‘We need to be legal’

Chuck Smith, chairman of the Ohio Bicycle Federation, spreads awareness on the House Bill 154 proposal during the Miami Valley Cycling Summit on May 29 at the Piqua Plaza. The bill would enforce drivers to leave three feet of space when passing a cyclist on the road and malfunctioning signals laws for cyclists.

COLUMBUS – Bicycling is once again in the spotlight, and this time with a new piece of legislation with hopes of making biking safer and more efficient for everyday use. Chairman Chuck Smith of the Ohio Bicycle Federation testified about House Bill 154 before the Ohio House Armed Services, Veterans Affairs, and Public Safety Committee this week at the statehouse.

The first part of House Bill 154 defines the safe distance needed in order for a vehicle to pass a bicyclist on the road as least three feet. Ohio law currently does not have a specific minimum distance required for passing a bicyclist, simply just a “safe distance.”

“Safe distance is hard to enforce and three feet is enforceable,” Smith said. “It will make things safer wherever they pass to give us at least three feet.” An earlier bill passed in 2006 allows motorists to cross the double-yellow lines in the roadway in order to pass a pedestrian or bicyclist safely, Smith said.

Smith is also on the board of Bike Miami Valley. He recently had an exhibit on display at the 2015 Miami Valley Cycling Summit held at the Fort Piqua Plaza explaining House Bill 154, also briefly encouraging attendees to get involved and contact their local representatives to show support for this bill during the closing ceremony.

Smith explained that he contacted his Ohio State Representative Michael Henne for help in starting this bill to address traffic safety concerns for bicyclists.

“It not only protects the bicycler, it also protects the driver,” Henne said. Henne is the primary sponsor of the bill. He explained that he got on board due to bikes becoming more prevalent.

“I was a jogger,” Henne said. “When people passed me, I always appreciated when people got over a little bit.”

“The second part of bill says that all Ohio vehicles can proceed through an intersection… even when not detected,” Smith said. Bikes, along with other vehicles, will be able to pass through an intersection even during a red light after they have stopped and yielded the right-of-way.

Bicycles, motorcycles, and even some forms of cars are not able to trip the detector-buried cable at intersections that is meant to change the traffic lights when needed.

“This is a major problem for cyclists,” Smith said. This problem of non-detection causes people to sit at intersections for long periods of time while waiting for a car to come along that is able to set off the detector.

“For instance, I was commuting by bike from my home in Vandalia to Wright Patterson Air Force Base,” Smith said. Smith explained that there was an intersection he would frequently be stopped at for long periods of time because the detector was not sensitive enough to catch his bike.

“Sometimes there aren’t pedestrian crossings, and we need to be legal,” Smith said.

After this continued happening for Smith, he was able to work with the city of Vandalia in order to get those cables on a sensitive enough setting to catch bikes.

“Vandalia detects bikes, but very few cities detect bikes,” Smith said. Smith also explained that magnetic detectors will not detect carbon fiber, of which many bikes are constructed.

Smith explained that this portion of the bill will eliminate the need for bicyclists, motorcyclists, and other drivers to wait at an intersection for long periods of time in order to be legal to pass through the intersection.

“The people in the smaller vehicles need to be able to stop, look both ways, and then proceed,” Smith said.

“They have to yield to all other traffic,” Henne said. “If there’s other vehicles there, they won’t be preceding through the intersection anyway.”