CA Cyclists Call on Boxer to Respect Right to the Road

Near this Culver City entrance, the Ballona Creek Bike Path is pretty isolated, but other parts of the path run close enough to other streets that cyclists could be forced onto this path, regardless of the time of day. Photo: ## mo foto/flickr##

Senator Barbara Boxer is receiving bi-partisan praise for managing to move a transportation policy and funding bill through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in a divided Senate, but she may be facing trouble from a usually supportive constituency back home.

Regardless of how one feels about the new funding formulas proposed in the bill, there is no doubt that a provision in the MAP-21 highway authorization bill entitled “bicycle safety” would dramatically change cyclists’ rights to the road and would force many cyclists to either break the law or put themselves in unsafe situations.  The language in question reads:

BICYCLE SAFETY.—The Secretary of the appropriate Federal land management agency shall prohibit the use of bicycles on each federally owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater and an adjacent paved path for use by bicycles within 100 yards of the road.

Reaction from the bicycling community in California was uniformly negative.  From the California Bike Coalition to L.A.’s 501c(4) bicycle lobbying group Bikeside, cyclists are telling Boxer to protect their rights and keep them safe.  Nationally, the League of American Bicyclists has created a petition to urge Boxer and her Senate counterparts to change the legislation.

“The provision requires no minimum standard of safety or mobility on the sidepath, and experience shows that such paths are often more dangerous or impractical than on-road bicycling,” explains David Snyder, the executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition.  “The provision may have been well-intentioned but its result is to reduce safety and it should be removed.”

Jim Baross, with the California Association of Bicycle Organizations explains further.  “Most of our concern is that adjacent trails, paths or alternative facilities that bicycling might be detoured to do not provide anything near to the efficiency and safety provided by the shoulders of Federal highways,” Baross begins. “At a time when there are significant and important efforts to encourage Americans to use bicycling as a healthy, environmentally appropriate and economic transportation choice, it is ironic that a proposal for prohibiting bicycling, such as this, would be included in a transportation bill.”

The real-world implications of such a change would be felt throughout the state, but Bikeside President Alex Thompson explains some of the local impact.  After first noting that this law would require a lot of municipalities to get out their measuring tape and that it would effectively ban bikes from the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, Thompson notes many of the other implementation problems with the language as written.

“Are their places where Dockweiler is within 100 yards of Vista Del Mar but only for 1/4 mile?  If there are, then you would have to switch over and back all the time,”  Thomspon begins.  “And there’s the issue of how you tell cyclists that they have to getoff the road, turn, right, proceed past two apartment buildings, and join the secret hidden bike path you didn’t know about. It’s chock full of holes as written.”

But even if lawmakers find a way to tinker with the bill language to tighten up Thompson’s complaints, there is still the issue that taking away a cyclists’ rights to decide what route is the safest way to travel isn’t making anyone safer.

At Cycleicious, Richard Masoner takes note that as the days get darker, the number of assaults that occur on isolated portions of bike paths goes up.  For this reason, forcing cyclists onto these dark and scary bike paths is an inherently bad idea.  Or, as Alexis Lantz, planning director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition simply notes, “Too often we see paths implemented along federal or state highways that result in creating personal safety issues. The federal transportation bill should not be limiting places where people can ride, but instead encouraging and creating more places and opportunities for people to bicycle to meet their daily needs and/or for recreation.”

And while cyclists are worried that this provision could make rides for cyclists more dangerous, at Bicycle Fixation, Richard Risenberg asks a question so basic that it went right past many people looking at this issue, myself included.  What happens if the bike path doesn’t go where you want to go?  “This is really pretty absurd. A bike path 300 feet to the side of a standard road (federally funded or not), may very well not lead to destinations bicycle users may want or need to access.”

MAP-21 passed the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee last week.  A hearing from the full Senate has yet to be scheduled, and Boxer’s counterpart in the House of Representatives seems less than thrilled with the Senate bill for reasons that have nothing to do with bicycles.  For more coverage of MAP-21 and all Capitol Hill issues, visit Streetsblog Capitol Hill.



  • BC

    Can we find out what senator and/or what organization put this paragraph into the bill?

