Mass. Bike and the "Bill of Rights and Responsibilities"

(edit: the Bike Writer’s Collective and their Bicyclists Bill of Rights is now online here.)

Back in 2002, cyclists in Massachusetts had the same idea being discussed in bike circles in LA, today.

In 2002, Mass Bike got a retiring state legislator introduced a "Bicyclists Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" to the state legislature. The bill, if it becomes law, would:

  • further clarify that bicyclists have all of the rights as other drivers
  • give bicyclists the right to ride side by side, where appropriate
  • adds a rule that motorists must look before opening car doors
  • requires training courses on bicycle safety and laws for police officers
  • recommends the posting of Share the Road signs where appropriate
  • prevents the posting of bicycles prohibited signs, except on Interstate-type highways
  • makes the ticketing procedure the same as that for motorists.
  • require bike helmets for those under 16.
  • requires that motorists make a proper right hand turn when there is a bicyclist ahead of them.

Despite hundreds of postcards, letters, and other contacts with legislators, the bill went nowhere. It was reintroduced in 2003, and has been reintroduced in every session since then, although its name has been changed several times.

The closest the bill ever came to passage was in 2006, when it cleared both houses of the legislature only to be vetoed by Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, acting on behalf of Governor Mitt Romney. Healey’s excuse for the veto showed a complete misunderstanding of what the legislation was about, and angered cyclists throughout the Northeast.

This close call wasn’t the only victory for the legislation. In 2005, the police agreed to include training on bicycle laws into the annual "retraining" for new officers.

Some lessons we can learn from all of this as we embark on our own Bill of Rights:

1) If at first you don’t succeed – It took four years for Mass Bike to get their legislation all the way to the governor’s desk. Even after it was vetoed, it was brought back the next year and they’re still working on it.
2) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – Stalled at the legislative level, Mass Bike developed its own curriculum for cops and lobbied the police to voluntarily add it to their training.
3) This is going to be a lot of work – Six years after the "Bill of Rights" was introduced, their still plugging away…

  • Alex Thompson

    I figured that someone had done something like this somewhere before. I figured we’d put the idea out there and let the community do the research – good find.

    The way I see this Cyclist’s Bill of Rights strategically is primarily as enhancing coherency of the cycling community. It can help redirect energy thrown into debates about critical mass or hypothetical bike lanes toward pushing for real change. Hmmm, I gotta figure out a better way to explain this.

    Not putting all your eggs in one basket – good advice. I think this campaign is just helping to set up others, and so we can’t get to bogged down in it.

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