Clearer laws could improve state bike rating

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

It won't be long until the calls and emails start coming in.

So-and-so is raising money for such-and-such a cause, is riding a bicycle from coast to coast and will be in our area.

We try to catch up with as many of them as possible to spotlight their worthwhile efforts, but it's a difficult task.

Highway 34 through Southwest Nebraska is a favored bicycle path, thanks to its wide shoulders, but not every highway is so inviting for human-powered two-wheelers.

In fact, riding a bicycle along a highway is outright illegal in Nebraska, if there is a designated bicycle path nearby, and if authorities follow the letter of the law.

Bicycle advocates urged the Legislature's transportation committee to advance a bill which would repeal the 1968 bicycle path law, which they say has made Nebraska one of the least bicycle-friendly states in the union.

They say the new bill, LB716, would allow cyclists to use alternate routes if debris or parked vehicles are on a bike path, give local entities the ability to better coordinate bike lanes with existing side paths, and clarify that when a designated bike trail crosses a street, cyclists and pedestrians have the right-of-way in accordance with traffic signals.

Bicyclists must ride responsibly, of course, following traffic rules, staying in their lanes and obeying signs and lights.

The League of American Bicyclists ranked Nebraska 45th in bikeability based on legislation, policies and infrastructure. That 1968 law was one of the factors pulling down our rating.

Drivers are already required to give bicyclists three feet of clearance while passing, but bicyclists like those who take part in the annual Bicycle Ride Across Nebraska can tell you stories about close calls with passing cars and trucks, and inconsistent cooperation by local law enforcement across the state.

McCook has a good start on a hike-bike path around town, and Kearney and Lincoln come to mind as especially bicycle-friendly communities.

But Nebraska has a long way to go, judging by our ranking by the League of American Bicyclists. Clarifying traffic laws to encourage bicycling is a good start.

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