The cycling community rallied quickly in mid-January in response to a bill that would have effectively cut off bicycle access to thousands of miles of Montana roadways. A draft of a bill requested by Rep. Barry Usher (R-Billings) prohibits pedestrian, wheelchair and bicycle travel on Montana roadways that lack shoulders (see pg. 10). Though the bill was never introduced into committee, it prompted immediate concern from bicycle advocacy groups. Bike Walk Montana urged cyclists to call Usher, as did Missoula-based bike touring nonprofit Adventure Cycling.
'We're really excited about the progress, and seeing people rising up against that particular bill," says Lisa McKinney, Adventure Cycling communications director. "It was so flagrant."
Usher—whose phone number, as listed on the state website, reaches his Billings business, Beartooth-Harley Davidson—pulled the draft for rewrite on Jan. 19. He claims the bill was intended purely as a safety measure.
"At this point, we're not ready to publicly talk about it until the kinks get worked out," Usher says.
- photo courtesy of Adventure Cycling
Melinda Barnes, executive director of Helena-based Bike Walk Montana, says she's working with Usher to draft a new bill regarding bicycle and pedestrian safety. She notes that noncyclists might not realize how important Montana roadways are for bike tourism and recreation. Adventure Cycling, for instance, reports that 1,582 touring cyclists stopped by its Missoula headquarters during the summer of 2016.
"I don't think there's a full understanding of how much people bicycle and where they bicycle," Barnes says.
Barnes is encouraged by other bills currently under review by legislative committees, like HB 225, which establishes a program that would pay for maintenance of shared-use bike/ped paths throughout the state. She's also enthusiastic about HB 267, introduced by Rep. Frank Garner (R-Kalispell) which would modify state law regulating how cars and bikes share the road. Currently, Montana law states that drivers keep an undefined "prudent" distance from cyclists. HB 267 requires drivers to maintain a distance of three feet if they're traveling under 35 mph, and five feet if they're going faster.
Garner, a former Kalispell police chief, says his bill is informed by his experience in law enforcement and as an occasional road cyclist and mountain biker.
"I felt this was something I could get behind to help improve the law's clarity," Garner says.