The Explainer: This time, I am asking you for advice

The Explainer: This time, I am asking you for advice

Dear Readers,
I confess. I am a total slacker. Long-time readers might be aware that I used to regularly craft a weekly contribution to RKP known as “The Explainer.” It’s been some time since I last offered up a column. It’s time for me to try and correct that, so here goes.

Well, if I am going to resurrect “The Explainer,” maybe I ought to start by explaining why I haven’t been writing that much this year.

To start, I have been busier than @#$% with a law firm my friends and I started in early 2013. Neubauer, Pelkey and Goldfinger, LLP, has turned into a reasonably successful enterprise. It’s been fun, but I find myself working much more than I had expected. I have now learned firsthand that when you’re self-employed, the odds are good that you’ll end up working for a demanding asshole of a boss. I always wrote this column on early Saturday mornings, but that slave-driver has me doing legal work, even on weekends. (If I can figure out how to pull it off, I’m filing a wage-and-hour claim against myself.)

For some reason, I have also announced my candidacy for a seat in the Wyoming House of Representatives. Yup, I have achieved a trifecta of unpopular career choices: I started out as a journalist, segued into the legal profession and now I’m a politician. (I guess I can only improve on that by opening a used car lot some day.)

Pelkey For House

The bucking bike is a cyclists’ variation of a common Wyoming theme:

Regular RKP readers might also be aware of the whole LiveUpdateGuy thing, which uses up spare time faster than Hummer gulps down gasoline. Patrick O’Grady and I have been providing Live Coverage of grand tour stages since the2011 Vuelta a España … longer than that if you count my time at that one cycling magazine for which I once worked. We will, by the way, be back for the Vuelta, so I hope you can join us for daily wire-to-wire coverage of the final grand tour of 2014.

I appreciate Padraig’s patience with me. I’ll try to do better.wyoming-licence-plate2

Anyway, the usual format of this column is that you, the reader, submit a question. Then I opine on the topic as a self-anointed “expert” on all issues related to cycling, the law and – my favorite – doping in cycling.

Given that it’s been some time since I’ve asked for questions from you, let me temporarily turn the tables and ask questions of you.

What I would like to know is what issues are important to cyclists across the country and how I might translate some of those concerns to a state composed entirely of relatively small communities. The whole state of Wyoming has a population of just 580,000. The largest population center in the state is the capital city of Cheyenne, with 62,500 residents. Casper, in central Wyoming, follows closely with 59,000. The other 400,000 of us are spread out over the rest of the state with an average population density of just 5.9 people per square mile.

I’m running to represent a district in Laramie, the home of the state’s only university. We have a population of around 32,000, about 11,000 of whom are students.

Wyoming has recently experienced the same auto/cyclist issues, faced by residents of more densely populated areas, including two fatalities over just 48 hours in late May. In one of those, the driver has been charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and aggravated assault.

These two deaths came on the heels of the League of American Bicyclists annual ranking of bike-friendly states. Over the course of a year, Wyoming dropped from 33rd to 36th. It was not good to start with and it’s only gotten worse. Cycling should be safe and easy in a state that has more antelope than people, but it ain’t.

I’m a former board member of Bicycle Colorado and consider myself an advocate of cyclists’ rights, both as a writer and as an attorney. What that does not give me, though, is complete insight into what other cyclists see as important to them.

So purposes of this exercise, let’s assume that you’re in my shoes. Let’s also assume for a moment that I actually do get elected to public office this November. I am a Democrat running in one of the most Republican states in the union, but it’s in one of the few Districts in the state that actually leans Democratic … a veritable island of Blue in a sea of Red.

What would you do? What cycling-related issues would try to take on first? Keep in mind that even if I do get elected, I will be a newbie and a newbie in a small minority. For one, I am a Democrat. Currently, there are just eight members of that party in the 60-member House. We have the same ratio in the Senate, with just four Dem’s in the 30-member chamber.

Now, I am not saying that cycling advocacy is necessarily a partisan issue. Indeed, in Colorado, the most vocal cycling advocate in the Legislature is Greg Brophy, a conservative Republican from Wray. Greg is a bike geek extraordinaire, a farmer and a committed advocate of cyclists’ rights. (He also pops in, now-and-then, to our LiveUpdateGuy coverage.) He has been instrumental in drafting legislation and assembling a bipartisan bike caucus.

Even if we have bipartisan bike caucus in Wyoming, we’d still be facing an uphill battle in trying to get cycling friendly legislation passed. So, what would you do?

