Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

Do bicyclists, pedestrians need better protection?

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Greg Peck
Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In the last couple of weeks, a neighbor who was still bicycling to work from time to time, despite our deteriorating weather, has chided me about being a “fair weather bicyclist.”

It's true, I admitted. After more than 100 bicycle rides to work this spring, summer and fall, I may well have pedaled to the office for the last time this year. Besides, I told him, if I ride in conditions too adverse, co-workers could question my sanity.

Other than the risk of wiping out on slick pavement, I reason that fewer motorists expect to see a bicyclist this time of year, and that only heightens risks for riders.

Froma Harrop addressed this concern in a column The Gazette printed Nov. 18.

“The problem of America's congested roads has long been simple: too many tires vying for a fixed amount of pavement,” Harrop wrote. “But with a growing bicycle culture joining the car culture, the difficulties have expanded greatly.

“The conveyances now travel at very different speeds, follow different rules of the road and expose their operators to vastly different levels of physical vulnerability.”

Harrop said the rising numbers of bicyclists who commute in all conditions is heightening levels of anxiety, injuries and worse.

I also came across a recent story by Jessica Vanegeren in the Cap Times. It said the Wisconsin Bicycle Federation “is supporting legislation that would make it a felony to commit specific traffic violations that kill or injure 'vulnerable users' of Wisconsin roads.” Authors are two Republicans, Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon and Rep. Garey Bies of Sister Bay.

Their legislation is designed to better protect not just bicyclists but pedestrians, in-line skaters, motorcyclists and those operating mopeds and even farm equipment. It would boost penalties much like the law that doubles fines for motorists who injure workers in construction zones.

Injuring a “vulnerable user” severely could cost you $1,000 and 90 days in jail. Killing someone could cost you $10,000 and nine months in jail.

Vanegeren's story cites state statistics that show 1,048 bicycle accidents occurred in 2011, resulting in 12 deaths and 964 injuries. That same year, 57 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents. Since 2005, crashes involving farmers have totaled 1,400, resulting in 708 injuries and 25 deaths.

So do you think these “vulnerable users” need the protection that a tougher state law might provide?

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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