Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 9, 2014

Bicycle safety House bill obligates state’s motorists to share the roadways

BLUEFIELD — Bicycling for fun and transportation is becoming more common, so a new law now requires West Virginia’s drivers to give bicycles some extra room on the roads.

The Bicycle Safety Bill (HB 4304) requires bicycles to generally travel in bicycle lanes or as close as practical to the right edge of the roadway. This new law also requires drivers to give bicycle riders an audible signal when passing. Drivers must also pass on the left at a distance of not less than three feet. Bicycle riders cannot ride more than two abreast except on paths and parts of roads set aside for bicycles, according to the bill.

Local bicycle riders attending an inaugural bike run sponsored by the Bluefield, W.Va. Rotary Club welcomed the new law. Peter Romano, who organized Saturday’s event, said the law was good. More bicycle lanes would be welcome. College Avenue in Bluefield, for instance, could be wide enough for a bicycle lane, he added.

Areas including Mercer County in West Virginia and Bland, Wythe and Tazewell counties in neighboring Virginia are especially good for bicycle riding, Romano said.

“We have some of the best biking in the country right around here,” he remarked while waiting for riders to return to Jack Asbury Square in Bluefield, Va.

 The region has level terrain suitable for beginners, hilly terrain for intermediate cyclists, and mountains that offer “very challenging century rides,” which are routes extending for 100 miles, Romano said. Local motorists are usually considerate of cyclists sharing the road with them.

“Most people are very courteous when they pass a bicyclist,” Romano stated. “It would be nice to have bicycle lane, a dedicated lane.”

At a nearby store, Stephanie Washburn, 27, of Bluefield, Va., said the new law was good, but she still hesitated to ride a bicycle on local roads. Formerly of Virginia Beach, Va., she remembered how many of the residents there, including herself, rode bicycles and roller blades because the accessibility was good.

“Here, it’s not as accessible and there aren’t as many sidewalks,” she said, adding that many sidewalks are not well maintained.

The Mercer County and Tazewell County, Va., area is a beautiful place for bicycle riding, and going up and down the mountains provide good exercise. However, drivers traveling on back roads often “just fly” she said.

“If there was a bike lane, people would be more respectful and maybe slow down,” Washburn said. “My bike is still in Virginia Beach. I used to ride bikes all the time. There it’s a lifestyle, too. There everybody rides a bike.”

Back at the Rotary Club bicycle run, 61-year-old Kirt Suehs, of Green Valley, had finished a 30-mile ride.

“It was a tough course, especially going over Mud Fork and Tip Top. It was a nice, shaded ride.” He laughed. “The enjoyable parts are the down hills.”

Suehs said the new West Virginia law could help cyclists, but roads are not always wide enough to accommodate cars and bicycles at the same time.

“Some places get a little bit scary at times. There’s not much shoulder. You’re a little leery about doing any exploring because you don’t know what you’re going to run into. You get out on the road, and suddenly there’s a lot of traffic and no shoulder,” he said. “The law’s one thing; making the road wide enough is another thing. Bike trails would be nice, and bigger shoulders. Paving (shoulders) instead of putting gravel down would be sufficient.”

Another cyclist, Don Pellillo, of Bluefield, Va., who recently organized the Cole Crying Wolf bicycle run, also said the new West Virginia law was a good step.

“I think we needed that law passed a long time ago. Virginia already has that law,” he said.

The new law makes sure drivers give bicycle riders some clearance, he added.

“Usually we’re way on the right side of the road,” Pellillo said. “People have to know that you’re out there. More and more people are cycling now, so maybe this will make (drivers) more aware.”

Requiring motorists to give bicycle riders another three feet of clearance is good, but riders must do their part, too, to avoid accidents, a Mercer County bicyclist said.

“The law was needed to educate the public and make them aware of cyclists. It helps me feel safer. There are no bike lanes in our local area so this law will help enforce respect and awareness of cyclists on the road,” said Crystal Cline of Bluefield. “It also helps prevent cyclists from taking over the road because you’re only allowed to have two deep (two people side by side). I'm sure it’s frustrating for drivers when cyclists don’t respect them as well.”

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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