The debate is heating up in the Farmington Valley over a new bill proposed in the state Senate that would require bicyclists to ride single file when riding in groups of two or more.
Senate Bill 103 as proposed by Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-8th District) would amend an existing state law that allows two bicyclists to ride side by side on a roadway to require them to ride single file.
SB103: AN ACT REQUIRING BICYCLISTS TO RIDE SINGLE FILE ON A PUBLIC ROAD
"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:That section 14-286b of the general statutes be amended to require persons riding bicycles on a roadway to ride single file, rather than two abreast as currently allowed, in order to permit motorists to safely pass and yield three feet to the bicyclists as required by law."
The response from local bicycle advocates is split, but local law enforcement is decidedly in favor of the bill because of safety issues for both drivers and bicyclists.
SB103 was proposed after Witkos was contacted by a Simsbury Police Officer who feels that two abreast riding causes safety issues when drivers are required to yield three feet when passing cyclists. Witkos' district includes Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury, Torrington.
Simsbury Free Bike Director and bicycling advocate Larry Linonis feels that the proposed legislation is necessary for the safety of bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians on the roads and multi-use paths.
"Many of our roads are so narrow that it forces drivers to cross over the center line when people ride side by side," Linonis said.
State law requires motorists to yield three feet when passing bicycle riders, which is not always possible when two riders are occupying several feet of the roadway, Linonis said.
Linonis' opinion is not one that is shared by all local bike advocates.
"My opinion is my own," Linonis said. "Most of us feel we should be policing ourselves, but we're doing a terrible job of that."
Jan Bolland Tanner, of Benidorm Bikes in Canton, feels that the problem would be better addressed by educating bicyclists about existing laws. The existing state law requires that people riding side by side not impede traffic and should switch to single file riding to allow vehicles to pass.
"People are not always clear on what the real rules of the road are," Bolland Tanner said. "Experienced riders are usually aware of when it is appropriate to ride two abreast and when it's appropriate to ride single file."
While some bicyclists prefer to ride alone, there are many who enjoy the social aspect of riding and Bolland Tanner feels that laws prohibiting people from riding side by side would make the activity less enjoyable for some. In her opinion the proposed law could have a negative impact on multi-use paths by encouraging some riders to start using the paths to ride two abreast.
When it comes to safety, bike advocates like Paul Mikkelson, founder of the Valley Cycling group, believe that another law won't make a difference.
"Most of the accidents out there are caused by the vehicle," Mikkelson said. "Most of the time they're driving too fast, they're texting, they're talking on the phone. Nobody wants to be inconvenienced, and it's the cyclists that suffer."
But for Mikkelson, the true issue isn't the substance of the bill but the way in which it was proposed.
"One police officer in Simsbury calls Kevin [Witkos] and then this bill was suddenly proposed. That's not the democratic way," Mikkelson said.
In his opinion, Witkos should have consulted with the many local bike advocacy groups before introducing the bill.
"The same safety issue applies whether it's three bikes, two bikes, or one bike," Mikkelson said. "You have to pass when it's safe to pass."
Another common problem on the roads, according to Mikkelson, is drivers who make left hand turns without first looking for oncoming bicyclists or those who expect the rider to yield their right of way.
"This is a bill that is truly about safety," Witkos said.
In response to bike advocates who have been critical of the bill, Witkos believes that proposing the bill was the best way to open public dialogue.
"This is a policy that will affect people statewide and this will give people across the state the opportunity to weigh in," Witkos said.
Ultimately it will be up to the state Transportation Committee as to whether a public hearing will be scheduled to discuss the bill, Witkos said.
"I think it warrants a serious discussion, but there are certain folks that don't want that discussion."
While the debate is just beginning, bike advocacy groups hope the bill doesn't get the support it needs to pass. In the meantime, Bolland Tanner hopes that both sides will take it upon themselves to make the roads safer.
"All of this comes down to individual responsibility for both riders and drivers," Bolland Tanner said.