Michigan is also a recipient of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grant that allocates money towards public education on bicyclists, Potter said. 

Potter has a video camera on the back of his bike, which records footage of drivers passing him in case of an accident. However, Michigan does not require license plates on the front of vehicles, which would make it difficult to identify a driver in the case of a hit-and-run, he said. 

Potter said he believes Michigan should require front plates and the use of police video cameras to enforce new legislation. 

HB 4265 will add to knowledge of safety regardless, but more regulations and education in the future will compliment the bill. 

"I think this is a great step in the right direction," Hewlett said. 

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