Future of bicycle safety bill uncertain after Pennsylvania Senate amendments lead to veto

PITTSBURGH — A white bicycle adorned in flowers sits at the intersection of Forbes and South Bellefield avenues in Oakland, where Susan Hicks died in 2015 while riding her bicycle.

“I think it really woke a lot of people up, from PennDOT, from the universities, from the city … that they really needed to do something to make the streets safer,” said Eric Boerer, advocacy director for BikePGH.

Since then, safety advocates have taken steps to prevent such accidents, including House Bill 140, which is bike safety legislation years in the making. Also known as “Susan & Emily’s Law,” the bill was named after two Pennsylvania women who died in the last decade while riding their bikes.

But earlier this month, things took a turn in Harrisburg.

“We actually asked the governor to veto the very bill that we advocated for,” Boerer said. “It’s really sad to see … no other way to say it … bike safety being held hostage for politics.”

BikePGH and Gov. Tom Wolf put the brakes on the bill, a plan to put parking-protected bike lanes on state-owned roads like Forbes Avenue. Boerer said in its original form, the legislation worked to change a technicality that did not allow such bike lanes on state-owned roads.

“The state code requires cars to be parked within 12 inches of a curb … so a parking-protected bike lane moves the cars away from the curb, and puts the bike lane between the curb and the parked cars. Because of that technicality, we were just trying to change the law,” Boerer said.

But after passing unanimously in the Pennsylvania House, Boerer said the bill became unrecognizable once it made its way to the state Senate.

“They added amendments that had nothing to do with safety and nothing to do with bicycling,” Boerer said.

BikePGH vows to keep working with lawmakers and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, saying the bill in its original form would benefit people across the state and not just those riding a bike.

“Parking is often the most contentious factor when a city wants to put a bike lane in, and this type of infrastructure actually preserves parking,” Boerer said.

BikePGH said it hopes legislation for parking-protected bike lanes will be brought up again in the next session.

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