Among the good things to come out of the Legislature is House Bill 1030, which specifies that motor vehicles shall give bicycles a three-foot gap when passing on roads where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less and a six-foot gap on higher-speed roads. Since the Governor signed the bill last week Wednesday, HB 1030 takes effect on July 1… but motoring neighbors, feel free to practice those passing gaps now.
HB 1030 did not get to the Governor’s desk without one nasty bit of anti-bikery in the Senate. Senator David Omdahl (R-11/Sioux Falls) tried to amend the bill to exempt all rural roads from the bicycle-passing requirements. Senator Omdahl wouldn’t have gotten rid of the safe passing gap completely. His amendment proposed to allow counties to designate certain sufficiently wide rural roads for bicycle travel where the passing-gap requirement would apply. One would assume from Senator Omdahl’s speech supporting his amendment that “sufficiently wide” would mean a driving lane that can accommodate an eight-foot-wide semi, a six-foot-wide passing gap, and maybe a couple feet for a bicycle—at least sixteen feet total. Given that Senator Omdahl said the standard lane width on county roads is twelve feet, it would appear his intent was to restrict bicycle designations to only the widest, thus likely busiest rural roads.
I can’t figure out why Senator Omdahl and other conservatives express such antagonism to bicycles. Perhaps more than anyone else on the highway, cyclists embody rugged individualism and self-reliance. They’re not just playing games; they’re getting to work and church and Hy-Vee under their own power. What could be more conservative than that?
As is so often the case in the United States of Koch, conservatism is a mere front for corporate interests and the almighty dollar. Senator Omdahl said he brought the amendment “to protect both the cyclists and the traveling public” (which phrase suggests Omdahl does not consider cyclists part of the traveling public), but his speech to the amendment suggests the primary purpose of the amendment was to allow semis to get from point A to point B without having to wait for pesky bicycles.
The MinusCar Project heard Senator Omdahl’s amendment as an effort to ban bicycles from most rural roads. The amendment didn’t seem to make that explicit, but Senator Omdahl hinted that’s the ultimate impact he wanted his amendment to have. He told the Senate the signs his amendment would require counties to put up on designated bicycle routes would “give the cyclist notice of where he can ride and of where he probably shouldn’t ride.”
Fortunately, MinusCar and I didn’t have to jump all over Senator Omdahl. Our cycling and safety-conscious senators did. Senators Craig Tieszen (R-34/Rapid City), Scott Parsley (D-8/Madison), and Mike Vehle (R-20/Mitchell) all opposed the amendment with a firm defense of bicyclists’ equal right to the road. Senator Tieszen said the purpose of HB 1030 is not the paycheck of the truck driver but the safety of bicyclists. Senator Tieszen and Senator Parsley agreed that semis have to slow down and wait to pass bicyclists just as they must wait for tractors or other slow vehicles. Senator Vehle said that in his bicycling, he doesn’t really encounter problems with truck drivers: as professional drivers, they slow down and give him plenty of room when he’s on two wheels.
Senator Omdahl accused Senator Vehle of “going down a bunny trail,” but the majority hopped to Vehle’s side, rejected Omdahl’s anti-bicycle amendment, and approved the passing gaps.
Senator Omdahl and six other Senate Republicans voted against HB 1030. MinusCar recommends his fellow cyclists not to give Omdahl a pass:
Riders may not like politics. But acts of legislatures do not happen in a vacuum.
Whose job is it to keep a senator with an amendment and a silver tongue from banning cycling on roads throughout the state? [Michael Christensen, “HB 1030 – Yesterday’s Failed Amendment…and The Future of SD Bicycling,” The MinusCar Project, 2015.03.04].
Senator Omdahl seems to want to take our wheels. District 11 cyclists, you need to take Omdahl’s seat.