Crist signs bike-lane bill into law

Late on Friday, Gov. Charlie Crist signed HB971 despite the efforts of more than 2,000 Floridians who had written or called to object to one or more provisions of the 81-page bill. Starting in October, state law will require that bicyclists ride in the bike lane, where one exists, instead of in the motor lanes.

Our opposition wasn’t just about bike lanes, though.

  • Perhaps the most upsetting part of the bill is the section that undercuts Florida’s law that, upon a fourth DUI conviction, takes away forever the privilege of driving a car. Under the bill, a four-time DUI driver could regain his license by installing an alcohol-testing device on his car’s ignition. This relief from certain punishment thus would erode the deterrent value of the present DUI law.
  • Another part of the bill would empower local governments to invite golf carts and other small motor vehicles onto sidewalks and bike paths. That’s inviting injury to walkers and other users of the paths. There should at least be standards requiring that any path where uses would be mixed this way should be widened substantially beyond the usual size.
  • Then there is the section to require that cyclists use a bike lane wherever it exists, instead of other parts of the road. First, understand that cyclists no less than other road users have a duty to themselves and their loved ones to travel safely. Avoiding the bike lane often is the safer way to go, because of debris in the lane, potholes, parked vehicles, or improper placement of the lane. While the bill tries to anticipate those cases with a rider-discretion passage, we already know from experience that much of the public and even some officers of the law don’t acknowledge a cyclist’s right to “take the lane” where her safety requires it. The bike-lane law, we believe, will simply lead to more such hassles.  Another thing about bike lanes is that they’re not even universally embraced by cyclists.  A big part of the cycling world, the “vehicular cyclists,” point out that in a bike lane the rider is less visible to other road users, and thus more vulnerable.

Had our lawmakers tried to inform themselves, they could have readily discovered the complexity of the bike-lane question. Throughout the state are advocacy groups such as Green Mobility Network and Florida Bicycle Association that would have promptly given advice had they been consulted. Instead, members of the Florida House and Senate brought this catch-all bill to light in the very last week of the 2010 session, and rammed it through both houses in the guise of a housekeeping measure concerned with such mundane matters as charity license plates.

Nobody in the House, and nobody in the Senate, voted against this bill.  One wonders how many read it.

So if you haven’t reached out to the governor about HB971 yet, please do so now. You can e-mail or phone (850) 488-7146.