West Virginia Motorists, Bicyclists Learning to Share Space

By Ben Fields, The Herald-Dispatch | June 16, 2014

Local cyclists seem to generally approve of new traffic laws in West Virginia to protect them, though many say the increasing number of riders on city streets already has created something of a truce with motorists.

The new law that passed the 2014 state Legislature session went into effect June 3 and requires vehicles to give cyclists a three-foot cushion when passing a bike on a roadway. The law also does away with a former provision that required cyclists to use an adjacent path instead of the road if it was available.

“Riding in a neighborhood with sidewalks, that’s what you want for your 6- or 8- or 10-year-old kid, maybe,” said Ed Tucker of Edward Tucker Architects in Huntington. “But there’s also common sense. You don’t want someone barreling down a sidewalk at 20 miles per hour.

“To have clarity in the law for motorists and cyclists is helpful.”

Tucker lives about two miles from his office and frequently bikes to work. He’s been riding on roads since the mid-1980s when he lived in Nashville.

“Certainly you’ve seen motorists become more tolerant over the past 20 to 30 years,” he said.

The cycling scene in Huntington has been on the cusp of exploding in recent years, with projects like the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health (PATH) and Critical Mass bringing cyclists together and encouraging others to take up the activity.

Josh Dygert, a project architect with Edward Tucker, took up cycling after helping design the first phase of the PATH project, which coincided with the loss of his truck.

“My truck was totaled out, so I thought I’d just buy a bike and drink the Kool-Aid we were pushing on everyone else,” he said with a laugh.

Now Dygert completes a round-trip commute of 10 miles on his bike just about every day.

He said he thinks the new law gives some good guidelines without becoming overly complex.

“I feel pretty comfortable with where we are right now,” he said. “The basic understanding of a cyclist maintaining a position as far to the right as they can safely do makes sense. Keeping that minimum passing bubble is a good rule of thumb to go by.

“You don’t want to make it such a complicated mess that no one wants to deal with it.”

The law also puts some onus on the cyclist, requiring that a bike operated at night be outfitted with a front lamp that projects a white light visible from at least 500 feet, and a rear, red reflector that is visible to the headlights of a car from 50 feet to 300 feet.

The new regulations also prohibit groups of cyclists from riding more than two abreast except on paths or roadways that are for bicycle use only.

Local cyclist Richard Mullins said he thinks the new law brings West Virginia up to date with general standards that exist in most other states.

“It’s a good, modern step,” he said. “Cyclists are here, get used to it.”

Mullins is the father of Dave Mullins, who manages Jeff’s Bike Shop on 8th Avenue, and Joel Mullins, who organizes Huntington’s Critical Mass program.

“There was a time when I wouldn’t have thought about riding on a road in Huntington,” Richard Mullins said. “Now, I ride three days a week in Huntington proper.

“I think bikes were about 10 to 15 years behind here, but now it’s caught up. As more people live and work downtown, you can tell a difference.”

 

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