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Safety is Top Concern in Single File Riding Debate

Senate Bill 103 would require cyclists to ride single file on roadways. Some suggest leaving it up to individual municipalities.

As the debate surrounding a proposed bill that would require bicyclists to ride single file on roadways continues, state and local officials continue to look for ways to improve safety measures for riders and motorists.

The primary reason behind Senate Bill 103, a proposed bill that would make riding bicycles two abreast on roadways illegal, is safety for cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians, according to Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-8th District). Read the proposed bill.

The response to the bill within the bicycling community is mixed, however the majority of cycling advocates tend to be opposed to the bill while others are in support of SB 103 or tighter enforcement of the existing law.

"I think for public safety reasons I could go either way," Steven Mitchell, board member for the East Coast Greenway, said.

Witkos proposed the bill after he was contacted by a Simsbury Police officer who was concerned about safety issues presented by two abreast riding on narrow roads when vehicles move to pass cyclists.

Those opposed to the bill argue that there is no data that supports the need for such a law. Local law enforcement officials say that a lack of hard data does not mean there isn't a reason to be concerned.

According to the Simsbury Police Department, there were seven accidents involving bicycles and motor vehicles in 2011 and five accidents in 2012.

"Usually it's a turning issue or a crosswalk issue," Simsbury Police Captain Nicholas Boulter said.

There were no accidents involving bicyclists who were riding two abreast in recent years, but Boulter said that doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned.

"We've all seen and sometimes experienced the difficulty in passing even one [bicyclist] on a narrow road," Boulter said.

Observation and experience can go a long way in determining laws that promote public safety, Boulter said.

"We might not have had any motorcycle accidents in a particular year but we know the risk is there because of the size of that vehicle," Boulter said.

Currently there are only five states that have laws against riding bicycles two abreast, according to the Alliance for Biking & Walking 2012 Benchmarking Report: Hawaii, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, and Arkansas. Only two of those states are ranked among the top 10 safest states for cyclists.

Additionally, there are 20 states that have enacted a three foot passing law for motor vehicles when passing cyclists. Arkansas is the only state that has both the three foot passing law and a law against two abreast riding.

View the full report here.

Top 10 Safest Places to Bike (According to the Alliance for Biking & Walking)

  1. South Dakota
  2. Vermont
  3. Oregon
  4. Nebraska
  5. North Dakota
  6. Colorado
  7. Montana
  8. Wyoming
  9. Idaho
  10. Washington

Connecticut is #30 on the list of safest places to bike. Towns like Simsbury are working to change that by working to promote the use of bicycles through education, access, and by providing multi-use paths and designated bicycle routes.

Simsbury has been recognized as a bronze level bike friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists in 2010, the first Connecticut town to achieve that status, and the town continues to work towards the silver designation.

Both West Hartford and Farmington have formed bicycle advisory committees, and are also working to achieve bike friendly status. Farmington received an honorable mention for the town's 2012 application for bike friendly status, but did not receive the designation. West Hartford plans to apply for the first time in 2013.

Larry Linonis, Director of Simsbury Free Bike, said safety is one of the areas Simsbury needs to improve before it reaches the silver level.

Witkos said he has received many suggestions about how to approach the safety issue with two abreast riding since he proposed the bill.

"This is exactly what I wanted," Witkos said. "It could be that the bill never makes it out of committee, but we need to address it."

One suggestion Witkos received was to allow individual municipalities to determine whether or not to allow two abreast riding. Mitchell, who didn't make the suggestion to Witkos, said he was surprised when he saw a sign posted along the East Coast Greenway in Portsmouth, NH, that reads "Bicyclists, Joggers, Single File Only—Town Ordinance."

"It made an impression on me and I said 'Now that makes sense," Mitchell said.

From a law enforcement perspective, that option could present other challenges.

"[Cyclists] and motorists don't always recognize the varying laws in different towns," Boulter said. "I think there are some things that require some uniformity."

For Witkos, the first step will be to determine a concrete definition of the existing state law which allows two abreast riding as long as it does not impede traffic.

"I think we need to first define what 'impeding traffic' means," Witkos said.

Witkos plans to request an interpretation of the existing law from the State Attorney's office before the bill goes before committee.

"I'm not for adding unnecessary laws to the books, this is about safety," Witkos said. "If it comes down to a situation where the bill goes nowhere but we can define what 'impeding' means, I'm okay with that."

