BTA’s 2009 legislative plans take shape

As bike ridership spikes in cities across the state, Oregon’s upcoming legislative session is sure to be full of bike-related action. Figuring prominently in that mix will be the lobbying efforts of the Portland-based Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA).

Leading the charge for the BTA will be their new Government Affairs (a.k.a. lobbyist) man Karl Rohde. Today I learned more about what Rohde and the BTA might be focusing on in January when Oregon’s 75th Legislative Assembly convenes in Salem.

Karl Rohde
(Photo J. Maus)

As I reported back in June, the BTA will work to pass a vehicular homicide bill. Other legislative issues currently under consideration by the BTA include efforts to; bolster driver’s education, bring transportation costs into the funding decision when new schools are built, make crash report forms more bike and pedestrian friendly, and an effort to re-frame how Oregon perceives the need for bike and pedestrian funding.

Of all their possible legislative ideas, the Vehicular Homicide Bill is the most developed at this point. Rohde says the BTA wants to increase the penalties drivers face when they kill a vulnerable roadway user. The draft language of the bill states that someone could be found guilty of a Class C felony (punishable by maximum 5 years prison sentence and $125,000 fine) if the person was driving without a license, driving with a suspended license, driving without insurance, or if “the person’s ability to safely operate the vehicle was impaired”.

The bill defines “impaired” as anything that “materially diminishes” the safe operation of the vehicle such as; the use of drugs or alcohol, the use of a cell phone or other device, or any condition (such as sleep deprivation) that “negatively affects the person’s sensory perception and reaction time.”

Another area where the BTA wants to get tough is with driver’s education. Saying that they recognize a “serious problem” with current driver’s testing standards in Oregon, Rohde says they’ll push for tougher driver training, more bike and pedestrian-related questions on the driver’s test and more knowledge of laws required before licenses are renewed.

(As for licensing bike operators, Rohde says they’ve got no official plans to pursue the idea but they’re doing research on it and they hope to have a white paper on the subject by November.)

Dovetailing with their ongoing Safe Routes to Schools efforts, the BTA will seek to amend an existing law that dictates how school administrators decide where to build new facilities. Currently, there is no requirement to figure in transportations costs when making that decision and the BTA feels that leads to schools being built in locations that are not easily accessible by biking and walking.

Further seeking to level the playing field with motor vehicles, the BTA will also work to make a few minor changes to Oregon’s Traffic Accident and Insurance Report form. The idea is to make sure the forms include language for involved parties that might have been operating something other than a motor vehicle. Rohde says the existing forms “allow for bike reporting, but the wording tends to make it sound like it’s just for drivers”. These changes will be accompanied by an effort to encourage more non-motorized vehicle operators to file crash reports.

Also in 2009, the BTA is expected to try and re-frame how Oregon lawmakers perceive funding for bike and pedestrian projects. Similar to what Congressman Earl Blumenauer is doing with his National Bike Bill (a resolution which passed the U.S. House back in May), Rohde says the BTA will seek to pass a resolution that recognizes funding for non-motorized projects as an essential part of a complete transportation system. According to Rohde, he wants bikes and peds to be thought of as “non-motorized transportation” and bike and ped facilities not be considered “trails” (a common wording that makes them seem like a frivolous expenditure in hard times) but rather as “non-motorized transportation corridors”.

Rohde says the idea is not to simply have lawmakers use different language, but to drive home the idea that, when drafting any transportation funding, lawmakers look for ways to fund bike and ped projects “every step of the way”.

Noticeably absent from this list is any effort to move forward with an “Idaho-style” stop sign law. In Idaho, bicycles are allowed to (when safe) treat stop signs as yields. The idea was raised by Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) in the Oregon legislature back in 2003. It passed the House and, once word spread to the media, it failed to pass the Senate. Last session, a citizen-led effort garnered a bit of support, but it was never considered in committee.

The BTA has discussed the “stops as yields” issue internally, but at this point, they have no official plans to move forward with it.

Stay tuned for more details on the BTA’s legislative efforts, along with full coverage of the 2009 session.

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