What would be a reasonable first step to take?

What piece of legislation would you craft that
1) helps cyclists and
2) stands a reasonable chance of passage?

I am honestly open to suggestions.

If you have ideas about how a newbie legislator in the tiny minority might approach the issue, post your thoughts in the comments section below. If you have private concerns or need to post a treatise with reams of supporting documents, feel free to write me directly at Charles@Pelkey.com.

Meanwhile, if you have questions, concerns, thoughts or complaints that could be the basis for next week’s column, drop me a note at Charles@Pelkey.com. In all cases be sure to include “The Explainer” in the subject line.

_______________________________________________________________________

The Explainer is supposed to be a weekly feature on Red Kite Prayer (Pelkey gets sidetracked now and then).

Small Headshot
If you have a question related to the sport of cycling, doping or the legal issues faced by cyclists of all stripes, feel free to send it directly to The Explainer at Charles@Pelkey.com. PLEASE NOTE: Understand that reading the information contained here does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Charles Pelkey. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained therein without first seeking the advice of qualified legal counsel licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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25 comments

  1. MNcyclist

    Charles,
    I wish more politicians would ask the broader cycling community this type of question. I’ve worked in municipal government for a number of years and am frustrated when the only answer to cyclist/car conflicts is more bike paths. Paths are nice for kids and families the travel from neighborhood to neighborhood, but don’t help those of us who want to travel from town to town (MN has a number of great bike trails that generally follow old rail beds, but on weekends these can be so packed with families that it’s downright dangerous to all to ride more than 12 mph).

    Aside from obnoxious behavior by drivers (both of motor vehicles AND bikes), I’ve been annoyed by the reluctance of our county governments to add paved shoulders to county highways when they’re repaved. Most of our local regional roads haven’t been repaved in 30+ years and were built when traffic loads were mostly tractors and milk trucks. Few, if any, have any pavement beyond the white painted line and in many cases the county has come through and ground out rumble stripes along the white line. The gravel shoulders and and weed-filled drainage ditches provide no refuge for a cyclist when dealing with two-way traffic that refuses to yield, slow, or otherwise acknowledge other legal uses of the highway. The good side of this situation is that it’s moved many of us to ride gravel roads, but sometimes a nice fast road ride is still fun!

    Adding bike lanes to every single mile of rural county road is unreasonable and unnecessary. However, expecting a county to include at least 12″ of pavement outside the white line as a refuge of last resort doesn’t see too much to ask.

  2. Pat O'Brien

    Good morning Charles.
    My suggestion would be to look at the Wyoming statutes and codes concerning shoulders on roads and highways and make them bike friendly. Making them bike friendly also makes them better for law enforcement, disabled vehicles, and safer for drivers. I think that Arizona has a statute requiring 8 foot shoulders, no significant drop offs, and rumble strips on the far left of the shoulder just off the right lane. I tried to find it, but have not yet been able to find the section under the Title 28 Transportation Statues and Codes. But, I benefitted from an 8 foot shoulder along the fairly new highway construction of AZ Hwy 90 from Sierra Vista to I-10. From my house to I-10 we have 33 miles of bike lane or wide shoulder, with the exception of 1/2 mile of 4 lane through a small town, that is very safe and pleasurable to ride.
    Here is the federal guidance on shoulders that I found.
    http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/geometric/pubs/mitigationstrategies/chapter3/3_shoulderwidth.htm
    Good luck in the election, and take a break every now and then!

  3. Tom

    Pathlesspedaled.com talks about the economic benefits to small towns of cyclo-touring: cyclists stay longer, eat more, and spend more than tourists who only stop for gas. Perhaps if you can point out the potential economic benefits to municipalities being bike friendly, your future (I hope) fiscally conservative colleagues could find a way to support your position.
    Good luck,
    Tom

  4. Frank

    Charles,
    Kudos to you for asking, wish more politicians were as sincere. In Virginia, legislation was passed that mandates drivers stay at least 3 feet from cyclists or face an improper passing violation, 3 points on their license, and fines. The state has been very proactive advertising this new law (Senate Bill 97, introduced by Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Fredericksburg – note, he’s a Republican). Of course, I am still occasionally passed with much less than 3 feet of clearance, but that is the exception where I live in Williamsburg. Good luck on your bid.

  5. Hoshie99

    Kudos to you – an entrepreneur and now planning to embark in a career of service.

