Are Ky. roads about to be more bike-friendly?

Posted at 4:34 PM, Jan 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-11 19:38:37-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky could become the first in the Tri-State to pass a statewide safe-passing law for cyclists, which would require motorists to leave a 3-foot cushion when overtaking riders on the road, among other revisions.

Senate Bill 80, currently under review by the Senate Transportation Committee, would amend the current revised statute that dictates how motor vehicles are to overtake cyclists on state highways. The 3-foot cushion between a vehicle and a bicycle has now become a widespread standard requirement across the country, with nearly half of U.S. states enacting the requirement, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some states require as wide as 4 or 5-foot cushions.

Cincinnati is currently one of just four cities across Ohio that have such a rule, accompanied by Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo.

As for south of the Ohio River, the bill would mark a major step forward in proactive bicycle legislation for the state, particularly for Northern Kentucky, where no city has such a rule on the books and some cities’ traffic codes make no mention whatsoever of bicycles.

Kentucky’s current set of statutes gives no indication of safe-passing rules, but the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet recommends the 3-foot cushion. 

As WCPO previously reported, some bike advocates — such as the League of American Bicyclists — are looking to push beyond the 3-foot rule because, they argue, the laws as they are written do not go far enough to protect cyclists on the road.

During an interview with WCPO in August, Ohio attorney Steve Magas — who has made a career out of representing cyclists in criminal and civil cases — said such laws are more about bike promotion than safety and law enforcement.

“Having the 3-foot law helps,” Magas said, “maybe not in writing tickets, but more so in promoting cycling and giving everyone an awareness that, ‘Hey, these folks are allowed to be out there. Give them a few feet to pass.’ It’s almost as much a marketing tool for safe driving as it is a law."

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But for Magas, the more interesting part of the proposed bill is that it would also absolve cyclists from the expectation that riding "as far to the right as practicable" means riding in the shoulder of the roadway.

The shoulder question became national news when Nicholasville, Kentucky, woman Cherokee Schill was arrested, ticketed, tried and convicted in 2014 of unsafe driving when she refused to ride her bicycle in the shoulder along U.S. 27, causing motorists to slow down behind her.

"Cherokee Schill absolutely thoughtful cyclist," Magas said. "She gave a lot of thought to what she was doing, and the lines of travel she was choosing to take were not just random. It was because she had a plan of giving notice to everyone around her that she was on the road.

"She was in the right half of the lane, (wearing) a yellow, hi-vis vest, helmet, with front and rear lights. She was as asafe as you could be, and she was ticketed for unsafe driving," he said.

In the case, a judge decided that the term "highway," as used in the statute, included both the shoulder (to the right of the white line) and the berm, even farther to the right.

"We also had evidence that, at the time [Schill] was riding, someone had dropped a piece of furniture into her path," Magas added. "The judge ruled she should have been able to ride through that."

A third component to the bill would allow motorists to cross a double-yellow center line in order to allow the necessary 3-feet when passing slow-moving vehicles like bicycles on two-lane roadways.

Follow Pat LaFleur (@pat_laFleur) on Twitter for the latest on all things bicycling and living car-free in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.