  • Tara Mckee

    A few questions for Sen. Boxer: what is there to insure that these bike paths are well-engineered and maintained? What if the bike path suddenly ends, leaving the cyclist on the wrong side of the road? And yes, I second Risenburg’s question: what if the trail doesn’t lead you in the direction you want to go? Lastly, what about those mostly pedestrian paths full of dog walkers and children with low speed limits? That can really impact how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B.

  • Anonymous

    Like all mandatory-sidepath laws, the provision in MAP-21 discussed in this posting is a terrible idea, for many of the reasons stated, and it should be removed.

    It’s important to understand, however, that it would apply only to roads owned by the Federal government, such as those on military installations or in national parks, not to roads owned by states, counties, or cities, even if they were built with Federal aid or designated as Interstate or U.S. highways.

  • Technical detail: The law as written has no impact on the state, county DOTs and munipalities and their roads, such as your Dockweiler State Beach example. Most roads open to the public through places like Camp Pendleton are also under state control.

     It applies only to roads that are under direct Federal government control. These include 11,000 miles of road maintained by the National Park Service; 380,000 miles of Forest Service roads;  40,000 miles of Bureau of Land Management roads, as well as roads on U.S. military bases and at Department of Energy facilities like Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore.

    The bigger impact is the horrible example this sets at the Federal level.

  • BC

    Can someone help with this idea?  Let’s turn this lemon into lemonade.  Rewrite the paragraph to say that essentially no federal agency can prohibit bicycles on federally owned roads unless they provide an adjacent path that conforms to the best Dutch designs, as confirmed by national and local bicycling organizations.

    Couldn’t this be a way to get a useful reference to high quality (Dutch/Danish) bicycle infrastructure into federal law?

    BICYCLE SAFETY.—The Secretary of the appropriate Federal land
    management agency may never prohibit the use of bicycles on a federally
    owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater unless that adjacent paved path for use by bicycles:

      a.  is for the exclusive use of bicycles;
      b.  is at least 9 feet wide for one way paths, which must be on both sides of the adjacent road, or at least 15 feet wide for two way paths;
      c.  is at least 10 feet, but not more than 50 feet removed from the adjacent road;
      d.  is accompanied by a separate pedestrian path that is at least 5 feet wide and 3 feet removed;
      d.  has a quality of paving that is better than the adjacent road;
      e.  has no blind intersections or intersecting driveways;
       f.  is given priority at all intersections and driveways; 
      g.  contains no utility structures;

    etc ?

    or maybe just include references to a Dutch bicycle facilities design manual.  ?

  • Boxer. We cannot vote for here, can we?

  • This affects us deeply in Virginia, where cyclists come from around the world to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah National Park, and tour the many national battlefields and monuments.  This is very important for our state’s economy, especially in rural Appalachia. To destroy these world-class cycling experiences by shooing cyclists off the road wherever sidepaths exist would be devastating.

  • Clutch J

    The photo is irrelevant and the tone of the article a bit alarmist. While the propoed requirement is dumb, it’s limited in scope, applying only to roads and paths federally-owned lands. It should be opposed as a dangerous precedent, but it’s not (yet) a frontal assault on our basic rights.

  • SAS

    Say this passes, nothing will really happen. Who is going to enforce this … no one.

  • Patrick

    This would set a very bad precedent.

  • How much more proof does the state of CA need that Boxer is anti-bike?  Ask IMBA about her backstabbing ways. . . . 

  • Jessica Meaney

    It interesting to me that all of the things to be troubled by in proposed transportation bill – this small element – which appear restricted to federal roadways ie military and national parks – is what people are claiming a loss of their rights.  It’s too bad – there’s a much bigger issue at hand here on our policy makers view allocating scarce transportation dollars. 

  • David Huntsman

    More food for thought: in my experience, side trail ingresses and egresses are usually protected by bollards that stop people from driving cars on to the path.  These posts seriously limit access by emergency services, in the event a cyclist needs assistance.

  • Mdw1

    I know bikes and the unlimited use thereof are uber-cool, ever so eco friendly and a major step upward to the moral high ground, but…will cyclists be required to be tested, licensed and have insurance before they take to the street/highway/path/yellow brick road?

    I mean…isn’t that fair? After all, all the rest of us have to follow the rules. Why should they be exempt?


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