Claude F. Rioual January 18, 2013 at 01:32 PM
Being thoughtful and considerate is the cycling community's responsibility, when we can't do that ourselves they'll enacted laws. Leash laws, sound ordinances, gun laws are all in place because, one person felt their rights were more important than someone else's. I don't want to be on the receiving end of some motorist Monday morning, because they got angry with a couple recreational cyclists the past weekend. Bottom line, if you want to ride two abreast, do it at the gym or on the Greenway not on the road. Any encounter between an auto and a bike and the auto always wins. Another good rule of thumb is, only use hands and fingers when signaling your intention to turn.
Tom Keegan January 18, 2013 at 04:41 PM
West Hartford's residential roads are different than Simbury's. Simbury's are narrow, winding roads with speeding cars. Current law is not ambiguous: two-abreast bikes on roads like that impede traffic flow. WH's residential roads are wider and sight lines are better. The proposed law is not about two-abreast on Rt 44 - even though that would probably be safer since there is no shoulder in Simbsury and a bike rider must take the lane. Instead, the proposed laws (there are actually two at the moment) would mean that a parent teaching a child to ride in the street could not ride beside her. Riders on roads such as RT 189 in Bloomfield/Windsor, which has a shoulder that is wide enough for a car would not be able to ride abreast. I could cite many other such roads. I sympathasize with Claude, but current law, which seems much more thoughtful, already outlaws unsafe riding. The police in Simsbury should enforce that.
Dennis Johnston January 18, 2013 at 05:30 PM
This proposed law is NOT about safety. It is about getting cyclists out of the way. It is also unnecessary, since the existing law says that cyclists should not obstruct traffic. There are many situations when riding two abreast is both safe and non-obstructive. It makes no sense for cyclists to not be allowed to ride two abreast in those situations. Instead of making cyclists criminals, how about if we just share the road and abide by the existing law?
Claude F. Rioual January 18, 2013 at 06:55 PM
I in no way suggest we need any new laws. My complaint is with those that ride two a breast and somehow believe that because they are on a bicycle they can make their own rules. My issue is that the behavior of some cyclists reflects badly on the bicycling community at large. We can't have it both ways. This is not about a mother riding along side her child. It's not about two a breast on a ten foot bike lane. It's about cyclists following some common sense guidelines, following the rules of the road. Prior to the start of the Tour of the Litchfield Hills the cyclists are cautioned...'if the State Police see you riding two a breast, you will be ticketed'. Most of the participants really don't care, they do as they damn well please. But really, a peloton riding down Terry's Plain Road, ignoring the traffic behind them? If we want our towns to be bicycle friendly, we need to be friendly bicyclists.
Tony Guy January 18, 2013 at 08:05 PM
"Usually it's a turning issue or a crosswalk issue," Simsbury Police Captain Nicholas Boulter said." Well Captain why don't you tell it like it is...... there is no basis for this proposed law. A search of the DOT accident data on file at the CTcrash.UCONN.edu Repository reveals the following: From Jan 1, 1995 - Dec 31, 2009 (last year of data entry) There were 52 vehicle / bike accidents in Simsbury, 1 of which was fatal. 43 of the collisions involved turning and angle collisions from the front or side. 7 involved sideswipes, in over half, either the cyclist of motorist were reported to have lost control, two cyclists were operating against traffic, and two motorists made an unsafe pass. Only two cyclists were hit from behind. The one fatal case, at night, the cyclists was without lights and alcohol was involved, the other a motorist was following two closely. None of the accidents involved cyclists riding two abreast, nor was there any case where a motorist struck another motorist as a result of a cyclist.
Mario D. Petrella January 18, 2013 at 08:29 PM
I appreciate this comment, because it reminds me of something that I have been ignoring: there are many "types" of cyclists. So, just because I am careful, does not mean that other cyclists are careful. And, so, I understand what you mean when you suggest that there may be a cyclist who feels "entitled" to all of the road; after all, we see this ALL the time among pedestrians who do NOT use the CROSSWALK (which, by the way, is a BIG issue for us cyclists as well) ... p.s. Love your earlier remark about using hands and fingers for signalling or waving ;-)
Larry Linonis January 18, 2013 at 09:31 PM
The three foot rule in CT dates back to 2008. In my opinion there is still a large number of motorists who are not aware of it . It wasn't until May of 2012 that communities in this area began to put up informational signage to motorists. Therefore, we are not yet seeing the amount of close encounters between passing vehicles or the impediments to the flow of traffic that may come as people become educated. I am in favor of a single file rule that is " road specific ". There is nothing wrong with the current law except for the fact that it has to address the restrictions that the three foot rule imposes on both the cyclist and the motor vehicle operator . It creates a " catch 22 " . Both the state and municipalities can restrict specific roads or sections of roads where width or other factors do not permit safe operation of cyclists riding side by side. This can be accomplished through signage following open public discussion.prior to enactment. Existing bike routes with published cue sheets should be given special consideration as we do not want to reduce these as that would discourage cycling and all of its benefits.
Barnaby Jones January 19, 2013 at 12:59 AM
Thats fine Larry, you don't like riding two abreast then don't do it. Dont impose your crazy viewpoints on others. You arent the safest rider out there either. The law as is is fine. You cant make a law to fight stupid. Though sometimes I wish you could.
Larry Linonis January 19, 2013 at 02:45 AM
I'll never say another word.......promise !
Robert Kalechman January 19, 2013 at 02:51 AM
