Baltimore Adopts Bicyclists’ Bill of Rights

In a move that shows progressive vision for the future, last week the Baltimore City Council passed a bill of rights for cyclists.

The rights outlined are broad, strongly worded, and if ever fully applied and enforced could create a semi- paradise for cyclists in that city.

And despite numerous bike programs in other U.S. cities, Baltimore’s bill of rights offer a bleak contrast to the lack of rights in those cities and possibly worldwide.

As reported by Gigi Barnett on WJZ.com yesterday, “the words “fatal” and “bicycles” seem to go into the same sentence more and more frequently,” as she recounted the bike trip of 67-year-old John Yates who last summer decided to run an errand on his bicycle.

I’m going to be an hour.  If I’m late, I’ll call,'” said his widow, Ellen Yates.

Yates never did come home: he was broadsided and killed by a box truck.

“Bicyclists are not second class citizens.  They’re right up there behind zoom zoom,” said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke who led the effort to adopt the bill. It took the council a year from the time of the introduction of the bill, to make the final approval according to the legislative minutes.

Tommy Nash, one of the owners of Baltimore Bicycle Works said he also has had a brush with drivers that he survived.

Meredith Mitchell, 26, a “worker-member” of the shop which is owned by its workers, posted the Bill of Rights to the shop’s blog.  She said some people from the shop may be attending a Tuesday night forum with the Mayor’s advisory committee to discuss how the bill of rights should be implemented into law.

Mitchell also said cycling has picked up a lot in the city, and Mary Pat Clarke “has been a great advocate and partner in getting the city safer for cyclists.”

Despite the public announcements, change is definitely needed: “Cyclists are starting to become a real presence on the road, and drivers need to be more aware,” said Mitchell.

The city says the bill of rights also provides special training for police officers who are called to accident scenes involving bicycles and cars, for example how to fill out accident reports properly.

Massachusetts passed a cyclists’ bill of rights in 2009, and in 2008, a group of Los Angeles based cyclists called the Bike Writers Collective wrote their own 12 steps to a bill of rights, which is practically identical with the contents of the Baltimore version (and were likely the role model for Baltimore.)  In October of this year,due to pressure from that group and Bob Mionske a lawyer and columnist for VeloNews, the Los Angeles city council adopted their own bill of rights.   In 2009, Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado signed a bicycle bill of rights into law. Still, rights for cyclists especially in the big cities, is often lacking.

In New Jersey, advocates at the Alan Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers have been working to change Title 39 as it applies to cyclists in New Jersey. There is also a push in the state by elected officials and advocates to pass a three-foot passing law, but those measures fall short of an entire bill of rights which spells out specifically how cyclists should be protected.

And in New York city, although the administration talks about protecting cyclists, and has made a number of improvements to selected roadways by adding protected bike lanes, the city still lacks a culture of protecting cyclists from dangers.

Drivers who buzz, hit, “door,” terrorize or kill cyclists are often not brought to justice, and accidents involving cyclists and motorists are frequently blamed on the cyclists, especially when there is a fatality involved.

Baltimore council members said they approved the bill of rights “because a bike-friendly city attracts and keeps more people who want to live and work in Baltimore,” according to WJZ.com.

Although the Bicyclists’ Bill of Rights make no guarantee that the current laws will protect cyclists, or that laws with teeth to do so will be adopted, what makes Baltimore unique is that other bigger cities, with bigger access problems like New York City do not have similar public statements of purpose to protect cyclists.

In fact some of the bill’s stated rights, like no. 12. “Cyclists have the right to peaceably assemble in the public space, as guaranteed by the First Amendment,” would fly in the face of NYPD efforts to block the rights of cyclists to gather in their Critical Mass rides.

In their introduction to the final bill, the Baltimore City Council wrote, “The widespread use of bicycles brings many benefits to a community. Cycling improves people’s health, increases public safety, encourages greater involvement in communities, reduces traffic congestion, improves air quality, reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, and generally is better for the environment than alternate methods of travel.”

“The City of Baltimore has long recognized these myriad benefits and has therefore consistently sought to encourage cycling,” they continued. “In these efforts, the City has been blessed with a strong and vibrant local cycling community eager to serve as a partner. Many in the cycling community throughout the nation have begun to promote a “Cyclists’ Bill of Rights” that they feel encapsulates the treatment that cyclists should be able to expect from government.”

The website for the Baltimore City Council

Below is the Baltimore Bicyclists’ Bill of Rights

1. Cyclists have the right to travel safely and free of fear.

2. Cyclists have the right to equal access to our public streets and to sufficient and significant road space.

3. Cyclists have the right to the full support of educated law enforcement.

4. Cyclists have the right to the full support of our judicial system and the right to expect that those who endanger, injure, or kill cyclists will be dealt with to the full extent of the law.

5. Cyclists have the right to routine accommodations in all roadway projects and improvements.

6. Cyclists have the right to urban and roadway planning, development, and design that enable and support safe cycling.

7. Cyclists have the right to traffic signals, signage and maintenance standards that enable and support safe cycling.

8. Cyclists have the right to be actively engaged as a constituent group in the planning and implementation of roadway and transit projects.

9. Cyclists have the right to full access for themselves and their bicycles on all mass transit.

10. Cyclists have the right to end-of-trip amenities that include safe and secure opportunities to park their bicycles.

11. Cyclists have the right to be secure in their persons and property and be free from unreasonable search and seizure, as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

12. Cyclists have the right to peaceably assemble in the public space, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

In addition to its Bicycle Master Plan, the council adopted the Bill of Rights, and sent a copy of its contents to the following agencies with the expectation that they will take further action to enforce the tenets of the bill:

the Mayor, the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, the Bicycle Coordinator for Baltimore City, the Director of the Office of Sustainability, the Director of Public Works, the Director of Transportation, the Police Commissioner, the Planning Director, the City Solicitor, the Director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, the Executive Director of the Parking Authority, and the Mayor’s Legislative Liaison to the City Council.

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