    If I were to step back, and indeed be in your shoes, I’d ask what issues in my community are the most vital to address? Jobs? Education? Infrastructure? And, then based on my platform, I’d work or help support legislation and initiatives that addressed the most critical needs of the community. Cycling may not be one of them.

    However, if you are able to support cycling, I can see how cycling infrastructure in urban areas seems to bring business as it helps revitalize areas and bring people into a browsing mode – clear as a smog free day here in LA with our LA River bikeway project and some recent downtown bike lanes.

    However, since you are in a rural area w/ a drastically different context, inititatives and regulations related to car / bike interaction and raising public awareness may be a good 1 / 2 punch prior to spending on dedicated bike lanes, etc. You may be able to achieve that as part of larger road improvement efforts. I agree w/ the poster above that when counties repave, it’s the perfect time to put a shoulder and lane markings in place. A missed opportunity when not done for sure.

    Good luck.

    J

  6. Michael

    I think a lot about getting more people on bikes, in order to have more people who identify cyclists as humans. That is most likely to happen, at least initially, with people riding in town, rather than on the rural roads outside of town (although I’d sure like to see more shoulders on those – living in rural Arizona, I have seen very few roads with a decent shoulder). Another feature I see a lot is that small towns often have truly awful facilities for walking or riding through town – the assumption is that one travels to and within town in a pickup truck. So, I guess I’d try to emphasize in-town bike facilities – bike paths, bike lanes where needed, and sharrows and share the road signs all over the place just to remind people. Combining that with bike safety classes in the schools and, gee, isn’t this sounding like something from the LAB web site? For legislation, maybe something as simple as requiring each town identify and mark (and perhaps improve) safe routes to school from all significantly populated parts of the town. These routes could then be used by others too. Legislation to help kids be safe is perhaps doable even in WY.

  7. Scott G.

    Since you live in a one party state, if you want to be effective, convert to the other party.

    As for the most effective pro-cycling legislation, replace business taxes with gas taxes,
    higher fuel prices encourages cycling more than any other policy.

  8. khal spencer

    Charles, I wish you all the luck in the world. Hopefully, Alan Simpson will endorse you.

    Is there a council of wise guys in WY who can give you ideas on what is needed for cycling up there?

    Here in the Land of Entrapment, what we often find are serious problems at the State Dept. of Transportation levels. Our cities are often pretty accommodating to cycling but its the state DOT that is neglectful on a good day and %$#@! on a bad one. What we have been trying to do here is ensure that when a state road or highway is either built or repaired (our rules on paving are different if it is a repair vs. a build or major renovation), we get decent bicycling accommodations such as shoulders on the road and further, that the shoulders are continuously paved to the very edge. New Mexico DOT is famous for saving money by only putting the last layer of pavement out a little ways beyond the fog line, ensuring the shoulder is often useless for cycling due to a vertical lip on it that can cause a diversion fall. We have lost riders that way when the shoulders on high speed rural roads are crap or nonexistant.

    So if you were in my district, my message would be for you to work with other legislators and the governor to make sure the DOT Secretary and his/her district engineers worked with cyclists and made sure the roads were built and paved properly, putting an emphasis on those used by cyclists. Make sure if there is a statewide bike coordinator in the DOT, that person first of all has a PE or equivalent, and the person furthermore has power of veto over crap designs.

    I would also look at how the state transportation moneys are spent. Are they distributed in part to cities and regional transportation districts and if so, is the money ever earmarked for bike/ped or other accommodations that encourage cycling? Does WY have a “complete streets” law that guides funding?

    I don’t know what bike law looks like in Wyoming and suspect you do. What laws make it tough on a cyclist?

    Ok, next question. What is the URL for your campaign war chest?

  9. Andy

    Hi. The return of the explainer would be a great addition to my workweek, I have the same sort of boss as yours, counselor. I think two trains of thought would be good. One is to enact legislation about roads and passing limits such as has been suggested. To those I would add a “stop as yield” law so that cyclists and others who can see better and stop more quickly than cars or trucks wouldn’t been pi**ing off motorists by saving our momentum. This is a great source of irritation here, especially with the number of cyclists that pack into the Lehigh Valley for track cycling in the summer. I’m not sure about Wyoming, but PA is not ready for roundabouts yet.

    Another avenue for improving everyone’s life on the road would be to educate local law enforcement so that where we are entitled to protection we get it, and where the hammerheads blow by an unloading school bus in pursuit of sprint points on the lunch ride, they get what they earn as well. That requires more budget than we’ve seen here since the passage of the 4-foot passing law.

