Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bike Delaware Quashes Pedestrian Safety Bill

While the push continues to pass the "Bicycle Friendly Delaware Act" (HB-185) that includes legalizing rolling stops for bicyclists, a campaign that began 2.5 years ago to reform Delaware's vehicle code for pedestrian safety has stalled. Known as the "Pedestrian Bill", it is modeled after other progressive States such as WA, MA, OR, etc, bringing it up to date with our built environment. As it stands now, Delaware's language is almost totally car-centric, placing the onus squarely on pedestrians not to get killed. It actually requires a person to be in a crosswalk before a yield is legally required, whereas other States require simple intent to cross as the trigger. In other words, you could stand at the curb waiting for all eternity, because motorists are legally permitted to continue (at speed) through crosswalks unless you physically place your body out there, in harms way.

There are other issues with Delaware's current pedestrian code as well, including an ancient reference to Father's Day that somehow influences the law's enforcement. The whole thing is antiquated, as the State's death and injury rate -- consistently among the highest per-capita in the U.S. -- continues unabated. Meanwhile, the legal system targets pedestrians, holding motorists blameless in virtually every case. Routine patterns such as smart phone use, speeding, and aggressive driving are never cited, though most drivers engage in it. Updating the language would be a monumental step in the right direction, helping to provide a sensible basis for education and enforcement and to give pedestrians the confidence they need to use proper facilities where available.

Where does bicycling fit in? Bicycles are largely unaccounted for and misunderstood on pathway facilities of any kind. For example, if a crash occurs while riding on a parallel (with the road) multi-user pathway (MUP), especially where it enters a crosswalk, there is nothing in the code and no clear legal standards that apply. It will fall on the judge to determine fault, and the odds are overwhelming that he/she will favor the motorist regardless.

Unfortunately, Bike Delaware, the states “advocacy” organization for cyclists and pedestrians, does not support and in fact has opposed efforts to update the pedestrian code. Considering this organization’s lack of support, we need others to step up. At the same time, we should ask why Bike Delaware fails to address the serious changes that are needed for bicycle and pedestrian safety on the very pathways that make up their signature cause. Maybe it's because it is an organization accountable to no one, not even its own donors that include the White Clay Bicycle Club. It claims to fully represent Delaware’s bicycling and pedestrian communities but has no interest in teamwork or consensus, and produces no newsletter or annual report.

The above said, let's all hope that Governor Carney signs HB-185. And let’s hope that all of us can get behind efforts to address the critical issues outlined above.

A brand new 10' wide multi-user pathway (MUP) was recently installed along Rt.4 in Ogletown, just east of Harmony Road. If a crash was to occur in the crosswalk between a bicyclist and a car, the odds are overwhelming that the bicyclist will be cited and the driver held blameless. If you're a pedestrian, you must be in the crosswalk to be legally protected, and bicyclists are not even mentioned. Unfortunately, with a radius right turn, most drivers will be caught off guard by anyone just happening to be there, given the induced high speed.
-- Amy Wilburn, former Chair of the Delaware Bicycle Council, contributed to this article.

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