The new bill makes people think and see whats ahead , the bill will make each town or city uniform so the people will know what the law is in all 169 towns now if some State Senator passes a bill to keep bicycles off the side walks and walking paths it will make life a lot easier
Jim January 19, 2013 at 01:03 PM
The underlying purpose of SB-103 is for the convenience of cars that weigh 3000 to 4500 pounds that are driven by people in a hurry, feel that they own the road, and believe they have the right to pass a 25 pound bicycle in any manner they choose whether it is safe or not. Would any of these people pass a postal vehicle and drive into oncoming traffic, I would hope not. It is the responsibly of the operator of a motor vehicle to operate that vehicle in a safe manner at all times. Maybe we should just have a law that forbids the use of roadways to anything but cars and trucks. Would this bill protect the safety of the bicyclist using a public roadway, not at all, It would protect the safety of the innocent people that are the victims of a driver crossing the center line into oncoming traffic because they would hate to be 10 seconds late.
Barnaby Jones January 20, 2013 at 03:35 AM
So.....I went on a 60 miler today. Every car that gave me enough room to abide by the 3 foot rule had to go over the yellow line. So now I ask. What does this bill accomplish?
Tony Guy January 20, 2013 at 06:04 PM
Okay Robert, Study up before making comments. The law is redundant and overly restrictive. The current law is uniform throughout the state. Cyclists may not ride two abreast if it impedes traffic... 14-286(b) "(b) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Persons riding two abreast, as provided in this subsection, shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane." If you would like your children (under age 12) to be riding on state roads and urban streets, (rather than a side walk or shared use path) then might I suggest a bill to mandate cycling instruction in the schools and cycling related questions on the driver's license exam.
Tony Guy January 20, 2013 at 09:03 PM
Well, it sounds like Witkos is back pedaling already, seeking an interpretation of a law. Witkos, is after all a police officer and you would think he would already know the law. Seeking a definition of "Impeding" clearly indicates that Witkos' concern is not one of safety for the cyclists or even passing motorists, but of keeping motorists moving happily on their way. By the way, the statute qualifies impeding by adding "shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic". The normal movement of traffic includes the impact of school buses, postal vehicles, traffic lights, a vehicle stopped to make a left turn, go around a parked vehicle, pedestrians in cross walks, school zones, etc... not an unlimited right to operate at the speed limit without slowing or incurring a delay. There is clearly a need to educate law enforcement officers in Simsbury and Canton as to the state statutes pertaining to cycling, the current cycling training taught nationally on the proper use of the roadway, and a summary of accident statistics involving cyclists. Most car / bike accidents occur as a result of turning and crossing conflicts 89% compared to cars overtaking cyclists 7%. (Similar to motorcyclists.)
Chris Carroll January 21, 2013 at 12:02 PM
All I want is for cars and bicycles to stop running red lights, sliding through stop signs and please, please, please pull over for ambulances!
Andrew Ziemba January 21, 2013 at 01:12 PM
And I wish people would be careful when they open their door not to hit mine in a parking lot. I also wish people would turn off their high beams when driving. Unfortunately the human population's IQ has reduced dramatically over the years.
charles beristain January 23, 2013 at 03:00 AM
I was one of those statistics two years ago ... Tariffville road (rt 315) and Hopmeadow. riding south on the rail trail .Stopped at the stop light, pushed the crosswalk button, waited for the light to change AND for the cars to stop .. 5 of us ..A car decided to turn right on red without looking at the crosswalk .. first rider just made it across, scone rider was hit head on, the third rider ( me) was hit on the right fender of the car ..The other two cyclists witnessed the mayhem. the cyclists did everything right .. and the driver, like many other drivers are in too much of a hurry to stop and look both ways before proceeding through an intersection.
charles beristain January 23, 2013 at 03:47 AM
look at page 30 of this report for cycling/ped accident summary. http://www.ctbikepedboard.org/uploads/1/0/3/8/10385744/cbpab_2012-2013_annual_report2.pdf
Bill Stanford January 23, 2013 at 01:08 PM
The problem with requiring single file riding at all times is that motorists often assume that they don't have to change lanes to allow room for riders. When I was young, I used to ride quite a bit and cannot tell you how many times motorists essentially forced me off the road. Once, I was clipped on my left shoulder by a mirror. On roads without bicycle lanes, the far ride side of the road often has lots of debris (glass, rocks, etc) that make it unsafe to ride through. By riding side by side, you force motorists to completely change lanes and to take care in making passes. Since moving to CT, I have been shocked at the lack of police enforcement of speed limits.
Richard Froh February 11, 2013 at 08:44 PM
Check the CT DOT description of the lane width required for a lane to be "snare-able" by a bicycle and a motor vehicle, and note that this (14') is a "minimum" width, assuming a medium-sized passenger car. An overtaking truck or trailer with a 8'6" width would mean a share-able lane needs to be at least 16'. Lane-splitting - driving in two lanes simultaneously - is dangerous. When a bicyclist encourages sharing of an un-share-able lane, he/she is endangering other road users. No safe driver - truck, passenger car, or bicycle driver - encourages unsafe passing! Look at how many times every day we motorists "impede" each other - delivery trucks, buses, passenger drop-off, parallel parking, making a left turn across traffic, rush hour traffic jams, dropping the kids off at shcool because they missed the bus (another long line of traffic blocking the roads). Cyclists don't "impede". Let's stop this nonsensical proposed law and stop this embarrassment to the State of Connecticut

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