    Keep up the great LUG coverage! I promise to put in extra this time in return for a sticker!!

  10. Alan C.

    Charles,

    Thank you for asking an important question. I have often hoped that when I retire, I could devote time to cycling advocacy issues, since my professional and personal commitments are too great.

    Some issues I can think of off the top of my head are many: a need to increase general awareness across the population of the vulnerability of cyclists, clear prejudices faced, need for improved access on all roadways, the benefits of cycling in general, and the need for law enforcement and legislature education for a consistent and tougher position on cyclist’s rights and driver’s responsibilities.

    The latter is where I think you could make a difference.

    A few parallels I like to draw to compare where we are with cyclist’s rights in this nation:

    Drunk driving: About 25 years ago there was arguably much less concern about driving “buzzed” or even outright drunk, in my opinion. I believe it was a focused effort, largely driven by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, with Public Service Announcements that raised awareness, and eventual increases in penalties for drunk driving. There should be a national campaign to remind drivers that cyclists are someone’s daughter, son, mother, father, husband, wife, etc. Punishments for aggressive driving and accidents targeting cyclists need to increase, but well-done PSAs would also make a difference.

    Discrimination: If there was an observed minority that was singled out for harassment and assault as consistently as cyclists in general, there would be a massive uprising through the civil liberties unions, media, and the Administration. The next time a cyclist is harassed or ran off the road perhaps they should charge the driver with a hate crime.

    Advocacy is a tough nut to crack. Good luck in the race and thanks for the strong contribution to RKP.

  11. Jan

    I like a lot of the suggestions above, especially about shoulders and providing safe biking for kids in towns and cities. And also educating law enforcement folks.

    How big is tourism in the state’s economy? If it’s big (as I suspect it is), then making the connection with biking and tourism might be a good way to build cooperation.

  12. Craig

    Glad you’re back and great question. Not to be flippant but what we think doesn’t matter much. As a minority in the state legislature the better question is what’s important to an influential person in the majority. Find a Republican who rides and partner with them on an easy issue and solution. Work up from there. Now that I’ve written this it sounds a little preachy. Forgive me! That said, in Illinois we have a new 3 foot passing law. I’m not sure it has helped much, but at least it’s a start. I also recommend Share The Road signs on roads frequented by cyclists. Good luck!!

  13. Peter Dedes

    I’m a former racer. I was appointed to my city’s cycling advisory committee 4 years ago by city council and this year I find myself as chair, regularly quoted in local media, presenting to city councillors and solicited by politicians for my endorsement in upcoming municipal elections.

    Naively, in the beginning,I thought a safe passing rule might be enough to encourage more people to take up practical cycling. I was wrong. In the urban environment we need segregated cycling infrastructure, terminus facilities and these need to be integrated in master plans, development agreements and building codes. We need updated highway traffic act legislation and updated municipal codes to codify cyclist-motorist interactions. I authored a paper on municipal by-law reform that was accepted in part by the city and forwarded and acted upon by regional government.

    I’ve engaged in combat with reluctant city staff, written motions for councillors and spoken to various stakeholder groups. I’ve identified missing links in communication between the city and regional governments and these are key to completing bike networks with unity and cohesion. My riding time this year has suffered.

    I’m selfish about my advocacy. I love racing. I think the more people on bikes no matter the purpose builds an audience and funnels athletes to the sport. I think racers haven’t done their part in being advocates for cycling as a viable mode of transportation and asserting our inherent rights to the roads.

    Be prepared to see slow action by government staff who are reluctant to change. Outlast them, outsmart them and get constituents on board. In my city, a survey pegs 80% of us as showing a keen interest in cycling issues. That’s turned into political will and a pile of goodwill for the cycling advisory committee and our work.

    Good luck.

  14. James

    First, good luck.

    Second, I had a quick look at the state budget (http://ballotpedia.org/Wyoming_state_budget) & it appears that measures which include a “spending” component would have a hard time passing – General Fund revenues appear to be 1/3th of expenditures.

    I’d suggest that you get more information on the 9.5% Transportation expense is spent – there may be opportunities to review enforced adherence to AASHTO design principles & update projects with the newer NACTO thinking – I’d have a look for legislative opportunities to provide scope for “better design”, which could yield more bang-for-the-buck on new and existing bike/ped initiatives.

