Healey quietly vetoes Bike Safety Bill

Unhappy trails  
By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  January 11, 2007

As everyone but the most oblivious knows, Boston has a reputation for being one of the most inhospitable American cities for cyclists. Man-eating potholes. An appalling lack of bike lanes and racks. Drivers who’d sooner mangle your Schwinn 10-speed than look at you.

As if that weren’t enough, the state — or rather, the state’s chief executives — recently opted not to pass the Bicycle Safety Bill (formerly known as the Bicycle Bill of Rights). The bill, which made it all the way through the legislative process for the first time since it was introduced six years ago, clarified and strengthened existing laws regarding passing and police training. After finally making it to the governor’s desk after years of legislative languishing, the bill was vetoed on December 31 by Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, who was covering for her boss that day. In a brief veto letter, Healey wrote, “I support increased awareness of bike safety, but I believe this bill is overly regulative and represents an unwarranted governmental intrusion into the recreational affairs of citizens.”

David Watson, executive director of MassBike, says that Healey “completely misunderstood” the intent of the bill. It “was making existing laws more easily enforceable,” says Watson, who insists that the regulative section was a “secondary aspect” of the bill.

Under current law, cyclists are governed by the same rules that apply to motorists. The Bike Safety Bill retains those terms but takes into account cyclists’ increased vulnerability. Its key provisions require motorists to pass cyclists at a safe distance and not endanger cyclists when making turns; allow cyclists to ride two abreast when appropriate, rather than always single-file; require police to train for handling bicycling-related matters; and beef up enforcement procedures that protect both motorists and cyclists. An anti-dooring provision — the only piece of the bill that’s brand new — prohibits motorists from opening car doors without first checking for bicyclists. (“While this may be common sense,” says Watson, the bill “makes it explicit that you have a legal responsibility to make sure it’s safe before you open your door.”)

Watson calls these concerns “no-brainers,” and says “considering how straightforward these issues are, it was just so disappointing that the lieutenant governor ignored those parts, or didn’t see them,” particularly given that she “ran a campaign on a public-safety platform.”

Because of the 11th-hour rejection, there was no time to attempt to override the veto. Instead, the bill will have to wait until the next legislative session, and will have to be filed by January 10. Senator Pam Resor, Democrat of Acton, will be re-filing the bill with the Senate, according to a press release sent out by MassBike.

As for whether the Patrick administration will be more amenable to upping Boston’s bike-a-bility, Watson says he’s “cautiously optimistic.” The bill was denied at earlier stages in the process several times, and this last round was the closest it has come to passing. But the new legislative session needs to go through the entire process again before the bill can be passed. “We have every hope that the Patrick administration will be more receptive to this kind of thing,” Watson says. “Now it’s just a question of getting boosted up on the priority list.”

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