Bicycle Safety Act: Local cyclists upset by veto

A bicycle safety bill that sought to make the roads safer for cyclists and motorists was vetoed by former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey in the 11th hour of her tenure on Beacon Hill last week, but bike safety advocates in the county and in the state haven't given up hope just yet — especially with a new administration in town.

•••

Published January 5, 2006 by The Bershire Eagle 
By Jessica Willis

WILLIAMSTOWN, MA  — A bicycle safety bill that sought to make the roads safer for cyclists and motorists was vetoed by former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey in the 11th hour of her tenure on Beacon Hill last week, but bike safety advocates in the county and in the state haven't given up hope just yet — especially with a new administration in town.

That's not to say that the supporters of the bill weren't caught off guard by Healey's New Year's Eve decision; the House and Senate had approved the bill shortly before Christmas, and approval from the corner office seemed to be an obvious next step. But it was not to be.

"We were a bit surprised," said David Watson, executive director of MassBike, a Boston-based cyclists' advocacy group. "This was an innocuous bill."

Healey 'misinterpreted'

Paul Rinehart, owner of The Spoke bicycle store in Williamstown and a staunch supporter of the Bicyclists' Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, thought that Healey had "misinterpreted" the bill, which proposed to reinforce pre-existing bike laws, to simplify the citation-writing process and to toughen the penalties for both cyclists and motorists who break the rules of the road.

"I see it as a kind of quid pro quo," Rinehart said yesterday. "Cyclists would have to give up their freewheeling lifestyle, and they would then gain some status in the eyes of the law."

The state's current bike safety laws, according to Rinehart, are too nebulous to do any good.

"I've seen it too many times, even in clear-cut cases, like when a car obviously crashes into a bike and the driver doesn't get cited," Rinehart said. "That's frustrating when it comes to insurance claims. The bill would have clearly spelled out who is right."

Citations for bicyclists

The bill also would have allowed law enforcement officers to treat cyclists' various traffic infractions — the running of red lights, failure to use hand signals when safe to do so, or for failure to keep right, to name but a few — with a structure similar to that of a motor vehicle violation write-up.

"With the bill, a police officer would be able to ticket a cyclist with a standard citation — the same paperwork they use for drivers," Watson said.

Although infractions would not count against a cyclist's motor vehicle insurance or driving record, the fines would be upward of $50.

In Watson's opinion, these new rules could have been the reason why Healey balked at the bill.

"I think she zeroed in on the enforcement component," he said.

Healey's reason for her veto was detailed in a brief memo dated Dec. 31.

"I believe this bill is overly regulative and represents an unwarranted governmental intrusion into the recreational affairs of citizens," Healey wrote. "I encourage the Legislature to focus on education that promotes safety and not on a new regulatory framework that subjects bicyclists to sanctions and fines."

Healey did not respond to other parts of the bill, which called for fines of $100 to motorists in parked cars who fling open their doors into the path of an oncoming cyclist, or who endanger cyclists by making right turns at intersections or driveways without making sure the coast is clear.

"It's really not at all about recreation," Watson said, referring to Healey's memo. "It's about transportation. Typically, it's the nonrecreational cyclists — who depend on their bikes to get around — who are most affected by high-volume traffic."

Rep. Anne M. Paulsen, D-Belmont, the bill's original sponsor, is now retired from office, but Watson said that several legislators already have expressed an interest in being a new principal sponsor.

The deadline to refile the bill is Jan. 10.

"We're on track," he said.