    Also, from the budget numbers – it would seem that a big chunk of spend is on healthcare (“other” in the link I followed above) – so perhaps health-based initiatives (i.e.. combating child obesity by improving “bike to school” routes/facilities – or direct sponsorship/grants for School MTB Leagues – like the Norcal league http://www.norcalmtb.org) would get traction – particularly if spend/benefit is tracked & reported.

    Again, best of luck !

  15. Tom in Albany

    So, as a father of two kids and an avid cyclist, what I’m after is safer riding for my kids so they can ‘go places’ in my neighborhood (corner stores, ice cream stand, etc) without me having to fear for their lives after they leave the cul-de-sac we live on. My town has started to install sidewalks in a lot of places but, crossing the major roads, even with crosswalks, can be stupidly difficult – even for an adult!!! (Right on red laws reduce cross-walks to target zones, though, I do enjoy them when I drive my car..)

  16. Bob

    A 3ft, 6ft for trucks, passing law costs no money and involves no infrastructure changes. I suggest you go for that first.

  17. John Borstelmann

    Good luck, Charles! I hope you get elected. Wyoming needs more Democrats. A minimum 3 foot passing law might be a reasonable start. Check in with Leland Christensen of Teton county, a really nice guy from Alta who appreciates the value of cycling; he’s that rare breed – a reasonable Republican. Also consult with Tim Young of Wyoming Pathways, a longtime cycling advocate in Jackson and nationally. Teton County has been very successful in promoting cycling and building many miles of pathways. Even Teton County Idaho is doing pretty well promoting cycling. It’s our only significant new economic sector. All the best to you.

  18. Carson

    CP – As one who lives in the other end of the state, I would urge you to make use of the study Jackson’s Friends of Pathways conducted with UW, on the economic benefits of cycling infrastructure.
    The rest of the state may see us as a bunch of tracking-hating hippies (and I am), but we’re pretty damn Republican here. And nothing gets a GOP head out of a GOP ass like quantifying economic benefits.

  19. Richard D

    Start with “share the road” promotion for whatever resonates with the community and educate motorists about the need for 3′. Eventually try to legislate it. For now, no cost. People (or politicians want us to believe) want pot holes fixed not bike lanes or rideable shoulders.

  20. Champs

    How far have we gotten without mention of the Idaho Stop, especially in a neighboring state? Personally, I’m against this weird exception, preferring a universal set of rules. I can’t comment on Wyoming specifically, but here are things that strangely aren’t done in every state…

    First, it needs to be legal for a bike (motorized or otherwise) to cross when lights can’t be triggered. Wait a full cycle, then go.

    There should be a statewide bicycle network pieced together from trails and quiet highways.

    Proportional shoulder/bicycle access for every lane-mile of highway. Undivided roads should have half shoulders that are half a lane mile—this also eliminates the need for flaggers when a lane is closed for construction. Divided highways should also divide motor vehicles from bikes and peds following the same route.

    GOOD FAITH budget and traffic consideration for active transportation in every DOT project. Example: if there’s a new freeway overpass under construction, ensure that A) the detour works for everyone, and B) that the offramp doesn’t blindly launch cars into other road users when they merge. A couple years ago, ODOT shut down the bridge between West Linn and Oregon City. They ran a little-mentioned shuttle, but the only apparent bypass was the nearby-and-illegal-to-bike bridge on I205.

  21. Calgary Matt

    How about a directive to add more emphasis on cyclist safety into driver education programs? Heck, I’d like to see a state go so far as to require driver applicants pass a driving test on a bicycle before getting a license. I think drivers would realize real quick that cyclists are people too when their children or friends are out on the road. New drivers would realize how scary it is too to be out there on a bike when a diesel pickup buzzes them at 60mph.

  22. Ransom

    I fantasize about shoulders on the roads outside town, and I live in Portland, OR, which is pretty darn bike-friendly as American cities go.

    But right now what I tend to want more than anything else is education. As both a driver and a cyclist, I’m endlessly frustrated by the stress caused by people (and that can include me) not knowing who is supposed to do what. While you’re trying to digest legaleze to determine how intersections work, you can be sure the folks who are least bike-friendly aren’t looking the same info up so we can all work smoothly next time. The info has to be brought to the people, in simple, comprehensible terms.

  23. Noah

    Glad to see the Explainer back. Looking forward to your thoughts on the progress of the truth and reconciliation panel (or whatever the hell they decided to call it).

    Two thoughts:
    1. Don’t know if this is first priority, but I love the “Idaho stop” law and would promote that in any state I could.
    2. You and POG should buy your former employer. You probably wouldn’t make any money, but it would just seem fitting.

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